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.
Marketers of beauty and cosmetics must hold clinical evidence of any efficacy claims, and should ensure that they do not exaggerate the effects of their product, either through implied claims, before and after photos or post-production effects.
Beauty and anti-ageing creams
Prescription-only Creams and Medicines (including Botox)
Skin and Beauty Supplements
Temporary, cumulative and physiological effects
Alternative beauty therapies
Targeting, Social Responsibility and other rules
The ASA and CAP have spent many years assessing claims for beauty creams and there is an established line on what is and is not likely to be acceptable. Sensory claims or those based on consumer perception tests, such as “look fresher”, “skin feels smoother”, “for more radiant-looking skin” or “80% of women thought their skin felt firmer and looked more toned” are low-risk and relatively easy to substantiate. But marketers should avoid confusing readers by trying to support an objective claim using subjective feedback, for example, “82% decrease in wrinkles*… *based on 52 customer responses”.
In isolation, describing a product as an “anti-ageing” or an “anti-wrinkle” cream is unlikely to be a problem, especially if the context of the ad explains that the effects are temporary. So, an ad that states the cream can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles is likely to be acceptable, but an ad that states or implies the product will have an anti-ageing or an anti-wrinkle effect is not. See Beauty and Cosmetics: Creams and Claims in product names for more detailed guidance.
Rule 3.7 requires marketers to hold documentary evidence for their claims before submitting a marketing communication for publication. Rule 12.1 echoes that requirement and states that substantiation will be assessed on the basis of the available scientific knowledge. Although it states that marketers should provide trials conducted on people only “if relevant”, CAP’s experience is that efficacy claims for beauty products need to be supported by tests on people. In-vitro trials have frequently been dismissed as inadequate (Avon Cosmetics Ltd, 17 January 2007, and Clarins (UK) Ltd, 15 August 2007).
Marketers wanting to make new or breakthrough claims must collate sound data to form a body of evidence. That body of evidence will usually need to include at least one controlled human experimental study. See Guidance on the level of substantiation required for Health, Beauty and Slimming Claims for detailed guidance on the amount and type of evidence on the efficacy of their product the ASA would ask marketers to hold.
In 2017, 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) The Copy Advice team may be able to evaluate and advise on the likely acceptability of marketers’ substantiation.
Before submitting evidence to CAP, marketers should first ensure that their claims are legal under medicines law (Rule 12.1). If the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) classes a product as medicinal, either by function or by presentation, marketers need to obtain a Marketing Authorisation from the MHRA before selling that product in the UK. Medicine law defines medicinal claims as those that suggest the product can treat or prevent a disease or restore, correct or modify physiological function by metabolic, pharmacological or immunological means. The MHRA can advise whether a product is medicinal and provide more information on their website.
Medicines and creams that are only available on prescription are not allowed to be advertised to the public (rule 12.12). Therefore, on their own websites, advertisers are urged to promote a consultation, rather than the products themselves. See Prescription Only Medicine and Beauty and Cosmetics: Botulinum toxin products for more information.
Marketers promoting beauty supplements are essentially advertising a food, and therefore should take the Food Rules into account, and note that any claim which directly results in an effect on one’s health is likely to fall under Section 15 of the Code. See Beauty and Cosmetics: Food, supplements and pills for more detailed guidance.
Environmental claims about cosmetics (such as "eco-friendly", "green", "kind to the planet" etc.) are on the rise. Marketers should be aware that any environmental claims about their beauty products generally must be based on the entire life cycle of the product (from initial manufacture to disposal of the container). If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects or ingredients of a product might be justifiable. Marketers are urged to read our guidance on Environmental Claims: General and Environmental Claims: General Green Claims.
In general, cosmetic claims tend to be those that an average consumer would regard as relating to temporary improvements in one’s appearance. A claim that implies that a cream can change the structure of the skin, for example by reducing or even removing wrinkles (either immediately or over time) or penetrating the blood-stream beneath the skin, could be a physiological claim and might therefore be unacceptable. See Beauty and Cosmetics: Physiological Effects.
Claims such as "Improves skin in X days" and "Skin looks better week after week", known as cumulative effects, are unlikely to be acceptable without a high level of evidence. See Beauty and Cosmetics: Cumulative Effects for more information.
Marketers should not exaggerate the effect their product is likely to have on the skin. While favourable lighting for example, is often used in anti-wrinkle cream advertisements, the ASA has upheld complaints where the post production re-touching of photographs has been considered to give a misleading impression about the results a product is likely to achieve on the model shown (L’Oreal (UK) Ltd, 1 Feb 2012, The Higher Lifestyle, 4 January 2012, Procter & Gamble Ltd, December 2009).
See Beauty and Cosmetics: The use of production techniques for more information on the use of airbrushing, Photoshop and social media filters in ads.
Although many of the claims we see relate to skin creams, other products, such as lasers, pills and supplements, chemical peels and facial fillers make similar claims. The Copy Advice team has also been asked whether complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and massage, can claim to have “anti-ageing” effects. To date, neither CAP nor the ASA has seen evidence that acupuncture nor massage can slow down, reverse or relieve the superficial signs of ageing. See also Beauty and Cosmetics: Procedures Using Lasers and Beauty and Cosmetics: Treatments using fillers.
Marketers of toothpaste are reminded that toothpaste can be either a cosmetic, a medicinal product or a medical device, and advertisers are responsible for ensuring their product is appropriately licenced/authorised if necessary.
Furthermore, marketers of teeth whitening products and braces must ensure that they do not exaggerate the capabilities of their products, and hold clinical evidence for any claims of efficacy.
See Dental: General for more guidance on this sector.
The CAP Code also states that marketers should not: encourage consumers to use products to excess and must hold proof before suggesting their product or therapy is guaranteed to work, is absolutely safe or without side-effects (rule 12.9), even if a product is “natural” or omits an ingredient in common use (Rule 12.10). Furthermore, marketers looking to make use of the term “natural” in relation to product ingredients should ensure that the ingredient has been through minimal processing in order to justify the term.
Marketers should not refer to the relief of symptoms or the superficial signs of ageing unless they can prove this (Rule 12.7); use unqualified claims such as “cure” or “rejuvenation” (Rule 12.7). Claims about the action that a cosmetic has on or in the skin should distinguish between the composition of the product and the benefits achieved through its application, such as massage (Rule 12.22). Marketers should not refer to the prevention, delaying or masking of premature ageing in anything other than in temporary terms (Rule 12.22.1).
Whilst ads for general beauty and cosmetic products are unlikely to require specific targeting, those looking to create ads for cosmetic surgery and cosmetic interventions (such as breast implants, cosmetic injectables, chemical peels, rhinoplasty etc.) are reminded that new placement and scheduling restrictions were introduced in November 2021 (CAP Code rule 12.25 and BCAP Code rule 32.2.9) which prohibit cosmetic interventions advertising from being targeted at under-18s. Our Cosmetic Interventions guidance contains more information about this, and marketers may also find our guidance on Targeting, Children: Targeting and Advertising Guidance - Age-restricted ads online of use.
These marketers should also be aware of their social responsibility in terms of cosmetic interventions, and marketers for all beauty products should be aware of our guidance on body image.
See also Beauty and Cosmetics: Chemical Peels, Beauty and Cosmetics: Electrical devices for lines and wrinkles, Hair care, Hair: Hair Removal, Hair loss, Breast enhancing products: General, Cosmetic Surgery and Healthcare: Medicinal Claims.