Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Marketing Versus Truth in Wrinkle Creams August 30, 2010

I always wait for Thursdays to see what the Skin Deep article in the The New York Times Fashion and Style section will be about.  The Skin Deep article recently was called Debating the Claims Behind Wrinkle Creams; the article is essentially about StriVectin’s new line of products and its new marketing strategy.  StriVectin is famous for its slogan, now banned by the FDA, “better than Botox?” which, not surprisingly, is incorrect

StriVectin not only has a new product line, it has a new slogan as well:  “More science.  Less Wrinkles” .  The new product line has a star ingredient – NIA-114 which is a patented form for niacin or vitamin B3.  This time around the company does not compare the results of using its products to Botox but to the prescription anti-aging (and anti-acne) powerhouse, the gold standard of anti-aging topical products – tretinoin.  Tretinoin is also commonly known as retinol.  (For more about retinol see my previous post on the subject)

According to Dr. Myron Jacobson, a biochemist, who along with his wife lead the team that researched the ingredient:

NIA-114 provides many of the benefits of retinoic acid without those tolerability issues,” Myron Jacobson said. “You get the gain without the pain.”NIA-114, he said, “will be the dominant skin-care molecule for the next 20 years.”

Obviously this is an interesting development, but please allow me to remain skeptical.  I don’t have much faith in a company that first compared its product to Botox since that comparison was so blatantly bogus.  The author of the article interviewed two doctors about StriVectin’s new ingredient and each expressed their ambivalence about the StriVectin’s claims over NIA-114.  Not to say that the ingredient doesn’t help wrinkles, it just probably doesn’t do all that StriVectin claims that it does.

I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for reviews of the new StriVectin line and for more information about their star ingredient, but in the meantime what I really found fascinating about the article was how well StriVectin has succeeded in marketing their old product with the slogan:  Better than Botox?:


BEFORE StriVectin’s stretch-mark cream became an anti-wrinkle blockbuster sold in Sephora and Bloomingdale’s, it made its debut in 2002 at GNC, a retailer better known for its muscle-building supplements

Then in 2003, StriVectin started running print ads with the alluring claim that women who used the cream ($135 a tube) as a facial moisturizer found it reduced their wrinkles. The ads asked: Could StriVectin actually be “Better than Botox?”

That slogan did it. Hordes of women (and some men) were sold on the idea that this over-the-counter cream could deliver on its claims, even though its makers had scant science to back them. As a cosmetic, StriVectin-SD didn’t have to prove its efficacy as a wrinkle-fighter in a clinical trial the way that drugs like Botox did, but that fact got lost amid the marketing hype.

The ad was “fabulous” because it “immediately established the possibility that you could get benefits without the inconvenience” of a doctor’s visit, said Suzanne Grayson, a marketing consultant to the beauty industry.

In 2009, in a testament to its enduring appeal, StriVectin was still one of the fastest growing anti-aging brands, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. This despite the fact its kingpin cream hadn’t been updated in seven years.


Scientific proof doesn’t necessarily matter to consumers. In the last year, StriVectin has worked with SheSpeaks, which helps brands glean consumer insight. Aliza Freud, chief executive of SheSpeaks, said 5,000 women were asked what StriVectin signified to them before this reintroduction; they said the brand had a “scientific edge.” “These consumers — most of them — have no idea what the science behind it means,” Ms. Freud said.


Frankly, this just saddens me.  Believe me I’ve fallen more than once for a persuasive marketing campaign only to realize that I’ve been had, yet I keep hoping that women won’t believe the marketing hype when it comes to skincare products since there is more than enough real scientific research out there that explains what ingredients will and will not work on the skin.  In the end I just hope that Abraham Lincoln’s famous statement is really true in the end:

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.


Organic Skincare: Is There A Game Changer On the Horizon? July 15, 2010

I’ve devoted a previous post to the issue of organic, natural, and green skincare  in which I highlighted the fact that the terms “organic”, “natural”, and “green” on skincare labels are unregulated by any government agency so if you want to buy such products the issue really comes down to buyer beware.  Basically you can slap the words “organic”, “natural”, and “green” on the label of your skincare product even if there is next to no organic ingredients in your product.  And using the term “green” is just a joke.  (See my earlier post The Natural, Green, Organic Skincare Fallacy for more details about this issue.)

I was super interested when I saw this article online – Well, Is It Organic or Not? –  in The New York Times this morning about the organic skincare issue and Whole Foods .  It turns out that Whole Foods is going change its policy on which skincare and beauty products they stock vis-a-via the whole organic issue.  Since Whole Foods is such a big player in the field of organic food and products, organic skincare advocates are hoping that this change in policy will have a positive affect on the whole murky issue as a whole.  

Let me point out a few important issues.  In regards to organic skincare products the article points out:

… when it comes to personal care items like toothpaste and body lotion, claims like “made with organic ingredients” or “authentically organic” can flummox even the greenest consumer. No federal agency polices organic claims for personal care items — at least not yet — so manufacturers have been able to use these customer-pleasing terms loosely and liberally. …  

The Agriculture Department has been enforcing organic claims on food sold in the United States since 2002, but does not do the same for other items. The agency does invite manufacturers of personal care products to apply for its National Organic Program label, but it does not go after them if they make unsubstantiated claims.

Just who should be in charge of enforcing those claims has been the topic of some debate and at least one lawsuit. A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said that her agency and the Agriculture Department were working together to develop labeling standards, but that there was no projected due date.

So what would Whole Foods new policy look like?

As of next June, the retailer will require all health and beauty products making organic claims to be certified by one of two sources: either the Agriculture Department’s National Organic Program, which sets standards for food; or NSF International, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that issues its own certification mark.As of June 1, 2011, any products that make organic claims and don’t get the certification will be removed from the shelves of Whole Foods stores. (The company will continue to carry nonorganic products as long as they don’t make organic claims.)

“We’re trying to make it so that our customers don’t have to switch standards and expectations when they cross from grocery into the body care aisle,” said Joe Dickson, the Whole Foods quality standards coordinator.

I have to say that I was excited to read about Whole Foods new policy.  I am glad that a company with real national influence is taking on this issue, and I hope it makes a significant impact in the way that companies label and formulate their organic skincare products.   It is extremely frustrating as a consumer to realize that you’ve been basically duped when it comes to an issue that is important to you.  In my opinion it is also good to see the private sector taking a stand on this issue.  I hope skincare companies will take notice and really do the right thing when it comes to this issue.  No more greenwashing please!


All That Glitters: Gold as a Skincare Ingredient May 27, 2010

When I saw this article in The New York Times it immediately reminded me of an article I had read about a year ago in New Beauty.  The article in New Beauty, in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of the magazine, was entitled “Bizarre Beauty: Powerful Products with Unusual Ingredients” (pages 48-52).   The article featured products with rare and even strange ingredients like snake venom, snail secretion, and placenta.  Certainly the article was intriguing, but frankly it didn’t want to make me go and seek these products out.

So when I read the following article in The New York Times – “Gold Face Cream: A Costly Leap of Faith” – I had a similar reaction – interesting but I won’t be buying these products with gold in them any time soon.  What was most interesting about the article to me was the contrast between the claims made by the manufacturers of the skincare products that included gold compared to the doctors’ opinions about these claims.  To say that the two sides have opposing views would be a huge understatement.  Those producing the skincare products with gold as an ingredient claim that gold is anti-aging and anti-inflammatory while doctors say that gold is irritating, can cause allergic reactions, and is toxic in high doses.  Yet despite what the doctors say people keep buying these creams and claiming that the gold in them helps their skin.

Two things were very interesting to me about this article.  One was the opposing opinions of the doctors and product manufacturers about what gold can do for the skin.  And the other thing that interested me was the fact that these products were popular despite the very high costs (see this related article “Even Cleopatra Didn’t Have These“).  I guess some people figure the more expensive a product the better it works?  Of course, high cost doesn’t mean much when it comes to good skincare product formulation.  I guess people buy into the idea  that if gold is rare and costly than it must be good for you?  In my opinion there is no need to buy products just for the gold they contain.  There are so many other great skincare ingredients that have a proven track record of both effectiveness and safety.  I would steer clear of rare and unusual ingredients if that is all the product has to offer.


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