Products in the Spotlight: Skin Cream

Origins of Skin Cream

Skin cream is probably as old as civilization.  Excavations from sites dated to 10,000 BCE have uncovered ceramic jars containing mixtures of animal fat and olive oil which may have been used as skin ointments.  Jezebel‘s use of cosmetics is noted in the Bible. Nero’s wife Pompeiia was known to apply powder made of white lead to her face. During the Renaissance, it was popular among the nobility to apply a toxic mixture made up of white lead and mercury.  For puritanical moral reasons, the use of cosmetics was outlawed in Pennsylvania during colonial times.

History of Cosmetics
(article abstract)
J. Chem. Educ., 1979, 56 (1), p 46

During the Pennsylvania oil rush, workers found that by rubbing  “rod wax” from oil rig pumps on their hands, they could effectively soothe their burns, abrasions, and dry skin. This accidental discovery led to development of the petroleum based skin balm Vaseline in 1859.

Skin cream is a simple emulsion of water and oil, which can be made at home with a blender.  Today, the largest cosmetics company in the world is L’Oréal.

Trends in Skin Cream Marketing

Obviously, skin cream has a moisturizing effect on the skin.  Nearly everyone has used skin cream at least once in his or her life to treat a patch of dry skin. But can skin cream do more than moisturize?  Cosmetics companies make billions promoting the fiction that their products do much, much more.

In a clever scam to increase sales and differentiate its skin lotion from competitors, a skin cream company operating in the United States in the 1940’s made a bold claim: the cream would reverse the signs of aging.  The Federal Trade Commission sued Charles of the Ritz, the manufacturer of “Rejuvenessence,” and the company was forced to discontinue its deceptive marketing.

Preying upon the fear of aging and unattractiveness from which all humans suffer has become a profit model that scores of companies have run with. For the past seventy years, certain skin cream companies have seemingly felt they had a free pass to include fanciful claims on packaging.  The usual pattern is:  moisturizing skin cream + a special ingredient  = a more expensive product which sells better.

Anti-aging claims are not the only suspect add-ons to moisturizer.  Skin creams that make anti-cellulite claims are rife, some of which have attracted class action lawsuits in the U.S. In non-U.S. markets, such as India, cosmetic companies are profiting on some kind of cultural/race envy which this writer cannot comprehend.  Ethnically insulting whitening creams purport to lighten users’ skin. These products represent the negation of one’s identity through the application of a consumer good.   People should be proud of their race and heritage. It is sad that women around the world are trying to emulate the images of women they receive from Western-dominated film and media.  The look of being a vapid, malnourished strumpet from Los Angeles is nothing to strive for. It is not at all surprising that cosmetics companies are racing to profit from an irrational and unhealthy desire to copy how Caucasian American actresses and models look.  Bollywood skin cream ads exemplify this disturbing trend, with L’Oreal leading the charge toward global whiteness, with “white perfect” skin cream.

World’s Leading Skin Companies

Loreal SA (OR: FP) is in the lead, followed by Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) , Unilever (NYSE: UL) and Avon Products, Inc. (NYSE: AVP) .

Deception in Skin Cream Marketing

There is a commonality between all skin cream that is marketed in a deceptive manner.  They are all dressed up  as something more than simple skin moisturizer.  It is important to realize that moisturizer is basically a blend of water and petroleum-based oil, or water combined with glycerin.  Water plus oil emulsifier prevents moisture loss in the skin, whereas water plus glycerin emulsifier attracts moisture to the skin.  Oil and glycerin ingredients are extremely inexpensive.  The deceptive skin creams usually include some “special ingredient,” that gives it the unique properties that supposedly justify the price premium charged.

What to Expect

In September of 2012, the FDA began a crackdown on allegedly deceptive skin cream claims. A wave of consumer protection class action lawsuits related to skin cream claims are likely to follow.  The claims made by marketers will probably be toned down in response. Language on packaging such as “anti-wrinkle” will probably replace “anti-aging.”  However, skin creams that promise to reverse the signs of aging will always exist in one form or another.

1 Comment

Filed under Products in the Spotlight, Uncategorized

One response to “Products in the Spotlight: Skin Cream

  1. Pingback: Anti-Aging Cosmetics Class Action Investigation « Massachusetts Consumer Law Blog

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