Two recent United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) cases highlight how important it is to substantiate anti-aging or "breakthrough" claims.

Don't have time to read this email? Here are the two key messages from the cases:

  1. Any reference to anti-aging properties of a product must be supported by robust scientific evidence, for example, appropriately designed clinical trials; and
  2. Cosmetic product producers must be cautious when advertising new products with ground-breaking properties unless they have extensive and accurate scientific evidence to back-up their claims.

Anti-aging claims - clinical substantiation necessary

Recently the ASA held that advertisements for a new "Skin Chemists Apple Stem Cell Serum" (Serum) that claimed to "reverse signs of aging" were misleading and required substantiation.

Go Groopie Limited released an ad campaign for the Serum that claimed the Serum could "reverse signs of aging", "is the latest craze in anti-aging", "is being hailed as a revolution in anti-aging" and "rejuvenates the cells of your natural skin". Go Groopie had not conducted any clinical trials on the impact of the product on humans.

The ASA ruled that the above claims were efficacy claims and had to be supported by clinical trials that confirmed the product would have anti-aging effects on users' skin. The ASA also ruled that consumers would associate the words "stem cells" with an ability to re-generate and replicate, and therefore, when read in the context of an ad promoting an anti-aging skincare product, consumers might expect the product to have a "powerful and noticeable effect".

In the absence of clinical trials supporting Go Groopie's claims, the ASA ruled that their advertising was misleading and that they must withdraw their advertisements in their current form.

"Breakthrough" claims - a high level of robust evidence necessary

The ASA also ruled that advertisements for a non-invasive treatment, equivalent to liposuction, called "i-lipo" was not supported by enough evidence to support their "breakthrough" claims.

The Contour Clinic released advertisements that claimed their new "i-lipo" laser lipolysis treatment ("the intelligent alternative to liposuction") "improve(s) the appearance of cellulite" and that "typically a 2-4 cm loss in abdomen circumference can be achieved with each treatment." The Contour Clinic's instructions for "i-lipo" included doing exercise after each treatment session.

The ASA considered that the general claims that i-lipo could reduce fat and improve the appearance of cellulite were new "breakthrough" claims and that a high level of robust evidence was required to substantiate them.

The Contour Clinic provided evidence of three clinical trials of i-lipo treatment.

The ASA rejected two of the clinical trials as proof of their claims because they were not peer-reviewed, randomised, double-blinded and controlled and did not have enough participants (15 participants in each study).

The ASA rejected the third clinical trial which was randomised, double-blinded and controlled and had 34 subjects because the trial was not peer-reviewed and was undertaken by the Clinical Manager of The Contour Clinic (and therefore it was subject to bias). There was also insufficient information about the amount of exercise the participants were encouraged to undertake after the treatment and no evidence that the weight loss was a result of "i-lipo" (as opposed to the exercise participants were required to do after treatment).