Cosmetics companies forced to withdraw misleading ads in Australian market

Sydney: Five top cosmetics manufacturers have been ordered to withdraw advertisements after complaints to Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

They include Lancome, Clinique, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and Payot. The TGA’s complaints panel found while the creams, peels and serums were only cosmetics, they were making claims that were therapeutic, or which would make a physiological difference.

In one case, Estee Lauder argued that because they were known as a cosmetics firm and their product Perfectionist Correcting Serum was being advertised in a fashion magazine “readers could not reasonably expect the product to have a therapeutic use”.

They told the TGA the product used optical technology among other things to blur the effect of wrinkles.

This was despite promising in their advertisement their Aus $160 product could fill in and smooth out expression lines instantly and “helps the skin amplify its natural collagen production”.

The complaints panel said it was unable to accept the claim was merely cosmetic and had “no doubt” it was a therapeutic claim.

In another complaint, the panel said it was concerned about the comparison Payot made between its $175 Payot Rides Relax to injections of the wrinkle-relieving toxin Botox.

The panel ordered Payot to withdraw its claims that the serum was “wrinkle correcting”.

The Australian Consumers Association would like to see the TGA having the power to fine the cosmetics industry instead of merely ordering them to withdraw their ads.

ACA health policy officer Viola Korczak said the companies were continually trying to push the boundaries when making claims about their products.

“It is in the companies’ interests to put out an ad with a misleading claim because if someone does lodge a complaint, by the time it is processed, the ad could have run for weeks or months,” said Ms Korczak.

“There is little incentive for them to follow the rules.”

She said a breach of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code was no more than a slap on the wrist. The ACA has a member on the complaints committee, along with representatives of doctors, pharmacists and alternative health care professionals.

Ms Korczak said the committee was under-resourced, had a backlog of complaints and did not monitor advertisements itself but relied on complaints.

However, in what is a multi-million dollar dirty tricks war, most complaints are made by rival companies and few by genuine consumers.

Unless the product is registered as therapeutic, cosmetic companies can only use terms relating to the appearance or look of the skin, hair or nails.