In the United States cosmetic companies are not prevented from making almost any claim they want. However, there is a significant rule they must follow.
“You can not make false claims”
While small cosmetic companies might inadvertently (or purposely) make false claims, big cosmetic companies are not so cavalier. No doubt their legal departments scrutinize anything they might put on their product labels. This means when you’re looking at the labels of a product produced by a big cosmetic manufacturer, you can have faith that there is some evidence they have to back up their claims. Figuring out what that evidence might be can be extremely helpful for a cosmetic chemist. It will help in product development, product testing, and in your own formulation efforts. But how do you figure it out?
Figuring out claims
The first step in figuring out how product claims are supported is to figure out what claims are being made. This takes some practice and some thoughtful reading. Let’s look at an example.
I like Drugstore.com because they list claims and ingredients in a handy text-friendly form.
Here is what is listed for the Pantene product.
Pantene’s unique shampoo & conditioner system with weightless moisturizers replenishes hair from root to tip to help prevent split ends from forming.
Pantene Dry to Moisturized Conditioner helps repair damage, revealing your light, bouncy, revitalized hair.
Moisturizing conditioner strengthens hair against damage and breakage
Helps Protect against damage and split ends
Gentle enough for color-treated or permed hair
Step 1 – List of cosmetic claims
Now, let’s list all the claims they are making.
1. Pantene’s unique shampoo & conditioner system
2. …with weightless moisturzers…
3. (system) “…replenishes hair from root to tip…”
4. “…help prevent split ends from forming”
5. (Pantene) “…helps repair damage…”
6. “…revealing your light, bouncy, revitalized hair.”
7. “Moisturizing conditioner strengthens hair against damage & breakage”
8. Helps protect against damage and split ends
9. Gentle enough for color-treated or permed hair
Step 2 – Logical Evaluation
A few of these claims can simply be supported with logic.
1. As long as the exact shampoo & conditioner formulas are not used in some other line, they are unique. Thus, the claim is validated.
2. This claim is a little questionable as the term “weightless” implies they have no mass. However, the company could support this by weighing hair before use, then after use and as long as there is no significant difference, the claim is verified.
3. “Replenish” is practically a meaningless word so the company has lots of leway in defining it. As long as they can prove something is left behind (e.g. silicone, cationic polymer) then they could support this claim.
4. Preventing split ends can be supported by counting the number of split ends caused by combing (robotic comb). They can compare it to treated versus untreated hair. If there are less split ends on treated hair, the claim is supported.
5. “Repairing damage” is a tricky claim to support, but “helping to repair damage” is much easier. By pointing to the moisturizing ingredients and the improvement in combing as proof, the company can support the claim of helping to repair damage.
6. These are just fluff claims but the company could use an instron or diastron or some other hair device to demonstrate “bounciness.” As long as they compare it to some untreated control, they wouldn’t have a problem doing better.
7. Strengthen hair is a tricky claim but companies have used robotic combs to demonstrate that there is less breaking when combing through treated hair. The hair isn’t actually stronger but it breaks less so TV and other media have accepted the argument.
8. Supported with the same test that supports claim #7
9. This is a vague claim but they could support it by washing colored hair with the system and demonstrating that it hasn’t significantly changed.
Getting good at claims
It is a good practice for cosmetic formulators to look at the claims of their competitors and figure out how they are supporting them. You can usually figure them out using logic but it certainly helps to be well-versed in the types of tests that are typically run to support claims.
You’ll learn this with experience or you can ask your suppliers how they support claims. An excellent source for learning how companies support the claims that they make are in patents. Pantene has a patent on both their shampoo and conditioner. Just look up the number and read through the description of their claims. They spell out how they support many of the claims they advertise.
Do you have a method for figuring out how competitor’s claims are supported? Leave a comment below.