FDA accuses Avon, Lancome, other cosmetic companies of making ad claims that go too far

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(CBS News) Government regulators are calling out Avon and other cosmetics companies, accusing them of making product claims that go too far.

The Food and Drug Administration has sent warning letters to at least four companies, including cosmetic giants Avon and Lancome, threatening to block sales or even seize their products if they don't tone down their ads.

Dermatologist Dr. Tina Alster used to be a consultant for Lancome, so she's seen the business from inside and out. She said, "It's surprising that they didn't react to these claims before."

Alster says the FDA looked the other way for years as companies puffed up the effects of their cosmetics.

To sell drugs they would need FDA approval and that could take years, during which time the companies would have to suspend sales of these highly lucrative products. Propelled by baby boomers, sales of anti-wrinkle potions last year were almost $3 billion.

And youth in a bottle doesn't come cheaply. Lancome's Genifique Eye Light-Pearl product costs $68 for just two-thirds of an ounce or approximately one and one-third tablespoons.

Both Avon and Lancome say they're working with the FDA to resolve the advertising issue.

Alster says the companies will probably give in and tone down their ads because the alternative would mean losing millions while the FDA decides if these anti-aging products are cosmetics or drugs.

The FDA sent its letter to Avon on Tuesday. The company has 15 days to respond.

Watch Chip Reid's report in the video above.

  • Chip-Reid_bio_140x100_bw.jpg
    Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.