September 12, 2012 — In a rare warning letter directed at the cosmetics industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned Lancôme that advertisements for its anti-wrinkle and anti-aging creams go too far because they suggest that the expensive creams work like drugs.
The ads claim that the creams can change physical structure of the body, which means they must be classified as drugs under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. All new drugs must be approved by the FDA, or the agency can take enforcement action including fines and seizure of the products.
In the warning letter, the FDA cited several examples of advertising claims in violation of the Act. Lancôme claimed its Youth Activating Cream “boosts the activity of genes and stimulates the production of youth proteins.” Lancôme claimed its Regenerating line of creams “has been shown to improve the condition around the stem cells and stimulate cell regeneration to reconstruct skin to a denser quality.” Furthermore, the ads claimed that people who use these products could “see significant deep wrinkle reduction in UV damaged skin, clinically proven.”
The FDA also cited health claims regarding several “eye-lifting” creams. For example, Lancôme claimed that “unique R.A.R.E. oligopeptide helps to re-bundle collagen,” which could cause “immediate lifting, lasting repositioning. Inspired by eye-lifting surgical techniques … helps recreate a younger, lifted look in the delicate eye area.”
According to the FDA, qualified experts do not generally recognize anti-aging creams as safe or effective for the above-stated purposes.
It is unusual for the FDA to send a warning letter to a major cosmetics company. Warning letters are usually sent to drug and dietary supplement manufacturers for illegal marketing practices. Cosmetics are unlikely to cause injuries, but they are often very expensive and sold with dramatic, unsubstantiated claims.
Competition is fierce in the market for anti-aging creams. Lancôme USA is owned by L’Oréal. The company’s main rival in the industry is Proctor & Gamble. Both companies are tied for leadership in the anti-aging market. Although mass-market cosmetics have stagnated in recent years, the premium market has grown from $2.7 billion in 2010 to $2.9 billion in 2011. This is likely due to the aging of the baby-boomer generation.
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