Best Practice in Cosmetic Claims by Steve Barton

Best Practice in Cosmetic Claims by Steve Barton

A summary from “Science in a Bottle”

Organised by The Society of Cosmetic Scientists

Steve Barton, Skin Thinking Ltd. Immediate Past President SCS

There are areas of product marketing that still rely purely on creative wording.  "Puffery" is exempt from the need for proof, though it hasn’t stopped someone asking if a certain drink does give you wings. What is not for debate is the need to provide robust evidence for those claims that promise a tangible benefit. For cosmetic products this has always been the case but, in July 2013, the EU Common Claims criteria came into force formalising 6 principles for all cosmetic claims.

Briefly, these state that you cannot claim something that is a regulatory requirement and that all claims should be based on evidence interpreted in an honest, truthful and fair manner with the intention of aiding consumer decision making. A phrase used throughout this legislation is "best-practice". Whilst there are a number of guidance documents on this, the principles are not widely-discussed. A recent review of compliance showed good adherence - 91% of 1861 TV & press adverts reviewed – but the main non-compliance issue was lack of evidential support. The SCS event gathered experts in the generation, collation and translation of evidence to freely exchange aspects of best practice for Cosmetic Claims support and encourage greater awareness of best practice.

The output from the day will be reported elsewhere, but the main messages were clear. It is rare that a cosmetic claim can be made on the basis of a single piece of information; a “body of evidence” is a more robust strategy and results from realistic use conditions an important element of this. Agreeing requirements for this body of evidence is essential at product brief; marketing & technical teams must together agree a short-list of consumer messages. Companies often ask for too many claims or try to shoe-horn additional ones in at the last minute resulting in failure and wasted money. Agreed claims drive the gathering of evidence; this should be collected continually throughout development to asses the risk of failure and ease the compilation of final reports. Any tests planned should use standardised protocols and validated tests relevant to the claim whether from in-vitro, instrumental, clinical, sensory, consumer or ingredient supplier data. Using power calculations to guide sampling, tests can provide numbers, scientific findings and statistics but NOT claims.

Interpretation of the evidence with consumer comprehension in mind is not simply a legal requirement but a means of enhancing commercial success. Using trained panels to generate a common language for sensorial evaluation is accepted but these are not surrogate consumers. Their comments can guide choice of wording in the questionnaire but not reflect real in use conditions. When assessing the numerical and statistical results, simply using mean values risks losing valuable population data that may help interpretation. Once all this has been completed, there is also the option to have claims “endorsed” by various bodies. Without neutrality, transparency and clarity of criteria for the “approvals” process these can become meaningless. Running throughout all this, Quality and Audit is essential for all aspects of testing - volunteer recruitment systems, staff training, instrument validation, double entry data recording etc etc. This was just one aspect suggested within criteria for engaging the services of a CRO. Others included robustness of their financial and ethical positions, their responsiveness, flexibility, innovation and “partnership” in the process of generating the evidence behind the claims.

There was also healthy debate. On this last point – Is it the role of the CRO or the Sponsor to “interpret” evidence, or should it be collaborative? Tests produce stand alone scientific reports that can be used as part of the body of evidence – that report should be “locked” on completion. It is becoming accepted to use in-vitro data for safety approval; will we ever be in the position to adopt this approach for some claims? Is there such a thing as a “placebo” in cosmetic testing? Should we be looking forward to developing and adopting new criteria for some of the more futuristic claims? And to finish where we started – is a claim that a product makes you “more beautiful” puffery or a quantifiable sensory and/or consumer definable property.

The debate will continue, but the foundations have been laid.


Thanks to my co-chair Jack Ferguson of Skinnovation and to all the contributors:

  • Stewart Long, Cutest Systems
  • Joyce Ryan, Joyce Ryan Associates
  • Carole Treasure, XCellR8
  • Victor Reynolds, Alba Science
  • Gemma Hodgson, Qi Stat
  • Tracey Sanderson, Sensory Dimensions
  • Klaus-Peter Wilhelm, proDERM
  • Ian Marlow, Walgreen Boots Alliance
  • Stefan Bänziger, Rahn
  • Sarah Smiley, London College of Fashion