L’Oreal deceptively advertised skincare products with unsubstantiated claims that they could provide antiaging benefits by targeting consumers’ genetic makeups, the Federal Trade Commission charged in an administrative complaint.

At up to $132 per container, products such as Lancôme Genifique were touted as “clinically proven” to “boost genes’ activity and stimulate the production of youth proteins,” resulting in “visibly younger skin in just 7 days.” Similarly, L’Oreal’s Youth Code products promised a “new era of skincare: gene science” that could “crack the code to younger acting skin.”

The national advertising campaigns, which included print, radio, television, Internet, and social media outlets and ran beginning in February 2009 for the Lancôme line and November 2010 for L’Oreal, falsely emphasized the “science” behind the products, the agency said. L’Oreal relied, in part, on a bar graph labeled “Clinical Study” that appeared in a L’Oreal Paris Youth Code ad. The FTC challenged the study on the grounds that it failed to test a L’Oreal product or even one of its ingredients.

To settle the charges, L’Oreal agreed to a proposed settlement that prohibited the company from claiming that its facial skincare products can target or boost the activity of genes that will allegedly make skin look or act younger, absent competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claims.

Misrepresentations about test or study results would also be banned, as would claims that the product lines can affect genes, unless supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

To read the case documents in In the Matter of L’Oreal USA, click here

Why it matters: “It would be nice if cosmetics could alter our genes and turn back time,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement about the case. “But L’Oreal couldn’t support these claims.” Advertisers should ensure that scientific claims are supported by competent and reliable evidence and be careful not to overstate the science behind the ads.