September 28, 2023

Decoding Product Claims: Efficacious Ingredients vs. Clever Marketing

With the rise of TikTok dermatologists, the EWG Skin Deep database, Paula's Choice Ingredient Dictionary, and increased brand transparency, modern beauty consumers have access to endless information to support more conscious and informed shopping. We're well versed in ingredient functions and often prioritize star ingredients and formula efficacy over brand names. So, most brands now include some kind of ingredient callout on their launches.

But, don't let marketing fool you: many products include an ineffective concentration of "star ingredients" solely for promotional purposes. Here's how to distinguish between products that will walk the walk and those that are crafty with their talk. 

A common marketing tactic is to call out that the product is "formulated with X, an ingredient known to ____." This can be sneaky verbiage because formulating with an ingredient does not necessarily mean it is included at the level needed to make a difference in your skin. For example, a smoothie could say "Made with fresh ginger juice, an antioxidant-rich ingredient known to improve health." But, if it only includes 1 drop of ginger juice, it's not going to do much for you! The same goes for cosmetics.

One way to ascertain whether or not a formula has efficacious levels of ingredients is to check the claims. Generally, if a company is going to pay more for effective levels of an expensive ingredient, they will advertise the concentration (see the viral Paula's Choice 2% BHA), or they will invest in third-party testing to validate their claims. Tests can involve consumer perception or laboratory efficacy tests. Let's dive into both of these.

In consumer perception panels, users try the product and respond to a survey sharing how they perceive and report a product to have achieved whatever claims the brand wishes to make. This is where you'll see claims such as "97% of users agree their skin feels more hydrated after 12 hours." Consumer perception tests usually provide us with qualitative data, such as "skin appears less irritated" or "skin under eyes looks less puffy."

You might be thinking, "But perception is so subjective." How can we gather concrete, objective data?

Another method of claims validation is laboratory efficacy tests, in which scientists use instruments to quantify the changes before and after product application. These are generally more expensive for brands to execute, but they give us more robust quantitative data. Labs can perform in vitro tests ("in glass," rather than on the human body), or on human volunteers to show product efficacy. A common way for scientists to evaluate a formula's effectiveness is to evaluate biomarkers—measurable substances in an organism whose presence indicates a condition of interest. In skincare, this could be measuring barrier function biomarkers such as ceramides, aquaporins, or hyaluronic acid (just to name a few). A statistically significant increase in these biomarkers after using a product suggests that the formula supports an increase in barrier function. 

One example of a clinical efficacy test that BiotechBeauty uses is a Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL) test, in which a Tewameter® measures the amount of water lost through our skin barrier via evaporation (separate from sweating). A TEWL test shows how effective the skin barrier is functioning by measuring how much water is lost over a given period. When a product is designed to support or strengthen the skin barrier, it should decrease the TEWL (less water is evaporating from your skin, leaving you more hydrated). How cool is that?

When combing through the endless new makeup brands and skincare launches, prioritize products that communicate their star ingredient concentrations, support their claims with clinical trials, and transparently explain their testing methods. In choosing these brands, you will not only level up your beauty routine, but you'll also contribute to the demand for genuinely effective skincare and makeup solutions in the industry.

That’s enough science for today.



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