truth in advertising

FDA Puts a New Wrinkle in Lancome's Anti-Aging Claims

Posted by Barry Silverstein on September 12, 2012 10:55 AM

A warning by the FDA over anti-aging claims is causing a furrowed brow at L'Oreal and its competitors.

Beauty creams, especially those that target the effects of aging on the skin, are the cream of the crop when it comes to getting consumers to . In 2011, the market for these typically expensive premium skin care products grew by 15 percent vs. just 1 percent for mass market products, according to research firm Euromonitor International.

Now one of the leaders in the market, L'Oreal's Lancome brand, is getting its manicured hand slapped by America's Food and Drug Administration over product claims the agency says have gone too far. The products are sold under the Genifique, Absolue, and Renergie brand names.

L'Oreal has been fighting the anti-aging fight in the UK, where its Lancome and Maybelline brands last year were rebuked by the Advertising Standards Authority for allegedly airbrushing campaigns featuring the lovely, but no spring chickens, visages of brand ambassadors Julia Roberts (now promoting her first perfume, La Vie est Belle, with Lancome) and Christy Turlington.

But it no doubt came as a surprise for its US legal department when, on September 7th, the FDA sent a warning letter to Lancome USA.

The letter took issue with specific claims made on the brand's website that certain products "are intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body." The FDA cited statements such as "Boosts the activity of genes" and "See significant deep wrinkle reduction in UV damaged skin, clinically proven" as violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because the products "appear to be promoted for uses that cause these products to be drugs."

The FDA letter states that Lancome's products "are not generally recognized among qualifies experts as safe and effective for the above referenced uses" and defines them as "new drugs." The FDA indicates that "a new drug may not be legally marketed in the U.S. without prior approval from FDA in the form of an approved New Drug Application (NDA)." The agency warns the company to cease marketing the products in a way that violates the Act and indicates that if the company does not comply, it could take action, including injunctions, against the distribution of the products.

The letter is "a rare FDA rebuke of a major cosmetics maker and takes aim at the lucrative and growing market for so-called premium anti-aging products," according to the Wall Street Journal. It could be part of a wider effort on the part of the FDA to better control the claims made regarding a class of beauty treatments becoming known as "cosmeceuticals" because they incorporate pharmaceuticals in their composition.

On September 7, the FDA also sent a warning letter to Radcliff Consultants, the U. S. agent for Greek Island Labs. As in the Lancome letter, the FDA again cited the company's website for claims that promote various products as drugs. One such claim for "Athena 7 Minute Lift" suggested the product was a "safe and effective alternative to Botox."

Greek Island Labs is a small player in the market, but the letter to Lancome has far more serious implications; its French owner L'Oreal is battling with U.S.-based Procter & Gamble to be the leader in the multi-billion dollar U.S. anti-aging market. Clearly, L'Oreal wants to educate consumers and extol its products — but doesn't want to get creamed by government watchdogs, or its competitors.

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