LOrealWho doesn’t want young-acting skin?  We’re not talking about the way skin acted in the zits-on-picture-day years, but rather the dewy glow of innocence – the Code of Youth.

L’Oréal USA, Inc. addressed our anti-aging desires in a popular line of ads for Lancôme Génifique and L’Oréal Paris Youth Code skincare products.  But this week the company settled with the FTC on deceptive advertising grounds.  According to the complaint, L’Oréal made false and unsubstantiated claims about Génifique and Youth Code, overstating the products’ anti-aging benefits which allegedly involved targeting users’ genes and stimulating the production of youth proteins.

Specifically, one of the ads at issue claimed that Génifique products were “clinically proven” to boost genes’ activity and stimulate the production of youth proteins that would cause “visibly younger skin in just 7 days,” and would provide results to specific percentages of users.

In a related vein, ads for L’Oréal Paris Youth Code heralded  the “new era of skincare: gene science” and told consumers that they could “crack the code to younger acting skin.”

Sign us up for that era. 

The problem, according to the FTC, was that L’Oreal’s competent and reliable scientific evidence was as short as youth itself.  The clinical study that the company relied on for Youth Code evaluated gene expression of skin generally in response to “aggression” (concluding that the expression of certain genes was delayed in aged skin), but the study wasn’t done on the product itself or any of its ingredients, and in fact did not even look at whether any particular product or ingredient would cause the aged skin to begin acting like the younger skin.

Sound familiar?  To a certain degree the FTC’s emphasis on studies of the product itself might sound similar to how the agency has recently approached substantiation for certain health-related claims for dietary supplements and foods.  But there are some potentially significant differences and it may be premature to conclude based on this one settlement that the FTC is about to impose a new rigorous substantiation standard on cosmetic claims.

First, the company claimed it had clinical support but apparently had no study actually demonstrating the claimed effect.  Second, the FTC also emphasized that there was no study of the ingredient as well as the product whereas recent dietary supplement and food orders have stressed the need for studies on the product and not just the active ingredient.  Third, the proposed consent order only requires competent and reliable scientific evidence backing the claims rather than specifying the number and type of clinical studies required as has happened in some recent food and dietary supplement orders.  Finally, claims regarding more youthful skin are materially different than health-related claims for dietary supplements or foods and under Pfizer probably ought to require less rigorous substantiation.

Comments on the proposed order are due July 30, 2014.  In the meantime, if your company is operating in the youth code-cracking market, make sure your claims are properly substantiated and you’re not misrepresenting the results of any test or study.  If you check both of those boxes, then please send us samples of your product.