Misleading Marketing Terms in Beauty

Misleading Marketing Terms in Beauty

Silicone-free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic - these are just some of the statements you can find on your beauty products. Are these statements based on #skincarescience, or is it misleading marketing? Let's dig behind the surface of some of these marketing claims.

Don't miss the video at the bottom where Chris Smith, a Cosmetic Scientist, and Maleka do a deep dive and discuss fear mongering and "nasties." What does it mean if a product is "organic"? How can you, as a consumer, find the right products for you? Also, they answer the question we all have - is Ł200 serum ever worth it?

Free from alcohol/silicones/synthetic fragrance/phthalates

Fact: Cosmetic regulation changed, and it is illegal to make "free-from" claims. The problem is it is difficult (or almost impossible) to police what the brands do. 

Skincare products don't contain phthalates, which turns it into a meaningless claim. On the other hand, free from silicones would suggest products that contain silicones are bad, which is patently untrue. Another example would be parabens. Even though the scientific community proved parabens are safe, due to the consumer trends, some were subsequently banned. 

Medical Grade

Medical Grade Skincare

Fact: Medical grade skincare implies the brand has a separate pool of ingredients to pull from, which is untrue. We all have access to the same ingredients. Let's call it what is - a claim used to give the brand a marketing edge, or an excuse to hike up the price.  

The same applies to various "miracle" ingredients. The legislation is clear - whatever might be in the formula, needs to be listed on the pack. However, some brands get away with it by naming it a "proprietary complex".

"Clean" Beauty

Fact: Every single cosmetic product has to be safety-assessed. It means every single product you can buy on the market is "clean." If a product is unsafe, it won't be on the shelf. Safety assessments examine both the ingredients in the formula and their concentrations.

The "clean" banner is a market trend, rather than a definition. As such, it is subject to various interpretations. Some brands have a list of ingredients they won't include in products. On the other hand, retailers jumped on the bandwagon with "clean" accreditation stamps and the ingredients they won't tolerate in products. 

Shouldn't we focus on the ingredients in the formula and what they can do for the skin, instead of what is NOT in the product? Have you noticed how many brands don't give a scientific justification for why an ingredient is "nasty"?

Also, we need to differentiate between sustainably sourced ingredients and recyclable packaging that are mindful of the environment (which we are all for) and the "clean" trend.

Woman apply skincare

Clinical Ingredients

Fact: Clinically tested and consumer tested aren't the same thing.

Often, brands talk about their clinically tested products. In our minds, that means the product was tested on people in a controlled environment. But what brands are referring to is their product was consumer tested. That isn't the same thing.

Consumer tested means a consumer trialled the product at home and gave their subjective opinion on how the product improved (or didn't improve) their skin. Usually, brands display the results of consumer testing in the form of percentages.

That isn't to say that consumer testing isn't relevant because it is. But consumers have different expectation levels. Nothing can stop the aging process, but what we can do is prevent the outer signs of aging. We do need to manage our expectations and have some common sense. We need to look at the data and how the ingredient performs on people's skin in a controlled environment. And let's not forget, ingredient's concentrations are vital, too.

Test Tubes


Fact: Cosmeceutical is a term that doesn't mean anything. The FDA in the US states: "it has no meaning under the law." The same applies to another popular term - pro-skincare. Again, all brands have access to the same pool of ingredients.

How can you know if something is medicine? The product has a CE mark on the back. And some CE products can be bought over-the-counter, rather than prescribed.

Biodegradable Formula

Fact: All formulas are biodegradable.


Fact: EU banned over 1400 ingredients that can't be used in beauty products. The ingredients high on the list of allergens, brands can't use in their products anyway. However, in the United States, this type of legislation doesn't exist.  

Hypoallergenic is a term that has been around forever. The regulation changed, and brands can't slap "hypoallergenic" on the packaging anymore. The brands have to prove a product doesn't contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction, which rules out pretty much anything. That said, allergies are relatively rare. Even sensitive skin is not as common (sensitive and sensitised skin isn't the same thing).

Skincare oils

Fragrance-free & Essential Oils

Fact: Essential oils are not better than a synthetic fragrance or a fragrance complex. For essential oil to have an actual physical effect on the skin, you need to use more of it. That, in turn, can cause sensitisation of the skin.

Maleka talked about fragrance in skincare at length. Cosmetic products need to be effective. But another essential component is how the product makes you feel and whether using it involves all of your senses. Unless you have an allergy, there is no reason to stay away from fragrance.

All synthetic fragrances contain something natural. A fragrance complex in a cosmetic product is carefully calibrated. Also, bear in mind, the production of synthetic molecules is consistent. As such, they are less likely to cause an issue. Natural molecules are far more volatile. If the fragrance is well-formulated and used at the right level, the benefits far outweigh any negative effects.

Vegan Skincare

Fact: Not all skincare products claiming to be vegan are vegan society certified.

Merumaya went through the vegan certification process by the Vegan Society. The accreditation process involves checking not only ingredients and the formulas but the production labs and machinery. Merumaya, as a brand, respects our customers' choices, and we didn't want (even inadvertently) to undermine their beliefs.



Fact: The United Kingdom voluntarily banned animal testing in 1997. In the EU, the ban is in effect since 2004. Merumaya products aren't available in China.

It is a consumer-driven trend and hijacked by marketing. The assumption is, if you don't make these types of statements, your products aren't cruelty-free.

Flawless Skin

Fact: Flawless is a descriptor rather than a scientific term.

Can we stop setting ourselves unachievable standards? The skin has pores, wrinkles, peach fuzz, sebaceous filaments, the list goes on. And my flawless-skin-day might be an ok-skin-day to someone else.

Non-toxic Skincare

Fact: If a product is on the shelf, it is non-toxic. Cosmetic scientists trained in toxicology are the only ones allowed to issue these accreditations.

Please tell us what you think - how do you shop for skincare products? How do you decide if a brand is trustworthy?  What are some of the brand values important to you? What are the most annoying marketing terms you've come across?


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