In recent years, many cosmetics brands have found themselves blushing in the face of revelations that their advertising and marketing techniques are dishonest and/or misleading to consumers.

The rules on advertising and marketing cosmetics within the UK are contained in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (the "CAP Code") and associated guidance produced by the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") and the Committee of Advertising Practice ("CAP").

Get primed for compliance with this key guidance:

Avoid glossing over a product's true efficacy

The CAP Code is clear that advertising must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. You should:

  1. Avoid using misleading pre-production techniques. For example; you may be falsely enhancing the volumizing effect of a hairdryer if you have also added volumizing products to the hair.
  2. Avoid using misleading post-production techniques. For example; you may be falsely enhancing the effects of a mascara by adding false eyelashes, of a high-shine nail polish by adding an extra topcoat, of a face cream by adding foundation to the skin, or of an anti-aging cream by digitally removing fine lines and wrinkles.

Don't wing it with claims about cumulative effects

If you are making claims about a product's cumulative effects, for example "whiter teeth within one week" or "smoother skin within one month", you must have supporting evidence including results of clinical trials on people conducted over the relevant periods of time.

Make-up no medical facts

Some cosmetic products are by their nature medicinal (for example, some acne treatments), but where a product is merely cosmetic you should avoid making any medicinal claims whatsoever in order to avoid breaching the CAP Code. Medicinal claims should only be made in relation to products which are licensed by health regulators including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority ("MHRA") or the European Medicines Agency ("EMA").

In practice, there is a fine line between claims which will be considered "medicinal" and "non-medicinal". If you advertise, for example, that a product can "cure" or "reverse" premature aging, then you run the risk of making an unqualified medicinal claim. However, claims that the product can "relieve symptoms" or "held reduce symptoms" of premature aging are likely to be non-medicinal (although you may nevertheless be challenged to produce scientific proof of such claims).

You should also be diligent to avoid using language in advertising which may constitute a medical diagnosis without medical backing, for example; "acne", "anti-inflammatory", "eczema", "psoriasis" etc. (it may be prudent to instead use more general terms like "spots" or "dry skin").

Nail your scientific evidence

Simple language such as "skin will be 50% more moisturised", "product protects skin from sun damage”, or "this 'natural' product is safer/more effective/more beneficial to health" may amount to scientific claims. Be aware that you may at any time be challenged to support your scientific claims with evidence.

You should also avoid making claims that a beneficial effect is wholly attributable to a product where this is not the case. For example; if an anti-cellulite cream is shown to be effective partially because of its ingredients and partially because the method of application also reduces cellulite (e.g. massage), then you are obliged to make that distinction.

Highlight that you are against animal testing only if this is entirely true

Technically, refraining from testing on animals may be insufficient to make a true claim that you are against animal testing. In fact, marketers making such a claim should neither have tested a product (or any of its ingredients or components) on animals, nor have sourced any products (or any of their ingredients or components) from suppliers who test them on animals.

There is too much clear guidance for cosmetics brands to brush off responsibility for honest advertising or to avoid complying with the rules.