People have been concocting beauty products since the dawn of time. Some natural products like jojoba oil have been used for centuries because they’re beneficial for the hair and skin. Mother Nature gives us many of these natural wonders.

But today most beauty products are man-made. So how do you know if new products actually work? Makers of beauty products make a lot of claims, but how do you know if they are real? Turns out there are a number of ways beauty product manufacturers can prove efficacy, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t really provide any oversight.  

Focus Groups

Manufacturers will sometimes conduct beauty product focus groups through an independent third-party service. It’s what’s known in the industry as qualitative testing. These third-party testers recruit a number of people to participate in the focus group who are reflective of the target audience. In other words, they are the type of consumers most likely to use the beauty product.

The third-party tester (moderator) will give the focus group members the product along with detailed information on how to use it. The moderator will then ask the focus group members to report the results that they see after using the product for a period of time.

This is how beauty product manufacturers get efficacy claims like “90% of users saw improvements”. Anytime you see a claim associated with users a focus group was probably used to prove it. Of course, this is all based on user perception and requires that focus group participants use the product correctly. 

Laboratory Testing

If a manufacturer wants to definitively prove that a product works, they can do laboratory testing. A cosmetics laboratory can test the purity of ingredients, toxicology, and efficacy. Laboratory tests are conducted in a clinical setting under the supervision of researchers. The tests can be done in-house or by an independent testing company.

The researchers will take a series of measurements starting with a baseline. These measurements will help prove if a beauty product is effective. For example, a laboratory efficacy test could prove a claim such as “improved skin clarity by 45% after four weeks.”

The researchers or “investigators” used for laboratory tests vary depending on what product is being tested. They can be medical doctors, dermatologists, dentists or biochemists.

Don’t Count on the FDA for Efficacy

Most beauty products are classified as cosmetics, which means that manufacturers don’t have to prove efficacy to get FDA approval to sell their product. They only have to prove that the product is safe to use as directed. That means a manufacturer doesn’t have to take the steps above to prove efficacy claims. 

However, that doesn’t mean a beauty product manufacturer can run around making completely false claims. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has ruled that cosmetics manufacturers can’t misrepresent the ingredients, composition or health benefits of a product. So, if a manufacturer makes a claim they’ll need to back it up with evidence if the FTC questions its accuracy. 

For example, if a company claims that a product is labeled “all natural” or “100% natural” all of the ingredients better be completely natural. Additionally, there can’t be any synthetic ingredients. The FTC has handled a number of cases where companies claimed a product was all-natural when it actually wasn’t and were penalized because they misrepresented the product.

What You Can Do as a Consumer

The FTC marketing regulations help provide a little more assurance that efficacy claims are true and accurate. Of course, if a manufacturer doesn’t provide evidence to support the claim consumers should take it with a grain of salt since the FTC doesn’t scrutinize every claim. 

Do your own research to see if consumers have made complaints against a company for misleading advertising. Look for companies that offer a money-back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied, which suggests the product should deliver the expected results. You can also read reviews online to see what everyday consumers think about a product before you make a purchase.