Over the years the ASA has received numerous complaints about the use of before and after photos, styling and digital retouching applied to models and celebrities which purport to mislead consumers about the effects a product can actually achieve. The cosmetics market is an innovative and competitive marketplace that drives manufacturers to create aspirational ads which inspire glamour.

The Help Note on the use of production techniques in cosmetics advertising, launched in April 2011, sets out the principles which marketers should consider when creating marketing material and in the application of pre and post-production techniques. Marketers might never intentionally set out to mislead consumers; the key here is balance. It is perfectly acceptable to create an ad with a perfect finish, to show a product in the best possible light. But airbrushing out lines around the eye area on an “after” photograph for an anti-wrinkle eye cream, for example, will be unacceptable if the lack of wrinkles is obviously not down to the cream alone.

In one ruling, the ASA noted that the area around the model Christy Turlington's left eye had been digitally re-touched and therefore considered that the image coupled with the text which stated, “The Eraser perfect cover foundation. Conceals instantly, visibly, precisely ... Covers dark circles and fine lines to help conceal crow's feet - as if erased!” was misleading because the text had drawn particular attention to the product’s effect in the eye area. The complaint was upheld because the ASA was unable to establish whether the final image represented the effect of the product after use. (L'Oreal (UK) Ltd, 27th July 2011)

More recently, a national press ad for a skin serum which stated “instant luminosity” was challenged by complainants who did not believe that the “after” photos were representative. In this case, the ASA was satisfied that the styling and photographic pre-production techniques used for the “after” photos did not differ from those used for the “before” photos and, that no other products or post-production techniques had been used to brighten the appearance of the models' skin, so the complaints were not upheld (L'Oréal (UK) Ltd, 5 December 2012)

A TV ad for Oral-B Whitening toothpaste prompted a complaint from one complainant who did not believe that Holly Willoughby’s white teeth were the result of the product. In this case the ASA understood that Willoughby had used the product for two weeks prior to the ad being filmed, that her teeth had not been whitened prior to filming and she had provided an assurance to Clearcast of her opinion that the product visibly whitened her teeth. (Procter & Gamble (Health & Beauty Care) Ltd, 5 December 2012).

Long lashes are in vogue, and there are a plethora of ads for products which promise to provide that fluttery lash look. Mascara ads are the most common of these. Marketers should ensure that they do not manipulate an image to the point that it goes beyond the look which the product alone can achieve. For example, in 2012 the ASA upheld a complaint for a mascara ad featuring Natalie Portman which stated, "Dior Show New Look...Lash-multiplying effect volume...It delivers spectacular volume-multiplying effect, lash by lash". The ASA had not seen sufficient evidence to show that the post-production retouching on Natalie Portman's lashes in the ad did not exaggerate the likely effects of the product and the post-production retouching was applied on the eye lashes, an area which was directly relevant to the performance of the product. (Parfums Christian Dior (UK) Ltd, 24 October 2012)

Marketers should ensure that the before and after photographs which they hold as evidence relate to the image shown in the ad. If the ASA cannot assess any post-production work on the model featured, the ASA may well consider the ad misleading!

The inclusion of before and after photos in advertising is a popular tool used by marketers to illustrate the effect a product can achieve. When assessing the acceptability of these the ASA will consider whether the photographs meet the requirements of rules 3.45 to 3.48 of the CAP Code, because they are regarded in the same way as testimonials. Marketers should hold signed and dated proof that that the photos are genuine and have not been manipulated.

In January 2013, the ASA ruled on an ad for an eye lifting gel which featured a photograph of a woman’s face, before and after “30 seconds” and included text which stated, “Instant benefits Essential relief for tired eyes Skin feels tighter and firmer”. The ASA had not seen evidence which demonstrated that the “After 30 seconds” section of the image accurately represented the effect the product could achieve. (Transformulas International Ltd, 16 January 2013). Also, in March 2013, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad for Ultherapy which included before and after photos and text which stated. “Treat your face, neck, brow, jowls, skin...The only technology that treats your face from the foundation up”. In this case the ad included before photographs which featured consumers who clearly had sagging skin under their eye area, and after photographs which showed this to have been significantly reduced. However, because the advertiser was unable to supply signed and dated proof that the photos in the ad were genuine and had not been manipulated, the ad was considered misleading. (Lamphall Ltd, 20 March 2013)

Sometimes marketers include disclaimers which tell the reader that a photograph has actually been enhanced in post production. Such practice is still likely to be unacceptable if, for example, a photo has been digitally re-touched in an area which relates specifically to the performance of the product, irrespective the inclusion of a disclaimer.

Although the ASA tends to accept sensory claims for moisturisers, marketers ought to tread carefully when referring to the visual effect of a product. A complaint about an ad for a moisturiser featuring Rachel Weisz was upheld by the ASA because it considered that the claims “skin looks smoother” and “complexion looks more even” were misleading because the image had been digitally altered and therefore exaggerated the likely performance of the product. (L'Oréal (UK) Ltd, 1 February 2012)

You can read some more about Before and After photos and the use of production techniques in our guidance. As ever, if you require specific advice on your promotions, contact the CAP Copy Advice team on 0207 492 2100 or submit a query via the website.

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