As consumers, we are often disconnected from what we’re putting in, and on, our bodies. While skincare manufacturers are starting to become more transparent about their choice of ingredients, it’s still quite common to come across false claims about the product’s ability to reduce ageing signs or optimise your skin’s functionality.
With the exception of color additives, the FDA does not approve cosmetic products or ingredients before they are released into the market. So it’s up to manufacturers or distributors to ensure that products are safe when used according to directions.
While manufacturers can use safety data that is already available on individual ingredients or products with similar formulations, they may need to carry additional toxicological tests to fill in any gaps in the information that’s available. Or they may opt into clinical testing because they want to prove that their products work for a specific condition.
How are products tested?
Depending on the type of product, a manufacturer can run one or more of the these tests:
- Microbiological/challenge or preservative efficacy testing: This test helps determine whether the product has the microbial stability and preservation required for its intended shelf life and consumer use. This is necessary to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast, and mold.
- Stability testing: This tests helps determine whether a product maintains its intended physical, chemical and microbiological quality, as well as functionality and aesthetics when stored under appropriate conditions. For example, it helps determine the shelf life of the product. If may also include compatibility testing to ensure the product is compatible with its packaging.
- Claims testing and user trials: These tests help manufacturers substantiate claims about their products. Clinical trials often consist of companies asking a sample of people to use the product for a certain period of time, documenting the effects through before-and-after photos. The brand might also follow a control group of people who are not using the product and compare the results with the people who are. For example, clinical tests are required for any product that claims to contain SPF. So when buying sunscreen, it's very important to only use products that have done extensive testing.
- Patch testing or clinical testing: This test is required to allow for “dermatologically tested” or “dermatologist approved” claims. Dermatologically tested implies that the product was tested on humans under the supervision of a dermatologist. Depending on the presentation of the claim, it may, refer to a specific efficacy or tolerance of the product.
Lack of testing does not necessarily mean that you shouldn’t buy a product. There are valid reasons why some brands may choose not to subject their products to clinical tests. These tests are expensive and take time to set up and conduct. So if your favourite brand has a loyal following and great anecdotal testimonials, these are good signs that their products are of good quality and may be worth a try.