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.
Reflexology involves the massage of specific zones, usually of the feet, that are believed to correspond to areas or organs of the body.
What claims are likely to be acceptable?
Claims that many people find the hands-on nature of the therapy relaxing are likely to be acceptable as are claims that the therapy can improve mood, aid sleep and promote a sense of wellbeing.
The ASA and CAP have yet to be provided with clinical evidence to support claims for the efficacy of reflexology. Therefore, any direct or implied health claims (beyond those listed above) are likely to be a problem unless marketers hold robust clinical evidence (Rule 12.1).
In 2011, the ASA upheld complaints made about a clinic offering facial reflexology which claimed that the therapy could reduce muscular-skeletal pain and headaches, improve facial blood circulation and had anti-ageing properties. The ASA found the claims misleading because there was not sufficient evidence to support them (Jackie Ginger Reflexology, 28 September 2011).
Practitioners who do not hold suitable health qualifications are advised to avoid referring to conditions, the diagnosis of or treatment of which are likely to require the supervision of a person with suitable healthcare qualifications (Rule 12.2).
The ASA and CAP consider that by referring to certain more ‘serious’ conditions, advertisers could be seen to discourage consumers from seeking essential medical treatment. The ASA has previously ruled that the inclusion of a disclaimer explaining the limited role of reflexology was insufficient to address this concern. In 2011 the ASA considered a reflexology website which included a disclaimer that stated “reflexology is not intended to replace the relationship with your primary health care providers and the consultation is not intended as medical advice... It is not a substitute for medical care...”. Not only did the ASA consider the statement contradicted the overall impression that reflexology could treat the conditions listed, but also considered readers could still be discouraged from seeking essential medical treatment for some of the listed conditions (The Reflex Clinic, 26th October 2011).
Advertisers have also made claims for specific reflexology treatments, for example, facial reflexology and reflexology for fertility.
Testimonials have also been used to imply that a therapy has helped individuals with the relief of certain symptoms or conditions. The CAP Code is clear in that “Claims that are likely to be interpreted as factual and appear in a testimonial must not mislead or be likely to mislead the consumer” (Rule 3.47). Therefore, in the absence of robust scientific evidence, testimonials should not state or imply that a condition featured can be treated. In 2011 the ASA considered a testimonial misleading because it made implied treatment claims for IBS without the advertiser holding robust clinical evidence in support. (Jackie Ginger Reflexology, 28 September 2011)