Within the last year, controversy over famed South Korean skincare brand (with an amassed international following of 79k loyal supporters through their positioning as “clean” K-beauty), Purito. Leading up to the investigation and allegations of falsified SPF test results and claims against Purito’s product Centella Green Level Unscented Sun, the brand worked hard to hit the most popular notes in the clean beauty repertoire, which, up until now, seemed to resonate well with their customers.
But just how bad are these claims, who’s to blame, and what does it mean for users of that sunscreen and others like it? After all, at this point, nearly everyone is aware of the negative effects of too much sun on your skin, from aesthetic consequences like early signs of aging to serious health consequences like melanoma. Even leaving aside the negative effects of the sun, if you want to protect your skin from the sun at a certain level, and you buy a product that’s intended to do that, you should be able to trust that the product you buy does what it says.
Of course, that also applies to other claims that skincare ingredients products make, like “hydrating,” “firming,” or “instant results.” But do they live up to the claims they make? Or are your products’ skincare ingredients labels lying to you?
The Incomprehensible, Complex Safety Science of Skincare
Really, the most recent scandal about skincare products not containing the amount of SPF they claim isn’t a new scandal at all. A few years ago, a study on actual sunscreen products also found that over 40% didn’t live up to their claims. How does this happen? There are several ways this can happen. First, it could be the public’s worst fear in these situations – a greedy corporation (or whole industry) that’s making unsupported claims to rake in cash from trusting consumers. However, there are other options.
One can be a discrepancy in testing or the interpretation of results between different groups of resources. For example, one manufacturer test assumed the wearer hadn’t gotten wet in the sunscreen case, while the independent researchers got test subjects wet. That could explain the different results. This brings into question the water-resistance claims that some products have, so it doesn’t get those products entirely off the hook.
But it could explain some of the different numbers. There are other options. It takes a lot of steps to make a product. In the case of a skincare product containing SPF, it could be that the brand intended and believed that its product would contain a certain amount of SPF. Still, either the source for the SPF or the manufacturer that mixed the product misrepresented the final results to the brand, which then passed the misrepresentation onto the customer.
Or it could simply be an accident – a bad batch that needs to be recalled or a mistake in the manufacturing process that needs to be rectified. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. And this is the lowest-stakes scenario: it affects a limited number of products, can be fixed, and doesn’t have to involve any active deception on the part of anyone. But, unfortunately, this last scenario also the hardest for consumers to avoid.
You can probably learn to figure out if a company is lying to you or if a manufacturer is untrustworthy, and therefore companies that use that manufacturer may be suspect. But it’s tough to predict an actual accident, especially if there’s no history of carelessness or negligence to look at. So you may have to accept that bad batches and recalls happen sometimes. But you don’t have to accept deception. Look at some tips for figuring out whether your skincare products are lying to you.
Reading & Understanding Skincare Ingredients Labels
Ingredients lists tend to follow a specific format. They start with the ingredient that the product contains the most and work their way down from there. Items under 1% concentration don’t usually have the percentage listed. So even if a specific percentage isn’t available, you know that the product contains more of whatever is listed on the top and less of what is listed on the bottom.
This is helpful if you know what you’re looking for. Some active ingredients only need to be present in small percentages to be useful, of course. But if you’re looking for hydrating skincare and all of the ingredients that provide hydration are listed at the end, you might want to think about using a product that uses higher amounts of hydrating ingredients.
Dissecting Product Labels & Decoding Skincare Ingredients
The people who develop labels and marketing campaigns are experts at finding ways to avoid lying and still make you think the way they want you to think. You can’t be faulted for not recognizing this when it happens – it’s their whole job to do that, and you’re just trying to buy your skincare and get onto the next thing on your daily list. But once you learn to understand the wording that these labels use, you’ll be less likely to fall for it.
For example, say you want to buy a product that contains 15% of Super Ingredient. If you see “15%” and “Super Ingredient” on the label, your brain might pick out those terms and not think much further. But there’s a difference between “Contains 15% of Super Ingredient” and “Contains 15% of Super Ingredient-Containing Compound,” and the difference is that the second one probably does not contain 15% of the actual ingredient that you want.
Recognizing this and then checking the ingredients will probably help you make better decisions. You should also look for labeling claims and words like:
- “Instant results” – While this claim may very well be instant, bear in mind that doesn’t mean the instant results will last.
- “Firming” – This claim is important to consider because it can be so difficult to measure. There’s no objective lab test to ensure that something is more or less firming than something else. It may work for you, but it may not be universally true that it’s firming.
- “Clinically proven” – You should also be wary of packing or branding being marketed as medical products or make medical-sounding claims. They may or may not work for you, but they’re not actually medicined if they weren’t given to you by a doctor.
- “Patented technology” – This claim, for example, doesn’t really mean anything. Getting a patent doesn’t mean the product is good or does what it says it will. It just means that the patent holder is protected from someone else using their idea.
- “FDA Approved” – For products considered cosmetic, this claim means that it’s safe to use according to the instructions, not that it will actually work.
Understanding the potential pitfalls in skincare products and learning how to do research and read labels and packaging critically can help you make better skincare decisions. So can using the type of skincare product that’s best for your skin, which might be different from another person’s favorite product. Ciel Spa can help you discover the skincare products that are right for you.