6 Skincare Marketing Terms That Could Be Misleading

Most consumers make important decisions about whether or not to buy a particular skincare product based on the claims that are printed on its labeling. If you have sensitive skin, for example, you might be drawn to products that claim to be unscented or fragrance-free. Others may look for the seal of “dermatologist-tested” approval. Claims like these, however, might not always mean what you think, and here’s why.

1. Fragrance-Free

Products labeled “fragrance-free” or “unscented” are not necessarily void of all fragrances. In fact, companies are legally able to call a product “fragrance-free” as long as none of its ingredients are included solely for the purpose of creating an aromatic effect. This is problematic for consumers, though, because some fragrant ingredients are used for a preservative or cosmetic effect, rendering the product “fragrance-free” by law, but not by its ingredients.

Additionally, many products that are labeled “unscented” actually contain a “masking fragrance” that is used to camouflage odors from other ingredients.

2. Organic

In the last decade, there has been an increasing demand for organic food and skincare products from consumers nationwide. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued updated standards that skincare products need to follow in order to use the term “organic” in their marketing. Anywhere from 75 to 94 percent of a skincare product’s ingredients must be organic in order for this claim to be made on the label. So, “organic” on a product doesn’t necessarily mean that 100 percent of its ingredients are organic, but you can count on at least 75 percent truly being organic (Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients).

3. All-Natural

Like “organic,” “natural,” “all-natural, and “botanical” are also terms that have become increasingly popular in the skincare industry. The problem with products labeled as “natural” is that there is no standard legal meaning for these types of marketing claims. A “natural” skincare product may use plant-based ingredients and also contain preservatives or other man-made chemical substances.

Moreover, “botanically-derived” ingredients start as plants in their natural form but are then modified or enhanced in a laboratory in order to achieve a desired effect. Thus, consumers are often mislead that products labeled as “all-natural” exclusively contain unaltered ingredients found in nature. The implication is that this quality makes these products more effective than others without such labeling.

4. Allergen-Free

There is no standard meaning attached to the term “allergen-free” in skincare, and companies do not have to show any specific evidence of this in order to call a certain product “allergen-free.” In most cases, companies will use this terminology to advertise products that don’t contain any ingredients that are generally thought of as allergens, and in fewer cases, small patch tests may be done to determine whether or not a product is likely “allergen-free.”

5. Dermatologist-Approved

In order to use this terminology on packaging, skincare companies need only one dermatologist to approve of the product in some way. Not only is this a vague requirement that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but it can also open up the possibility of a company asking a shareholder to “approve” of the product or its ingredients.

6. Clinically-Tested

Many consumers are mislead by skincare products that claim to be “clinically-tested.” Although these products do undergo some form of clinical testing, there are no regulations as to how large or what type of trial has to be performed in order to make this claim. In addition, you have to pay close attention to the wording being used, as only one or two ingredients may have undergone clinical trials, rather than the entire formula.

The Bottom Line

It can be confusing and downright frustrating to navigate through a sea of skincare products that seem to claim one thing but, upon further inspection, don’t measure up to their promises. If you have very sensitive skin or an allergy to a particular ingredient, this can be even more troublesome.

If you’re not sure a certain skincare product is right for your skin type or condition, it’s a good idea to show it to your dermatologist at your next appointment. He or she should be able to point out the ingredients that could be red flags for your skin type, and recommend other products that may be better suited for you.

If you know your Baumann Skin Type, you can also visit to find a list of products that are good matches for your skin.

Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumann’s blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through

November 21, 2017 Skincare