The Things Cosmetics Companies Really Don’t Want You to Know: Part 2

Skincare is big money – are you a savvy consumer?

There’s a lot of competition out there for your skincare attention, both online and along the skincare aisle. How savvy are you about what products should – and shouldn’t – be promising? Image by Freepik.

Last week we talked about the problems that arise from applying too many products and potentially irritating ones – things that cosmetics companies (or their marketing departments) really hope you won’t think about when wading through the skincare aisle or scrolling through your Instagram feed. 

This week, we’ve got three more things that cosmetics companies don’t want you to know. Hopefully they’ll keep you from making missteps when deciding how to care for your largest (and most visible) organ!

The first thing on this week’s list? Shiny, new miracle ingredients!


1. Those ‘newly-hyped’ and ‘just discovered’ ingredients? Chances are there’s next to no evidence behind them… and that can make them easier to sell.


We all love something new, and there’s something about new skincare compounds discovered, often from plants – exotic or familiar – that really appeals to us. Perhaps it’s our obsession with the ‘natural’ world, or the idea that there’s still a yet to be discovered treasure (for your skin) hiding away in a place frozen in time, never touched by humans. I imagine there’s an entire psychological concept at play – the longing for a simpler time when we were closer to nature. Picture an evocative, lavender filled hillside, wildflowers swaying in the breeze, as gulls bob amongst the waves on a shoreline below. There’s a market where the locals, pictures of health and natural beauty, all use a moisturizer prepared from a local berry. 


Exotic sounding and natural ingredients can evoke emotions when you’re making decisions about what to buy in skincare. While there’s a lot of promise out there, beware of overexaggerated claims. Image by Freepik

Perhaps it’s the local berry (honey, oil, clay, etc) that gives them their bespoke healthy, fresh skin? It’s been bottled by – ‘insert cosmetics company name’ – here. I mean, look at those locals in the ad campaign. They must be on to something, right? Or perhaps high tech is more your style? A newly synthesized peptide that promises to freeze time? They’re even wearing lab coats! 

It seems a bit silly when spelled out quite so obviously, but it’s close to what cosmetics companies do in their ad campaigns when they’re trying to sell us a new ingredient. There are absolutely some promising compounds out there hiding in nature – chemotherapy drugs, retinoic acid, antioxidants, sunscreens – are just a few examples. Promising new ingredients are being discovered all the time. But oftentimes the reality is distorted once marketing execs get a hold of things. Cell culture data is presented as if it’s been tested on skin (it hasn’t), and cultural anecdotes and traditional ingredients can be presented as clinically tested and proven (they’re not). 

That doesn’t make these kinds of ingredients bad or diminish their potential, but – let’s be honest – the facts are distorted. Just think of how many new miracle ingredients you’ve seen over the years that have disappeared off the shelves just as quickly? Probably too many to count. Sometimes, the data just doesn’t hold up, or consumers get bored with a product that doesn’t deliver on the promises any more than the products they were already using. 

Hope sells and people want to buy.  

In the cosmetics world, it’s easy to promise lots when the research doesn’t yet exist to disprove your potential claims, and exotic sounding ingredients (and often cute animals) make for great advertising.  

And when the ‘newness’ wears off? Not to worry, there’s another extract lined up…


2. Cosmetics companies really don’t want you to know that a good skincare routine is … boring. 

Sunscreen really hasn’t changed that much in the past 50 years – and cosmetics companies hope you don’t know that. Image by for Freepik

Did you know that the most impactful, well researched, and active skincare ingredients out there – retinoids and sunscreens – haven’t changed much over the past 50 years? 

If you answered no, rest assured that cosmetics companies want to keep it that way.  

Topical tretinoin came into medical use in 1962, and it is still the gold standard for antiaging, treating acne, and sun damage. Think about that. Nothing has surpassed retinoids in 60 years.

There also isn’t much ‘new’ being done on the sunscreen front either. The sunscreen filters available in the US haven’t really changed since 1993. In fact, Avobenzone (Parasol 1789) was one of the last modern sun filters to be approved by the FDA, and that was in 1988. Mexoryl SX, which came into use 1993, is still not approved for sunscreen use in the USA, though some products (La Roche Posay’s Anthelios) are given a special pass. 


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And, since we’re on the topic…The USA isn’t really a leader in sunscreens, and cosmetics companies don’t like you to know that either. There are other, more modern, more efficient UV filters available abroad (Korea, Europe, Australia, Canada, to name a few). 

But you wouldn’t know that from the advertisements that pop up every summer or when a new formulation comes out.  

One of the ways cosmetics companies can increase sales is by releasing a new ‘improved’ product (often at a higher price point). And while formulary changes can sometimes make a product apply or feel better, last longer, increase ingredient stability, the base ingredients are the same.  

Cosmetics companies would like you to forget that there isn’t much new and exciting ingredient-wise under the sun. Remember, shiny and new doesn’t necessarily mean better… or all that different.  


And last but not least…


3. Cosmetics companies hope you don’t figure out that there’s no such thing as skin type. 

Do you buy skincare products based on your skin type? There’s no such thing as ‘skin type’. It’s a marketing term. Your skin is much more complicated and doesn’t belong in a box. Image by Freepik

Everyone is unique, and your skin is the largest organ in your body and it’s complex, living, and changes throughout your life. It’s affected by a host of biological processes, hormones, your immune system, and of course it’s impacted by the sun. 

Skin doesn’t belong in a ‘type box’, and you shouldn’t try to force yours into one. Skin type was a marketing term invented to sell products. But by defining your skin by someone else’s label, you can do damage in the long run. If you only see your skin as ‘oily or dry’, you run the risk of choosing the wrong products. Could a moisturizer help if you’re experiencing dry patches? Absolutely! But that doesn’t mean those dry patches won’t go away, or that you won’t experience oily skin. And just because you may experience acne, doesn’t mean you have oily skin. All skin is sensitive, delicate, and individual. Like you, it changes over the course of your life, and you owe it to your skin to treat it as such. 

There’s no shortcut to choosing great skincare. It’s a lot of trial and error and seeing what works for you. The best piece of advice? Be gentle. 

There are some amazing products and ingredients available out there that can really do amazing things for your skin. No doubt about it though, skincare is big business. Our skin is personal, and a lot of emotions go into what products we choose – colour, feel, texture, scent, even the models who appear in ads all factor into our choices. You can bet the cosmetics industry spends a lot of money understanding what’s likely to sway us, and knowledge is the best way to arm yourself for the next time you venture into the skincare aisle.  


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Written by
Kristi Charish
Edited by
Dr. Gary Linkov
The content of this newsletter is for entertainment and educational purposes only. This content is not meant to provide any medical advice or treat any medical conditions. Patients must be evaluated by an appropriate healthcare provider on an individual basis and treatment must be tailored to meet that patient’s needs. Results and particular outcomes are not guaranteed.


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