Skin Care Scientist and Cosmetic Product Claim Specialist
At the end of last months column I wrote that I would attempt to answer the student’s questions: “why can’t the cosmetic industry be legislated to do so as well (referring to a considered need that cosmetic companies should make their body evidence studies publicly available in the same way drug companies do) … or are the risks they take really worth it, and should the consumer know about them … do they even care”? Here goes … It’s all about interpretation and risk. Interpretation of how brands see the legislation surrounding a “body evidence” for their claims (let alone the other 5 claims criteria), and the risks they are prepared to take in order make a claim. Furthermore, there is no legal requirement (yet) to make product information publicly available. Even though the PIF’s (product information files) are uploaded into the respective cosmetic portal(s), the information they contain can only be viewed by the inspecting authorities. Given the sheer number of cosmetic products on the market, it is obviously clear that there are insufficient trading standards officers or similar, available to make such inspections. Therefore, there is also reliance on both consumer, advertising bodies, and competitor feedback. The result being that it is easy to take risks.
Should companies be legislated to make their PIF’s (at least the key parts of consumer relevance), publicly available? The answer is not an easy one – a double-edged sword even. On the one hand it would be a victory for transparency, on the other it would be a competitors and industry nightmare. Imagine the pickings that would go on comparing percentages, statistical p-values, vehiclecontrolled studies versus baseline-controlled studies, lack of GCP, consumer studies asking the wrong questions, choice of percentiles, choice of inclusion/exclusion criteria, lack of safety data, different interpretations of efficacy data, the list goes on and that is just the industry response. What about the ignorant consumer, and other interested, dis-interested parties? As scientists and marketers we have enough difficulty as it is “speaking” to consumers.
As I mention in my book “Help! I’m Covered in Adjectives”, a balance between what can be interpreted against risk is required. If you look at a new entrepreneurial brand eager to launch but not really having a grasp of what is required, they may decide to “risk it” when they find out that running claims support studies doesn’t come cheap – this could be either consumer use studies or even instrumental measurements in a clinical setting. Their argument is that if the product launch “bombs”, the product doesn’t sell, or the consumer doesn’t like it, or social media ravage it, then thousands of pounds, euros, or whatever have been completed wasted! We can of course see their point, but there is a counter argument too. The laws governing the development and sale of cosmetics – everyone is at the same starting block. If you don’t like it, then too bad! Moreover, if you don’t have a grasp of consumer insights (i.e., your target market, and listening to what consumers are actually telling you), then perhaps you might find an alternative career path more fruitful?
“You have to learn the rules of the game, and then you have to play better than anyone else” Albert Einstein
Another area under the “risk” heading, is where the brand knows they are taking the risk and are prepared to face a fine, and relabelled packaging – a slap on the wrist is all they think they’ll get. It has been done before, and no doubt continues today. This may be fine if you have the financial resources and lawyers to back you. Yet, you cannot put a price on credibility (or loss of in consumer’s eyes), integrity, or the loss of consumer trust, and ultimately, if we are not careful, the industry. In the end, this will guarantee even more legislation, companies going out of business, and people losing their jobs. All for the sake of not paying a comparative measly amount of money to check if your product meets its claims. The fine you would end paying plus the cost of package and label reprinting would cover the claims substantiation required for your “body of evidence”.
Many a time I found myself with a customer who refuses to even consider claim substantiation. ‘It’s just a cleanser!” they say. Indeed it is to “us”, but not to the consumer. You cannot develop a product and not consider claims development – they are in fact the same. The consumer is buying an experience of the whole product, not just a bunch of ingredients. Today’s consumers tend not to consider product claims in isolation – they bring their past brand experiences and associations with them when they shop, which is key in the decision to purchase*. In other words, the sale of a product is not about the “pretty bits”, but the whole experience. When a consumer sees a product in store, on television, in the press, psychologically or even subconsciously they are having a relationship with this. And what brands have to consider is exactly that. They are observing, smelling, feeling, and perceiving things, and reading text that is implying something. Is what is being implied actually true? Everything has to be considered – from on-pack wording to the final product’s name, through to packaging colour and even fragrances used. Once the consumer has this interaction with the product, then all of that can be considered a claim. And that’s what the legislation is trying to say. Take a risk? For sure, but can you afford the “price” it will demand of you?
Does the consumer care? They do indeed, and are well attuned to brands, products and marketing gobbledygook!**