Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
This guidance relates to moisturisers, anti-ageing creams, exfoliators and general cosmetic face creams.
Claims in product names
Claiming a product can reduce “dark spots”, “blemishes” or similar
Claiming a cumulative or persistent effect
Claims that the effects are similar to surgery
Like other categories of products, the ASA does not allow marketers of moisturisers to make claims in product names that they would otherwise be unable to make See Claims in Product names. Product names that imply a level of performance that cannot be justified should not be used or should be disclaimed. With regards to anti-ageing, although it would be difficult to prove that a face cream had an “anti-wrinkle” or “anti-ageing” effect (that it could remove wrinkles or reverse ageing), referring to a cream as an “anti-ageing” cream in a context that explained the effect was only temporary or worked only on the appearance of wrinkles might be acceptable.
CAP understands that anti-ageing creams work by moisturising the skin. The skin absorbs water and is plumped up, temporarily masking the appearance of wrinkles. Creams also provide a barrier on the surface of the skin, reducing moisture loss. Moisturisers have a superficial effect on the surface of the skin and marketers that go beyond making merely cosmetic claims should be wary of implying physiological changes such as “promotes skin regeneration” (The Body Shop International plc, 26 September 2007) “skin thickness increased by over 8% in four months” (Age Technology, 5 March 2008) and “reverses the cellular ageing process” (R Robson Ltd, 26 August 2009).
Marketers of topical creams should ensure that they hold robust clinical evidence for any claims they make – however, they are reminded that prescription-only creams would be considered a prescription-only medication (POM), and therefore cannot be advertisers to the public - see Healthcare: Prescription-only medicine.
As with all claims, marketers must ensure that they hold robust clinical evidence for the stated effects of the cream. The ASA upheld against a company advertising a topical eye cream because the evidence, which was unclear in its methodology, was considered inadequate to support the level of claims made (The Perfect Cosmetics Company Ltd, 19 December 2018).
Marketers should also avoid making claims that a topical product can remove tattoos, that it could be a "remedy for scarring" or that it could help to “reduce the appearance of scars" (Express Newspapers, 20 April 2011, (tattooremovalcream.co.uk, 1 February 2012, tattooremovalcream.co.uk, 10 August 2011), unless robust clinical evidence for the efficacy of the product is held. See Beauty and Cosmetics: Physiological Effect.
Marketers stating that a product can cover “spots”, “dark circles”, “blemishes” etc. are only likely to be acceptable if a product contains foundation, concealer or other light-reflecting particles, and the effect is attributed to this element of the cream. Marketers must still hold evidence of this.
In June 2013, the ASA considered that consumers would be likely to interpret the claims, “Covers freckles...dark patches...age blemishes...tell-tale signs of ageing can be covered quickly and simply” to mean that the cream included makeup which could conceal blemishes and marks on the skin. However, this was not the case, and the ASA upheld the complaint because insufficient evidence was held to support the claims that the product could work in this way. (Easylife Group Ltd, 26 June 2013).
CAP has accepted that, when used on dry skin, moisturisers have the potential to demonstrate a cumulative or persistent effect but has yet to see any convincing evidence that any moisturiser has this effect. Marketers wanting to make claims such as “Improves skin in just X days” or “My skin looks more and more radiant every day” should hold product-specific evidence. See Beauty and Cosmetics: Cumulative Effects.
Marketers and their agencies are, however, unlikely to be asked for evidence for well-established claims. Referring to “temporary effects” or the “appearance of lines and wrinkles” or “nourishing [or “plumping”] the skin with moisture” are generally accepted claims for which neither CAP nor the ASA would normally seek evidence. Sensory or impressionistic claims, such as “your skin feels smoother” are also extremely unlikely to attract complaints or action.
Moreover, claims such as “80% of women said it reduced the appearance of their wrinkles” will require proof in the form of consumer use or perception tests. Claims that convey a physiological or cumulative effect will require a much higher level of evidence, and marketers are urged to consider carefully whether their data is robust enough.
Rule 12.22.1 explicitly allows marcoms for cosmetics that protect against the damage caused by environmental factors to make claims which refer to temporarily preventing, delaying or masking premature ageing. For example, marketers may claim that a cream which includes a minimum SPF 15 and the equivalent UVA protection, can help temporarily protect the skin from the sun and therefore, delay premature ageing. Marketers should be very careful not to claim that a product can protect the skin from the sun if it does not contain a sunscreen of adequate strength. Not only is this likely to mislead, but it is also likely to be considered irresponsible.
In 2007, the ASA upheld complaints about ads that claimed a skin cream could protect against damaging electromagnetic waves emitted from mobile phones, microwave ovens and laptops (Clarins (UK) Ltd, 15 August 2007). Again, marketers whose claims go beyond those that are generally accepted should ensure their evidence is robust and convincing.
Claims that creams containing anti-oxidants can protect the skin and delay or temporarily prevent premature ageing as a result of their antioxidant ingredients have not yet been proven. The Copy Advice team is unaware of any acceptable cosmetic claims for antioxidants.
In 2006, the ASA accepted that a product that contained glycolic acid, which increases natural exfoliation could legitimately be described as “helping the skin’s natural self-peeling process” and that it could help “reveal a new skin effect” (L’Oreal (UK) Ltd, 28 June 2006). Marketers of exfoliating creams may make some claims about skin renewal but should be careful not to over-claim.
Marcoms that either state or imply that skin creams have an effect similar or equivalent to surgery or the like, are unlikely to be acceptable. Marketers should be aware of the overall impression made by their ads. In 2019, the ASA investigated whether a Nivea ad in 2019 misleadingly implied that the results of the product were comparable to surgery. Though Nivea had featured a needle in the ad, because the rest of the ad made clear the nature of the product and featured nothing else that implied a “surgery-like” result, the complaint was not upheld (Beiersdorf UK Ltd, 1 May 2019). Similarly, the ASA ruled that the claim “let surgery wait” was acceptable because it believed viewers would not interpret the phrase as claiming anything more than a temporary effect (L’Oreal Golden Ltd, 17 August 2005).
However, in contrast, Avon was found to have exaggerated the benefits of its face cream with claims such as "TAKE ACTION WITH THE AT HOME ALTERNATIVE TO SURGERY. THE NEW WAVE IN FACE LIFTS an exclusive technological skincare breakthrough tighter, firmer, more lifted skin in just 3 days …” The ASA concluded that the marketer had not shown that the product had an effect over and above that delivered by other moisturising products and, in reaching its decision, the ASA rejected consumer and in-vitro tests (Avon Cosmetics Ltd, 17 January 2007). See also Beauty and Cosmetics: "Non-surgical" and "surgical" type claim.
The ASA did not rule against one ad which stated “Get flawless skin...without additional makeup without procedures without photo retouching” and featured an image of one half of a model’s face labelled “untreated” and the other half labelled “treated (in 40 seconds)”. The image had not been digitally manipulated and had been taken immediately after application of the product, so the ASA was satisfied that the photo did not mislead as to the effect the product was capable of achieving. (Indeed Laboratories Inc, 15 May 2013). See The use of Production Techniques.