No one would be surprised to read that cosmetics companies exaggerate the claims of what their products are able to do, yet thanks to an endless tirade of marketing, many of us still believe part or all of what we hear. Below, I’ve listed some of the biggest of these myths to help you deflate the hype and avoid wasting your money on products that don’t live up to their promises. All of these tips come from the book The Beauty Bible by Paula Begoun. If you’re a man reading this and thinking that it doesn’t apply to you, why not send your girlfriend, wife, or daughter to this article? Their spending habits probably affect you, too.
1. Cosmetics claims are poorly regulated: The FDA does not hold the same standards for cosmetics that it does for medications (and we all know that those standards don’t always hold up). Cosmetics companies can say that a product does just about anything without having to substantiate it. By using carefully crafted language, cosmetics companies also get off the hook of the FTC and FCC’s truth in advertising regulations. Furthermore, the so-called “studies” that cosmetics companies cite as proof of a product’s effectiveness are not based on scientific fact. In short, cosmetics companies have plenty of financial incentive to lie to you and little regulatory incentive to be honest. This means that claims ranging from “color lasts all day!” (if you don’t talk, move, or eat) to “hypoallergenic” simply can’t be believed.
2. The only real anti-aging product is sunscreen: If you are concerned about looking younger, wear sunscreen daily and keep the sun off your skin as much as possible instead of using expensive and useless serums and nighttime formulas. To be effective, a sunscreen must protect against both UVA and UVB rays. To protect against the UVA rays that cause skin cancer and wrinkles, a sunscreen must contain as an active ingredient either titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone (also known as Parsol 1789 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane). You’d be surprised at how many major sunscreens lack this crucial ingredient — seriously, go check your sunscreen and make sure it actually has one of these, and if not, get a new one.
3. Just because a product is “natural” doesn’t make it safer or better for your skin: Again, the term “natural” is not regulated. Many “natural” things can seriously harm or even kill you, after all — poisonous mushrooms, rhubarb leaves, and snake venom, to name a few. Some examples of “natural” ingredients that are known to be irritating and are often found in cosmetics are mint oil, citrus, lavender oil, and witch hazel. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t natural ingredients that are, in fact, good for the skin, but there are also chemically sounding ingredients that are good for the skin, just as there are chemically sounding ingredients that are harmful to the skin.
4. Makeup does not and cannot protect your skin from air pollution: Pollutants have no problem passing through whatever you apply to the surface of your skin.
5. Expensive cosmetics are not better than cheap ones: Often, the same company will produce both an expensive and an inexpensive line under different brand names, and the products will contain virtually identical ingredients.
6. There’s no reason to stick with all products from the same brand or the same line: Every brand and every line within that brand has products that are bad for your skin, and the idea that using products that are all part of the same brand or line is better for your skin is a complete myth. Brand loyalty is rendered meaningless when you consider that most of the brands out there are owned by just a few large companies: Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Proctor & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson.
7. Ignore department store cosmetics salespeople: They’re just another form of advertising, and a high-pressure one at that. Of course they think their company’s line of products is amazing — it pays their bills!
8. Cellulite creams don’t work. Ever. Period: What they claim to do (dissolve fat) is physically impossible. If it worked, we’d all have flawless bodies by now, right?
If cosmetics companies’ claims about their products can’t be trusted, how do you know which products are right for you? For me, a combination of research (in Begoun’s books) and trial and error have helped me find the products that work best for me. While you’re trying to find the right products, make sure to buy from stores with liberal return policies (Rite Aid is one that advertises this widely, and I’ve also had success returning opened items to Walgreens) so you don’t waste lots of money in the process — those $10 lipsticks really add up! Once you’ve found products you like, stick with them and stock up when they go on sale. You can also search for things on eBay — I save lots of money on sunscreen this way. One eBay caveat: make sure to ask about an item’s age before you purchase it, as many cosmetics go bad with age.
For more on this topic, check out my previous post on how to save money on hair care products, as well as the books I referenced to write these articles: The Beauty Bible, Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, and Don’t Go Shopping for Hair-Care Products Without Me. All three are written by Paula Begoun, who is well-known for her thorough research on beauty-related products. Her advice on skin care, makeup, and hair care will make you a more-informed consumer, potentially save you hundreds of dollars, and help you improve your appearance.