Loose Labeling


By now, you’ve probably seen buzzwords like “all natural,” “hypoallergenic” and “patented” hundreds of times. But have you ever stopped to ask what they mean? Beauty companies love terms like these because they suggest concrete benefits that don’t have to be backed up by science. In fact, as long as they don’t claim to change the body’s structure or function, companies don’t need FDA approval to market new products to the public and are not required to provide any research to prove their claims. These days, one would almost need a degree in chemistry to understand some of the catch phrases on skin care products.  Dr. Michael Tick is a biochemist, laboratory director for The Institute for Skin Sciences and founder of Edimi, a line of organic skincare and body care products sold at luxury spas and salons around the world. 

Gone are the days when simple statements such as “oil free” would suffice.  Perhaps the most common phrase is clinical formula.  As Dr. Tick explains, “this has no real meaning.  It does not necessarily indicate that the formula was produced in a medical clinic, as the manufacturers would have people believe. Clinically tested could very well indicate that the product was tested, but what was it tested for?  What were the results?  Essentially, this marketing claim is meaningless.”

Here are seven more commonly misunderstood terms to watch for:

1.Patented or Patent Pending. Patents can be granted to companies that manufacture or combine materials in new ways.  But just because something is patented doesn’t mean it works.

2. All Natural. This one really bugs me! It doesn’t mean the product is organic or chemical-free. After all, chemicals are “natural,” too.

3. Organic. The US Department of Agriculture certifies organic food ingredients found in cosmetics, but not essential oils or plants used for cosmetic purposes.  To carry the USDA Organic seal, a product must contain at least 95% organic food ingredients. Other countries have their own organic certification labels, such as COSMOS and NaTrue in the European Union and NASAA in Australia.

4. Hypoallergenic. Think this guarantees you won’t have a reaction? Think again. These products can still contain ingredients some people are allergic to, including preservatives and fragrance.

5. Fragrance-Free. These products may not have a noticeable smell, but can still contain “masking” scents to cover up ingredients with unpleasant odors. Look for the words “no fragrance added” instead.

6. Non-Comedogenic. While non-comedogenic products are usually oil-free and therefore less likely to cause breakouts, there’s no guarantee they won’t.  In fact, many contain dimethicone, a known acne aggravator.

7. Helps Pre-Mature Aging. Perhaps the most appealing of all claims from a consumer standpoint is this statement.  If a product truly prevented premature aging by affecting the structure of the skin, it would be classified as a drug and therefore would require FDA approval.  Manufactures circumvent this by utilizing the fact that sunscreens prevent premature aging by decreasing the damaging effects of ultraviolet light on the skin. Therefore, if a product contains sunscreen, it may state ‘prevents premature aging’ on the label.

About the Institute for Skin Sciences

The Institute for Skin Sciences (ISS) is a thirty-five year old private Skin research facility based in the United States. Dr. Michael Tick, an internationally renowned research Scientist, whose life-long objective has been to bring good health and wellness to the people through the Skin, directs the Institute.