Sharon Stone ungracefully aged with Adobe PhotoShop

Do any of the counter-crowding anti-aging, wrinkle-vanishing salves, balms, creams, lotions or potions sold by the multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry really work? The answer is a resounding and overwhelmingly un-scientifically yes, and the more you spend, the better. This is, of course, true if you or your significant other interprets cosmetics maker’s ad copy their way. Whether this stuff is used in your home or not, a couple of hundred bucks an ounce is certainly not uncommon, and if you’re a believer in these products, fine I guess, unless it moves you to the poor house. Australia, doesn’t quite see it this way, but a mass exodus is not in the deck.

The makers of Lancome, Clinique, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and Payot have all been ordered to withdraw advertisements in the past year after complaints to Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), their government agency somewhat akin to the FDA in the United States. TGA officials who handle consumer complaints just opined that all of these products were only cosmetics, notwithstanding claims by the makers of therapeutic benefits which could cause physiological changes, aka no more wrinkles or younger skin and hair.

In one case, Estee Lauder argued that because they were known as a cosmetics firm and their product Perfectionist Correcting Serum was being advertised in a fashion magazine “readers could not reasonably expect the product to have a therapeutic use”. Lauder representatives told the TGA the product used optical technology among other things to blur the effect of wrinkles. This was despite promising in their advertisement their $175 product could fill in and smooth out “laugh (or frown) lines” instantly and “helps the skin amplify its natural collagen production.” The complaints people at TGA said it was unable to accept the claim was merely cosmetic and had “no doubt” it was a therapeutic claim.

In another complaint, the group said it was concerned about the comparison Payot made between its $190 Payot Rides Relax to injections of the highly popular wrinkle-relieving toxin Botox. They ordered Payot to withdraw its claims that the serum was “wrinkle correcting”.

The Australian Consumers Association (ACA), watchdog for consumers, does not feel that orders to withdraw the ads goes far enough, and would like to see the TGA empowered to additionally fine the cosmetics industry. ACA health policy officer Ms. Viola Korczak said the companies were continually trying to push the boundaries when making claims about their products. “It is in the companies’ interests to put out an ad with a misleading claim because if someone does lodge a complaint, by the time it is processed, the ad could have run for weeks or months,” said Ms Korczak. “There is little incentive for them to follow the rules.” she added.

Ms. Korczak said a breach of the TGA’s advertising guidelines pertaining to therapeutic goods was no more than a slap on the wrist. The ACA has a member on the TGA complaints committee, along with representatives of doctors, pharmacists and alternative health care professionals. Ms. Korczak said the group was under-funded, had a backlog of complaints, and did not monitor advertisements itself, but relied on consumer complaints.

This is a system pock-marked with flaws, not unlike what is common in the United States. With so much money on the table in the cosmetics biz, ferocious competition, and a flighty buying audience, “complaints” are often initiated by rivals rather than consumers, and the majority of the “research science” supporting claims of effectiveness is funded by the industry itself.

In Australia, unless a product is accepted as genuinely therapeutic, cosmetic companies can only use advertising copy relating to how their product appears when applied to skin, hair or nails.

None of the companies cited by the TGA are based in or have roots to Australia, however, certainly, all are global concerns. Regardless of sanctions, it is extremely doubtful similar action will follow in the United States any time soon. The effectiveness of these products will surely be of continued debate, and I wonder what the real differences are given the seemingly endless list of names available. You might be surprised to learn that most of the “brands” out there are controlled by only a few dominant players. To the names above;

Payot, now a French concern, traces it’s roots back to 1927 crediting a Dr. Nadia Payot, billed as the “Doctor of Beauty.” According to company literature, Payot was born and raised in Odessa, Russia. In 1918, while in New York, Payot met the Russian Ballerina Anna Pavlova who was 38 at the time. Years of exercise had kept Pavlova’s body young, but her face was beginning to age. Dr. Payot concluded that the aging of the face and facial skin should not be inevitable. This observation led to the development of what we (Payot) call(s) today, the “Facial.” In 1927, Dr. Payot opened the first skin care laboratory and beauty institute in France, introducing the benefits of beauty salons she discovered in New York City, and the brand was born. Payot is noted as saying, “For many years I took care of my body, then one day, I had to take care of my soul.” (Soul+Face=Pocket?) Payot is “top-shelf” stuff, used extensively in noted spas worldwide including the Ritz-Carlton.

Estee Lauder was founded in 1946 in New York City by Joseph Lauder naming the company for his wife Estee. In 1968, the company introduced their top-line product, Clinique. The rest of the “family” of brands includes Aramis, Prescriptives Origins, La Mer, M-A-C, Bobbi Brown, Aveda, Jo Macone, Bumble & Bumble, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Sean John, Missoni, Tom Ford, Lab Series, Kiton, Grassroots, Donald Trump, Darphin, Rodan & Fields, American Beauty, Good Skin and Flirt!

L’Oreal was founded in 1907 by chemist Eugene Schueller in Clichy, a Paris, France suburb. Originally rooted in the hair dye biz, L’Oreal later acquired the prized Lancome label founded in 1935 by Armand Petitjean. Brands include SkinCeuticals, La Roche-Posay, Dermablend, Victor et Rolf, Matrix, Mizani, Redken, Garnier, Maybelline, SoftSheen Carson, Biotherm, The Body Shop, Cacharel, Diesel, Giorgio Armani, Guy Laroche, Vichy Labs, Inneov, Ombrelle, Helena Rubebstein, Kiehl’s, Paloma Picasso, Ralph Lauren, Shu Uemura.

For you “Macho-Men” out there, if the bathroom is getting a little crowded, Lava Soap was founded in Saint Louis, MO. in 1893 by the Waltke Co., and was acquired in 1999 by WD-40. Oh yeah, and if you need to vacate a few vices from the vanity, they also make 2000 Flushes. Go figure.


Lava Soap Ad from the 1940’s