Skin care - proof, not promises


Skin care is coming of age as manufacturers begin to take bold steps to prove their products really do deliver on their promises, as Emma Reinhold reports

Skin care is coming of age as manufacturers begin to take bold steps to prove their products really do deliver on their promises, as Emma Reinhold reports

Ask any consumer what they want from their skin care product and the result is inevitably the same – results. Whether they are investing in a premium anti-ageing product or trying a budget moisturiser, consumers are looking for clear evidence that the product works rather than just hope in a bottle. As a result proof has become even more important in the industry, and with the global economy flatlining and consumer spending power dwindling, there has never been such incentive for skin care manufacturers to cut through the marketing hype and prove their products live up to the claims in order to gain a competitive edge.

With products and claims becoming ever more sophisticated, it is becoming increasingly important to prove the efficacy of your product or be proven wrong. In March of this year, Procter & Gamble’s Olay brand was wrapped by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK for claiming that the pentapeptides in its Regenerist cream “significantly reduced the appearance of lines and wrinkles”. Not so said the ASA who found “there were methodological gaps in the management of results and interpretation of data”.

Proof can also have a positive effect and the phenomenon that resulted from the independent studies for Boots’ No7 Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum in 2007 has become the industry benchmark on how clinical studies can quite literally change the fate of your brand overnight. Building on the success of these studies, Boots has set another precedent in skin care, conducting an independent double blind placebo controlled study on its new Protect & Perfect Intense Beauty Serum.

The 12 month trial, conducted by Professor Chris Griffiths is being hailed as a first in the industry and has found the new product had genuine, long term anti-ageing benefits, providing both a visual and structural improvement to the skin, with 70% of users saying the product showed a marked improvement in the appearance of photo-aged skin after six months. In addition to increasing fibrillin production, the serum was also found to smooth out wrinkles by up to 50% after four weeks’ use, and 43% of volunteers said the product had some extra clinical improvement in their wrinkles compared to 22% of people using a basic moisturiser.

“The research is something different. To our knowledge there is no other peer reviewed data on anti-ageing available at the moment and it paves the way for bigger, more complex studies,” Stewart Long, Boots’ scientific skin care advisor tells SPC. “It’s quite clearly a commercial product that we have tested rather than just an ingredient and we used a similar methodology to that used to test medicines. The data was also published before the product was launched which was an important move for us.”

Long says the retailer has been overwhelmed by the response to the tests and hopes other manufacturers will be encouraged by the studies. “The reaction has exceeded our expectations,” he continues. “We are certainly not saying this is the best product out there but we can prove what we claim and I encourage other brands to show us their findings. The tests have shown us that consumers will respond to performance claims as long as you provide them with clear, sound evidence rather than smoke and mirrors pseudo science. It’s a shame that more companies don’t publish test results – there is some great science out there but it doesn’t get aired.”

Within the industry the findings have also been met with praise. “Increased awareness into research and the need to have good quality research available is important and this study being on a finished product will raise the bar for what we should expect from cosmetic companies in showing that their products work,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe.

However Lowe highlights the challenge of relating clinical data to the consumer in an effective and meaningful manner. “Do consumers actually care about this kind of research? Some of the savvy consumers definitely do,” he explains. “We are getting the message across that clinical research does matter but the problem is that most consumers have no idea what that means. Clinical research takes a long time but the average consumer is looking for quick results and a lot of these trials take up to 12 months to achieve a result.”

Alexandra Richmond, senior analyst, beauty and personal care at Mintel adds: “Scientifically speaking women are bamboozled by the information available. In the UK one in five women admit they don’t understand the ingredients information provided as it’s too scientific. All women want to know is does it work and can they afford it; they don’t want to be blinded by science.”

Furthermore, a survey conducted by French skin care brand RoC found that three quarters of the women questioned admitted they didn’t know what the main ingredient in their anti-ageing cream was, underlining the fact there is still an imbalance between actual consumer understanding and their perceived thirst for scientific knowledge.

“Some of the trial claims made by brands are misleading and the whole area is still very unclear and undefined,” says Noella Gabriel, director of product and treatment development, Elemis. “We need a clear distinction between focus group results and results from a clinical trial for instance and the way forward should be about educating the consumer.”

But Long insists that such studies are a valuable asset to the skin care market and will encourage consumers to make more edited decisions in their skin care choices in the future. “These kinds of studies are needed where it’s appropriate,” he explains. “You wouldn’t need to do it for just a moisturising product for instance. But where you are charging a premium, you have to show that it works. In these difficult economic conditions consumers are paying much more attention to what they are buying. And whether something costs £3 or £300 it’s very difficult to find any evidence of performance benefit with a lot of brands.”

There is also evidence that other brands are beginning to invest in independent clinical trials. Pangaea Laboratories’ Medik8 brand tested its Firewall Broad Spectrum Super Antioxidant with the same laboratory and researchers used by the often mentioned 2007 BBC Horizon programme. The trials found that the antioxidant exceeded the performance of its closest competition by at least five times, improving the look of sun damaged skin, age spots and skin discolouration, as well as protecting against future signs of ageing. The nano-emulsion contains a patented anti-ageing complex, Cusodase-P, featuring a blend of actives said to be 40 times stronger than vitamin C.

“We’ve tested our product – there’s nothing revolutionary in that other than the fact that we’ve actually done it,” says Medik8 founder Elliot Issacs. “Many products use a lot of great ingredients but for whatever reason they aren’t necessarily working together and the final product isn’t clinically tested.”


While economic instability has rocked global markets and dented consumer confidence, the skin care market has remained optimistic with no let up in the number of launches over the last 12 months.

According to Euromonitor International, skin care contributed to almost 26% of overall growth in the C&T sector in 2008, with Asia-Pacific and Western Europe being the most dynamic markets. However, while the full force of the global recession was not actually felt in 2008, global expansion of the C&T industry still slowed from 6% in 2007 to 5% in 2008, according to the analyst. In spite of this the sector has shown it is very able to diversify and adapt and this has enabled it to increase segmentation through a combination of innovation and the blending of product claims and benefits.

“Increasingly one selling point is not enough in today’s market and we have seen a melding and fusion of product claims,” explains Richmond. ”Budget beauty for instance has seen a huge rise mostly in Europe, in response to the recession. And multifunctional products are also seeing a rise in popularity as women become more creative with their products, doubling up on usage and using less skin care products.”

Another example is the explosion of brightening products on western markets over the last year. According to analyst Kline, brightening is the fastest growing segment in skin care and lack of skin radiance and dark spots have been identified as a major skin concern by consumers.

“Whitening and beauty were previously confined to Asia but brightening has much more of a global appeal,” explains Cindy Angerhofer, director of botanical research, Aveda. “Improving skin complexion is now one of consumers’ top three skin care requirements. There is a perception though that these products change the base skin tone. The aim however is more about creating an even complexion and reducing the appearance of age spots.”

In the past brightening and whitening products have included ingredients that have had questionable safety data in some markets but this latest generation of skin brighteners addresses these concerns by using different blends of ingredients.

“In the UK we are moving towards a combination of botanics such as liquorice extract and antioxidants which is very interesting,” explains Lowe.

Aveda’s new Embrightenment range follows this theme. The six sku range is claimed to diminish the appearance of dark spots and discolourations and improve skin clarity and tone through a blend of 99.7% naturally derived ingredients. Key to the formulation is Aveda’s Skin Brightening Blend, a proprietary combination of scutellaria, mulberry root and grape extracts, which helps to soothe the skin and reduce the look of dark spots. Aveda claims clinical tests have shown up to 34% reduction in the appearance of dark spots and discolouration and up to 52% improvement in visible clarity.

Origins has also recognised the brightening power of plants with its new Brighter by Nature skin tone correcting serum. Claimed to eliminate dullness and the appearance of dark spots, the serum contains yeast extract and vitamin C to help reduce surface discolouration, Japanese basil leaf to soothe, salicylic acid to exfoliate and moisturising sunflower seed cake and barley extract.

Neal’s Yard Remedies’ new Nourishing Orange Flower range also claims to enhance texture and improve skin radiance and contains neroli oil. And Elemis is to launch Visible Brilliance, a brightening treatment later this year.

The brightening trend has also transferred well to more scientific positioning. Estée Lauder’s Good Skin Labs has launched Lumecin Overnight Brightening Gluco-Protein Treatment, which promises to restore the look of brightness and smoothness to skin. The formula contains a LumeFade complex with a patented blend of ingredients that help diffuse and fade the appearance of dark spots, and the company says it has clinical and sensory data to back up its claims.

Kéraskin Esthetics, the new skin care range from professional hair brand Kérastase has also added a dark spot correction treatment to its facial range. Détailliste promises to leave skin more uniform and radiant after treatment.


It has been proven in recent years that cutting edge anti-ageing procedures don’t necessarily have to involve a scalpel or a syringe and the latest developments in topical anti-ageing show greater synergy with invasive treatments than ever before. This in turn is helping to drive sales of anti-ageing products.

The effect of the media in destigmatising cosmetic surgery is hard to quantify but the growth of cosmetic surgery transformation programmes such as 10 Years Younger has had a significant impact on the number of people opting for cosmetic procedures, by making them appear more socially acceptible. According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) the number of surgical procedures performed in the UK exceeded 34,100, triple the number performed in 2003. In addition, Mintel estimates the cosmetic surgery market in the UK was worth only $143m in 2002, while this year it will be close to £1.2bn.

“Although the desire to look youthful is nothing new, many consumers now feel that ageing is something that can and should be actively fought,” explains Carrie Lennard, cosmetics & toiletries analyst, Euromonitor International. “The majority who feel under pressure to look younger and cannot afford cosmetic surgery are turning to anti-agers, driving category growth.”

Euromonitor says anti-ageing products accounted for 23% of the total global skin care market in 2008 and grew faster than any other product type within the sector. Tellingly between 2007 and 2008 it registered 13% growth globally.

“Consumers don’t necessarily want to look younger, but they want to look better,” adds consultant dermatologist Dr Susan Mayou.

An interesting recent development that fuses the worlds of cosmetic surgery and topical skin care is the approval by 15 EU member states on the marketing of the botulic toxin Azzalure. The toxin, which has also been approved for use as a cosmetic product in the UK, is owned by Galderma, the joint venture between L’Oréal and Nestlé, which markets Azzalure under license from the French manufacturer Ipsen.

“The Galderma story is an interesting one,” comments Rajiv Grover, consultant plastic surgeon and BAAPS secretary. “Five to ten years ago nothing was commonly used between a face cream and a face lift. To me this looks like a logical extension of what L’Oréal is already doing. The introduction of facial fillers and botox has increased the facial rejuvenation market by 800% in the US alone. Within skin care you started off with moisturisation then the next quantam leap was cosmeceuticals and the same thing will happen with fillers because they have a biological effect on the skin.”

But for those consumers who prefer their anti-ageing products delivered from a pot rather than an injection the choice is endless. The latest launches have focused on lifting the skin to create a smooth, toned appearance and the language used borrows heavily from surgical procedures. And while these cosmetics have no chance of matching surgical procedures they can have a physiological effect on the skin.

Chanel has launched several new anti-ageing products in its Précision franchise that promise to do just this. Its existing Ultra Correction Lift line has been extended with four new products that are claimed to firm and lift skin by using the principle of tensegrity. The products contain elemi PFA, a molecule derived from the Manila elemi tree and said to stimulate the production of tensins in fibroblasts, strengthen collagen and elastin fibres in the extracellular matrix and boost the production of collagen VII. The result, says Chanel is a visible improvement on the taughtness and tone of skin.

In addition Chanel has created a new line dedicated to correcting lines and wrinkles. Ultra Correction Line Repair comprises five skus and contains Bay Cedar PFA, a patented ingredient said to help “derigidify” the skin’s natural collagen mesh and restore volume and plumpness in skin.

Loss of firmness is also addressed by Dr Nick Lowe’s new anti-ageing launch, The Secret is Out Liting Cream. The product claims to significantly increase skin hydration after one application, whilst providing a long-term firming and lifting effect, combined with UVA/UVB protection. And Nivea Visage’s Expert Lift range contains Bioxilift and hyaluronic acid, which promises an instant and long-term anti-sagging effect for women aged 50-65.

Estée Lauder’s Time Zone Line and Wrinkle Reducing Moisturiser meanwhile is said to work at a cellular level to improve the skin’s perceived age, reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles and plumping and toning skin.

Research findings into the workings of anti-ageing products at a cellular level have also borne fruit for Lancôme. The French brand’s Génefique Youth Activating Concentrate is being hailed as a breakthrough in beauty and is said to revive the activity of the skin’s youth genes, stimulating the production of young hallmark proteins. The product is the result of a ten-year genomic and preteomic research programme and the result is said to be more luminous, smoother and supple skin.

Dior’s Capture R60/80 XP range meanwhile, which uses Stemsome technology derived from research on stem cells, has been extended to include two night-time treatments. The products are said to increase the skin’s synthesis of Hyaluronan sulfate proteoglycans, which enable contact between stem cells and growth factors, helping to facilitate reparation and maintenace of ageing skin.

Similarly, NIA 24, a new medically-based skin care range, contains pro-naicin, a patented molecule that is claimed to deliver niacin directly to the skin cells, stimulating DNA repair from the inside out.

“There have been some preliminary tests on the effectiveness of stem cells and there has been an improvement in some facial lines, which gives us a clue of what could be done in this area,” says Lowe. However he is dubious about the effects this technology could have in a skin care cream. “This [technology] would be restricted to injectibles as the molecules would be too big to be effective in topicals. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area.”


While ageing still remains the number one concern for most consumers, demand for more specific skin care treatments is growing and manufacturers are focusing on these needs. Dermatological issues such as sensitive or reactive skin and rosacea, once only treated by the medical world, have become a popular area of development for brands.

Clinique’s new Comfort on Call Allergy Tested Relief Cream for instance has been developed for people with visibly reactive skin and is said to enhance the skin’s ability to protect itself against external irritants such as pollutants and airborne particles. RoC has also addressed sensitivity with its new Hydra + Bio Active line which contains a powerful blend of antioxidants to soothe and protect, while Prescriptives’ Comfort Cream and Comfort Night Cream address skin irritation; and Lancôme’s Hydra Zen Neurocalm Cream-Gel is said to alleviate the redness, stinging and discomfort associated with sensitive skin.

More specifically, Dr Nick Lowe’s Redness Relief Correcting Cream has been formulated to nourish, soothe and comfort irritated and blotchy skin and claims to minimise red skin tones thanks to a blend of arnica, chamomile, allantoin, ferulic acid and vitamins A, C and E. Similarly, Eucerin has launched two products developed for sensitive and red skin. The Sensitive Anti-Redness line features Neutralising Day Fluid SPF15 and Calming Night Care, which both claim to help neutralise flushing and soothe sensitive skin.

The blurring of dermatological and cosmetic has also not gone unnoticed by Garnier. Its new Pure Active medicated skin care line contains 2% salicylic acid, the highest concentration currently allowed in OTC products.

And Givenchy is hoping to create a completely new segment within skin care with the launch of Hydra Sparkling First Step Luminesence Moisturizing Lotion. Described as a pre-moisturiser, the milky gel is said to prepare the skin and optimise the efficacy of the subsequent products in the Hydra Sparkling skin care range.

Natural and organic skin care has continued its march from niche to mainstream and while sales for natural-based products have outpaced those for doctor brands, there is still comparatively little usage of natural-based beauty products. According to Mintel it still only represents 2% of the beauty market but there is a huge opportunity to engage with these customers.

The popularity of this trend has dichotomised the market with natural and organic vying with high science in the skin care stakes. But natural and organic brands are not immune from the claims spotlight and proving the true nature of these products through certification has become key in order to protect the integrity of the sector.

“There needs to be a more honest, transparent approach,” says Richmond. “There is a disconnect between what a consumer believes is natural and what is in the product.”

It’s time perhaps for the whole industry to turn its promises into proof.