Dumb Science: Lying Beauty


We’ve all been there; the pristinely packaged, alluring array of beauty creams and serums, promising everything from ‘younger, firmer looking skin’ to ‘a luminous, radiant complexion’.  As a student reading biological sciences, I can shockingly admit to purchasing products claiming to ‘alter the DNA in your hair and skin’, after succumbing to the pressures of the Selfridges beauty department.  In hindsight not only is this claim quite ridiculous but, if it were true, would I’m sure be highly illegal.

These products, shrouded in a mystery of biological buzzwords and complex chemical formulae, are the new generation of clinically approved ‘cosmeceuticals’ and the latest fad of the fashion driven beauty industry.  Cosmetic company giants, including L’Oreal, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, pride themselves upon published scientific research and professional recommendations to authenticate claims of pro- vitamin enhanced formulae, collagen enriched creams and patented pentapeptide innovations. A ‘pro- vitamin’, by the way, is simply a precursor of a vitamin- a substance of little or no vitamin activity

By law, however, these companies must provide evidence to substantiate these claims and it is undeniable that, after sifting through volumes of publications in peer reviewed journals such as the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, there is sufficient scientific literature demonstrating the beneficial properties of some of these active ingredients.  The credibility and consumer confidence founded on clinical trialling is, therefore, not entirely superficial, yet there is a clear deprivation of information in many cases that is often misleading.  For example, ‘Hyaluronic acid is essential for skin tissue repair’.  This is a perfectly correct statement yet there is no evidence of deficiency problems of this polymer in customers, nor the required concentrations to achieve any effect and, fundamentally, little chance that the active ingredients can penetrate human skin.  Emphasis is placed on ingredients of proven significant effects, such as vitamin C, regardless of the insufficient concentrations found in skin products.    Claims are precisely worded to be suggestive enough to seduce consumers but not so assertive that they cannot be validated.

For the beauty seekers amongst us; it seems, amidst the confusion of incomprehensible pseudoscientific jargon, there is at least comfort in uncovering a little scientific substance behind the bold claims of the beauty industry.  I, for one, won’t be ditching the Bobbi Brown repair serum just yet and if these products make us feel a little better, then they may well be worth the expense.

Hannah Titley