A TV ad for an intense pulsed light (IPL) device, seen in December 2022, featured the singer, Frankie Bridge. The opening scene showed Ms Bridge opening a box containing the device and holding it up. Her voice-over stated, “Braun Silk-expert IPL. Permanent visible hair removal without going to the salon. Braun IPL, you’re on.” On-screen text stated, “Braun IPL you’re on”. The voice-over continued, “It’s so straightforward, I just press and glide.” Smaller on-screen text stated, “Not suitable for dark skin. Most effective on light to medium skin tones & dark hair colours.” The ad then showed Ms Bridge using the device on her arm and under-arm area, with the scene changing to her dressed in a different outfit and using the device on her under-arm area. On-screen text stated, “Treatment done. IPL won”. The voice-over continued, “Visible hair removal that’s here to stay. IPL – welcome to my beauty routine. I love it, and so do they.” A woman, a man and a second woman were then shown using the device on their bikini line, chest and chin respectively. The ad ended with an image of the device alongside text that stated, “Permanent visible hair removal, at home”. Smaller text stated, “MONEY BACK 100 DAY GUARANTEE More info on the Braun website”. Further small on-screen text stated, “18+ only. Proof of purchase required. Applications within 100 days from purchase date. Visit [link to advertiser’s website] for full T&Cs”. The voice-over continued, “Now it’s your turn. Permanent visible hair removal or your money back.”
Three complainants challenged whether the claim “permanent visible hair removal” was misleading and could be substantiated.
Procter & Gamble t/a Braun said IPL devices emitted light energy which was absorbed by the dark pigment, melanin, in hair and heated up the hair follicles, effectively stopping the hair regrowth cycle. They explained that there was no recognised industry standard in the UK for measuring permanency in relation to hair removal, but cited the dictionary definition of permanent as meaning “lasting for a long time or forever”. Braun explained that the product was also sold in the USA where it underwent a high standard of testing due to its classification as a medical device. They therefore applied the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) definition of permanent hair reduction which stated, “Permanency is defined as a long-term stable reduction of the number of re-growing hairs. Hence, for ‘permanency’, a 30% reduction is required at follow-up appointments (hair count only, no treatment), two of which must be long-term time-points and one at least 12 months”.
Braun supplied data from a clinical study which they believed supported a permanent hair removal claim in line with the FDA definition. They believed that the reference to “visible” in the claim made it clear to consumers that this referred to hairs on the skin surface only. They explained that no light-based method – home or salon – would remove hair forever as it merely paused the hair regrowth cycle; hair would eventually regrow due to hormonal changes, amongst other factors. They pointed out that the money-back guarantee showed their confidence in consumer satisfaction.
Clearcast said IPL treatment had existed since the mid-1990s and they had been approving ads for IPL for nearly ten years. They said the ad had been approved by their consultant to ensure compliance with the Code and consistency with other IPL ads. They believed that the wording of the ad to state “visible” was crucial, as it was the hair above the surface that was permanently removed, rather than all future hair regrowth being permanently stopped. They added that “visible” meant the device worked on hairs in the anagen (active) phase of growth, and that repeated use ensured that subsequent phases of growth and regrowth were addressed below skin level leading to long-term hair-free skin.
Clearcast believed the voice-over “IPL – welcome to my beauty routine” made clear that regular use was required to achieve those results. They added that, because individual results might vary, the ad offered a money-back guarantee for those who were not satisfied with the results achieved.
The ad stated “permanent visible hair removal” and “visible hair removal that’s here to stay”. The ASA considered that viewers would understand from those claims, particularly the references to “permanent” and “removal that’s here to stay”, that by using the product, they would be able to achieve long-lasting hair removal because eventually there would be no regrowth. We acknowledged that Braun intended, by including the word “visible”, for the claim to mean that only the visible hairs above the skin’s surface would be permanently removed, and to highlight that repeated applications would be needed on an ongoing basis to capture hairs in that active phase of their growth cycle. However, we considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim to mean that hair removal would be permanent and visible (meaning the effect would be noticeable), rather than permanent only in relation to the visible hairs above the skin’s surface.
The ad showed Ms Bridge in two different outfits and referred to her “beauty regime”, which we considered implied that the product would need to be used repeatedly through a course of treatments, rather than being a one-time application. However, we considered that did not override the impression given by the claims “permanent visible hair removal” and “visible hair removal that’s here to stay” that consumers could prevent hair regrowth permanently through using the product. We considered that the on-screen text which stated “Treatment done. IPL won” also added to the impression that, once a course of IPL treatment had finished, hair would not grow back.
We assessed the evidence provided by Braun. Fifty participants in a randomised controlled study received 12 weekly treatments, after which the treatment was stopped. The trial measured the average difference in hair count on the treatment area before and after treatment, after six months and after 12 months The results showed that after the initial treatment there was an average reduction in hair count of more than 30%, after six months an average reduction of 43.9% and after 12 months an average reduction of 36%. Additionally, after more than 12 months post treatment 66.7% of participants had experienced more than 30% hair reduction on all body areas. We considered that while the study demonstrated that with regular treatments the device could achieve a reduction in the number of regrowing hairs over time, it did not show that use of the product, through a number of repeated applications, could achieve permanent hair removal by eventually stopping all hair regrowth in the treatment area. We therefore considered that the evidence did not adequately substantiate the claim “permanent visible hair removal” as it was likely to be understood by consumers.
Because the claim “permanent visible hair removal” was likely to be interpreted to mean that after a number of repeated applications, consumers would achieve long-lasting hair removal by eventually stopping all hair regrowth in the treatment area, and the evidence provided did not show that was the case, we concluded that it had not been substantiated and was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation) and 3.12 (Exaggeration).
The ad must not appear in the form complained of. We told Procter & Gamble t/a Braun to ensure they did not state or imply that their product could remove hair permanently unless they held adequate substantiation to support the claim.