As a $55 billion dollar industry in the US, beauty companies have proven themselves to be really good at one thing—selling you products. And while there are a lot of pros to primping, there are also some sneaky half truths, or even straight out lies that get fed through the beauty machine. To be a savvy consumer, you have to know that like everything else in this world, there’s more than what meets the eye. Here is a rare peek behind the curtain.
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Lie #1: Newer is always better.
The sexy, fast-paced world of beauty means there’s always something new launching. But, unlike what advertisements have you believing otherwise, newer doesn’t automatically mean better. In fact, often the opposite is true—it’s the tested, tried-and-true solutions that matter.
Take Retin-A for example: “Although discovered for anti-aging uses close to 30 years ago, retinol still remains the gold standard against which all others are judged,” says Mt. Kisco, NY, dermatologist David E. Bank, MD. “It’s easy to think that with all the new technology, what’s discovered or developed today must be better than something from decades ago, but there really hasn’t been anything to come along that will quite do everything that retinol can do. That’s not to say that something won’t come along one day that blows Retin-A out of the water, but it would be an expensive mistake to be constantly chasing the newest thing.”
Lie #2: Product claims are true.
With claims that “9 out of 10 dermatologists” recommend this and commissioned studies proving “that,” it’s no wonder that many think if a product promises a solution, then it must be true. Otherwise they can’t exactly make the claim, right? Wrong.
“Any over-the-counter product doesn’t go through FDA approval, so there’s a lot more leniency in what they can claim,” explains Dr. Bank. “The US requires that anything that alters living tissue to be considered a drug—and not a cosmetic—and therefore is required to go through the rigors of FDA trials and testing, and if approved, be available only via a doctor’s prescription. While drugs must live up to the claims as proven by trials and testing, any cosmetic—or anything you can buy without a doctor’s prescription—can make claims as long as they are not so egregiously wrong that enough consumers are complaining to the FTC about false advertising. Sometimes that means it comes down to semantics: You’ll see labels claiming to ‘diminishes the appearance of fine lines’ instead of ‘diminishes fine lines.’”
Lie #3: Losing weight is easy.
From the newest detox to miracle workouts, the industry would have anyone believe that losing weight is easy—if you just drink the right juice or do the right exercise. The reality is actually quite the opposite, as anyone who has tried to follow weight-loss tips will know. “Two pounds per week is really the most you can lose and sustain,” says Alycea Ungaro, owner and founder of Real Pilates. “And you may find that the pounds per week you drop decrease the longer you diet. It’s also too easy to sabotage your weight-loss goals. Exercising more makes people think they can ‘reward’ themselves with additional food—and that is the fastest way to veer off track.” Exercise more and eat less—however you cut it, there’s actually nothing easy about that.
Lie #5: Lower-priced products don’t work as well as their expensive counterparts.
When you’re dishing out $300 for an eye cream, companies definitely want you to believe you’re getting your money’s worth. But, the higher price point doesn’t mean that the formula is better. “These rare, esoteric ingredients that you may hear of often fall under the category of ‘less well-studied’ ingredients, meaning they probably have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal with tests that demonstrate, in a scientific way, that they come out ahead,” says Dr. Bank. That’s not to say your expensive products don’t work—it just means that the mark up doesn’t mean they work better than your drugstore staples.
Lie #6: Topical products work as well as in-office procedures.
You’ve surely heard about products promising to package an in-office procedure in a bottle—and it’s no wonder because buying a cream is a lot less scary than getting Botox for the first time. The truth? It’s simply not possible. “Ingredients in Botox and fillers are delivered to the body in an injectable format for a reason—because the actual molecules cannot penetrate the outer layer of skin. It’s not getting down to where it needs to in order to have lifting or filling effects,” says Dr. Banks.
Lie #7: Men and women need different skin care products.
Men and women have many differing needs, but skin care is not one of them. “It’s much more important to consider skin condition, than anything else. A male or female can have dry, sensitive skin and both would get the same product recommendation,” says Dr. Bank. “And yes, it is true that men generally have a thicker dermis, but topical products don’t penetrate that deeply, so skin thickness doesn’t really matter in how products work.”
Lie #8: You can look like a celebrity.
This may be the biggest lie of all—one that even though we know better, we all believe (even a little!). The industry knows this, which is why A-Listers can sell you face cream, even if you doubt that they really use it. The reality is: Celebrities have trainers, nutritionists, plastic surgeons, makeup artists, stylists—just to name a few—on call. Even celebrities probably don’t look like celebrities when they’re off duty.