Most "scientific" beauty product claims are bogus, study finds

Ihar Ulashchyk

We've all seen beauty claims in magazines that promise to give us "better skin in just two weeks" or to "dramatically reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles."

But many women are not convinced. A new study found fewer than one out of five of such claims was considered truthful by a panel of readers -- and ads that used scientific language to describe the benefits were even less persuasive.

Researchers at Valdosta State University in Georgia and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln analyzed 289 makeup, hair care, fragrance and skin care advertisements from April 2013 issues of seven fashion magazines including Vogue, Marie Claire and Glamour.

The claims were divided into categories such as scientific claims like "clinically proven" and endorsement claims like "dermatologists recommend." Three female judges with varying levels of knowledge about the cosmetics industry sorted these claims into four categories: outright lie, omission, vague or acceptable.

Results showed that only 18 percent of all claims were deemed acceptable. Among scientific claims, 86 percent were considered vague (omitting important information) or false.

"For the past 30 years a fundamental belief that advertisers hold is that women are more emotional, so whatever we write should be sensitive and emotional," study author Jie Fowler, assistant professor of marketing at Valdosta University, told CBS News. "But consumers today are more cynical so this type of plan may not work as well."

The researchers found that most claims of a products' superiority, including phrases such as "award-winning product," and claims about performance, such as "your skin feels softer," were considered false, whereas most endorsement claims were deemed acceptable.

The study was published in the Journal of Global Fashion Marketing: Bridging Fashion and Marketing.

The Food and Drug Administration only regulates cosmetics for their physical safety, not the truth or exaggeration of their advertising claims.

The researchers say that deception undermines credibility of advertising as a whole by making consumers defensive and distrustful of such claims. Fowler said that past research surveys have shown that only 17 percent of consumers trusted the cosmetics industry. "That's an indication that if we don't change our approach it might harm the future impression of the brand," she said.