Product labels, by their very nature, are designed to draw our attention and stir our curiosity.
Skincare products are certainly no exception. They can, however, make it especially challenging to decipher evidence-based claims from marketing catchphrases.
“Dermatologist-tested” and “dermatologist-recommended” are two of the most glaring examples. While they may sound credible, they often amount to little more than baseless claims. Let’s dig a little deeper, and I’ll show you what I mean.
It’s natural to interpret “dermatologist-tested” to mean the product in question has undergone significant testing in a clinical environment by a large number of board-certified dermatologists. But what it actually means is that at least one dermatologist tested the product for a single parameter, which could be, simply, whether it’s safe to use.
The use of the phrase doesn’t mean that the product necessarily passed that test, either. As long as a dermatologist tried the product, it doesn’t matter whether it did what they expected it to do. It’s a very low bar, as you can see.
You may be asking, how do brands get away with this? Neither “dermatologist-tested” nor “dermatologist-recommended” are claims that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission.
Further muddying the waters, there’s not a whole lot that you, the consumer, can do about it. You could ask the brand directly what’s its testing protocol for the product looks like, but it’s under no obligation to provide that information. And, again, even if the product was tested extensively, the claim doesn’t mean that it managed even a minimum level of effectiveness.
By comparison, “dermatologist-recommended” holds a little more weight. Skincare brands, especially large ones, typically survey a panel of dermatologists about the attributes of a specific product. Though they can also ask just one dermatologist for their opinions.
But even if the panel endorses the product, that doesn’t mean that every dermatologist recommends it, or that the product’s even something they’d recommend for your skin.
There’s also the matter of who’s comprising these panels. Brands tend to rely on dermatologists who are on staff or consult for the company, so there may be an inherent bias. And even when they’re not directly affiliated with the brand, dermatologists may be paid to test or review a product.
Where does this leave us?
The good news is that brands are gradually becoming more transparent, thanks largely to consumers pushing back. So you may be able to find links to test results for a product on the brand’s website.
In lieu of, or in addition to, that, look for phrases such as “independent clinically tested” and “independent dermatologist-tested.” They mean that the dermatologists involved tested the products without knowing what they are and that neither the brand nor the dermatologist have any information about the other party.
It’s not a perfect process, but the anonymity generally results in more credible claims.