When it comes to beauty products, false advertising and consumer protection have come to a head time and again. According to a new study published in JAMA Dermatology, creams labeled “fragrance-free,” “hypoallergenic,” or “dermatologist recommended” are often just fake marketing ploys.
Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reviewed the ingredients of the top 100 best-selling body moisturizers, and found that these descriptors usually indicated bigger price tags, and were not always free of the chemicals they pledged to not contain.
The study serves as a warning for those searching for a moisturizer catered toward certain skin sensitivities. The researchers found that 45 percent of the creams claiming to be fragrance-free had at least one fragrance cross-reactor or botanical ingredient, and 83 percent of products advertised as hypoallergenic actually contained a chemical marked potentially allergenic. Ninety-five percent of these products were also described as “dermatologist-recommended,” a label that doesn’t require any kind of testing or federal evaluation, and were typically 20 cents more expensive per ounce. They all featured an ingredient that is classified as a North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG) allergen.
The term “hypoallergenic” has been pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes for decades. In 1978, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published an article explaining a court case from the year before that ruled the FDA’s definition of the word was “invalid.” “FDA knows of no scientific studies which show that "hypoallergenic" cosmetics or products making similar claims actually cause fewer adverse reactions than competing conventional products,” wrote the author, Margaret Morrison. However, the label continues to demonstrate its marketing power. “Dermatologist-recommended” is equally weightless, “it could be three dermatologists recommending it or one thousand,” lead study author Steve Xu, MD, told Health.com
Out of the best-selling moisturizers, a mere 12 percent didn’t contain a NACDG-classified allergen.