Do Anti-Wrinkle Creams Live Up to their Promises? Distinguishing between Beauty Science and Fantasy In 2003, the StriVectin anti-wrinkle cream made history and it wasn’t because it cured wrinkles. The cosmetic company came up with an ingenious marketing campaign with the words “Better than Botox?” on their ads.
With this one slogan, StriVectin anti-wrinkle cream became a huge hit. Women were lining up to buy small tubes of the anti-wrinkle miracle cream for $135. Not many women were taking the time to ask what the science behind the wrinkle cream was. The few women who did question the
wrinkle cream’s scientific proof were faced with a surprising answer: there was none.
Because StriVectin is a cosmetic, they are not required to produce any scientific backing to their claims. This is in contrast to drugs or treatments like Botox which must meet FDA standards in regards to scientific studies and medical proof. For consumers, the thin line between what qualifies as an anti-wrinkle drug and an anti-wrinkle cosmetic is very thin. In some cases, the difference between them is also hard for the FDA to determine.
Take the case of the anti-wrinkle called Glycel which contained an elusive ingredient called “glycosphingolopid”. This anti-aging treatment made by Alvin Fragrances was so popular that it spawned a slew of copycats including anti-wrinkle creams by Avon, Estee Lauder and Clarins.
As the competition between the anti-wrinkle cream brands became more intense, so did the “scientific” claims. Soon, consumers were hearing marketing phrases like “cell rejuvenation” and strange words like “microsomes.”
As the marketing campaigns of anti-wrinkle creams started to sound more scientific, the FDA began to take interest. Unlike the cosmetic industry which is lenient about product claims, the FDA requires that all drug claims be backed up by scientific study and proof. They also require that vocabulary, like the new scientific-sound words appearing in anti-wrinkle cream ads, have an exact meaning. When the FDA began to question the skin-care industry about the drug-like properties of their anti-wrinkle and anti-aging products, the companies got defensive. Of course they weren’t selling drug products! They were simply cosmetic companies and why should they back their products up with research!
The result of the FDA’s interest in anti-wrinkle cream ads was that the companies had to prove any claims which made their anti-wrinkle products sound like drugs and also give specific definitions to the words using in ads. However, there are no regulations which prevent the anti-wrinkle cream companies from outright lying about their products – so long as the lies are in the realm of fantasy and not science.
Even with these basic regulations about anti-wrinkle cream ads in place, consumers still don’t seem to understand the scientific research behind the wrinkle products. In a recent marketing study, consumers said they trusted StriVectin anti-wrinkle cream more than others because it was “more scientific” than other anti-aging products. This just shows that the anti-wrinkle product companies are winning when it comes to blurring the line between anti-aging science and fantasy.