Skin care manufacturers always brag about the kind of results their products will deliver, and these days, they're doing it with "science." Creams promise to "refuel surface cells" with "anti-aging triple response" or "reinforce skin's matrix layer by layer." According to a story in the Times of London today, the market for "cosmeceuticals," cosmetics sold on the strength of their supposed scientific innovation, is about $205 million. But, reports the paper, scientists say there is little evidence to support the claims that the "active" ingredients in these products have any beneficial effect on the skin. In other words, many of them don't do anything.
Members of a consumer organization called Which? posed as curious buyers and contacted the customer service departments of three leading brands. The researchers asked about Olay Regenerist Serum, Garnier Nutritionist Omega Skin and L'Oréal Dermagenesis. Then they showed the transcripts of their conversations to experts at Sense About Science, a charity that promotes accuracy in science. The scientists found that the companies were often, in a word, bullshitting.
When the undercover researcher asked if Regenerist was natural, a customer service rep at Olay said, "Pentapeptides are fragments of molecules. They're found naturally throughout the body so they originate from the body." The actual scientist from Sense About Science says:
"This can't be right. Laboratory-made pentapeptides may be chemically indistinguishable from those that occur naturally, but be clear that they're not extracting them from real cells."
At L'Oréal, Which? asked, "What is hyaluronic acid?" Customer service said, "It's not an actual acid. The product replumps, tautens and illuminates to give radiance to the skin." The scientist's response?
"This does not answer the question and does not explain what the acid does in any mechanistic sense. And it is an acid in all senses of the word."
The FDA has approved the use of hyaluronic acid in cosmetics, but there is no proof that it promotes "radiance" or "glow" in the skin. Says Aarathi Prasad, a biologist from Sense About Science, "The companies are taking the real science out of context so it becomes bad science." But in this culture obsessed with finding a fountain of youth, do you blame the companies for telling people what they want to hear? Or consumers, who are so desperate to "cure" aging that they'll fall for anything?