April 25, 2016

Understanding Cosmetic Claims – Skin Versus Hair


Karen Yarussi-King – Global Regulatory Associates

www.eurocosmetics-magazine.com – April 2016 – Volume No. 24


Hair care has been steadily becoming more competitive. There has always been competition in the hair care arena, but now there seems to be even more as it relates to claims. Putting aside hair regrowth claims, hair care claims have begun to mirror skin care claims. As was the trend in skin care, claims have transitioned from cosmetic to structure-function. The key in making such claims is strong scientific substantiation. Claims such as protects against future damage, hair repair, thickening, strengthening and moisturization have become the norm. So much so that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have published a CAP opinion on hair care claims.

Claims in Skin Versus Hair

One of the most basic cosmetic claims in skin care is moisturization. Like skin, hair becomes drier with age partly because of physiological changes but also hair colouring and dry hair looks damaged and frizzy. Hair moisturization presents a simple challenge. Skin is the body’s largest organ and absorbs products that are applied to its surface, but hair is dead. Thus, unless the hair care product can penetrate the cortex, true hair moisturization cannot be accomplished by a product that coats the hairs surface. Scientific data is needed to show that the hair care product can provide moisturization to the hair, most likely by showing penetration of the cortex or, as some have argued, by trapping water into the cortex.

Typical substantiation of hair moisturization is based on the key ingredients in a formula. Some products tout traditional skincare ingredients (antioxidants, vitamins, botanical oils and extracts) for moisturization, but these ingredients do not behave the same on hair as they do on skin. Often the first two ingredients are Cyclopentasiloxane or Dimethicone which are synthetic. Most ingredients that are used in hair care products silicones, oils, polymers are not absorbed and instead coat the hair which provides a temporary appearance of smoother hair and in the consumers mind moisturized hair.

Hair repair like skin repair is also a difficult claim. In many global markets, talking about repairing or healing the skin is not permitted or in some cases permitted only with significant clinical data. Often times the way in which these claims are presented is structure/function or drug-like and are not permitted in any market. Hair repair is tricky. Many products simply glue split ends back together temporarily or improve the appearance of hair. Some products go so far as to claim that their products repair environmental damage or damage from hair colour and other chemical treatments. Again, this is very difficult since chemical treatments penetrate the cortex of the hair. Some products are water-based and the water and other smaller molecules will penetrate the cortex, but must be able to show that the damage has been repaired which requires instrumentation data.

In skin care, protecting against future damage can really only be made when talking about sun protection. By using a broad spectrum sunscreen, skin can be protected from UVA/UVB which can cause fine lines and wrinkles. While UVA/UVB exposure is not exclusively the cause of fine lines and wrinkles, protecting against sun damage can help to minimize the visible signs of photo aging. Damage in hair care is caused by a number of factors hair colour, chemical treatments, hair products, chlorine, brushing and the sun, for example. Damaged hair, unlike skin, can simply be removed by cutting the hair, but to protect against future damage implies that by simply using a product you can protect against all potential environmental and chemical insults or combination thereof. This is difficult to substantiate since everyone’s hair is different and will respond differently to these insults.

Strengthening the hair is akin to building up the skin barrier. Tensile strength can be measured via instrumentation but what does this mean to the consumer can she hang from her hair? What is more relevant to the consumer is a complementary claim – resistance to breakage which can also be studied via instrumentation. ASA has stated that resistance to breakage is not the same as hair strength. Damaged hair breaks off creating fly aways and dry, frizzy, unhealthy looking hair. It could be argued that by building up the skin barrier, skin may be less susceptible to external insults that may damage the skin. This is a bit harder to do in hair care.

Hair products would need to repair the damage by penetrating or building up the cortex to make it less susceptible to daily insults. However, chemical treatments could nullify the effects of these types of hair products which is why a claim like protecting against future damage is very difficult to substantiate. Often times this results in a hair thickening claim instead. As the hairs are coated, it provides a thickening effect that exists as long as the product is used. Once use is stopped, the coating will wash out and hair will return to its previous state.

Lastly, healthy looking hair versus healthier hair. Symptoms of damaged hair are specific to each hair type. Repairing the damage eliminates things like frizz, split ends, dryness, breakage, lack of body. Botanical oils, polymers and silicones temporarily improve the visual appearance but do not repair the damage as discussed previously. Hair may look temporarily healthier but is not necessarily healthier hair. It is a small distinction but the required substantiation to prove these two claims are worlds apart.

Without significant scientific data in skin care, only cosmetic claims based on affecting the appearance of the skin can be made. These newer, bolder hair care claims – full moisturization, repair and protection fall into three categories; appearance only, unproven or untested. Objective hair care testing will need to be conducted to support anything beyond appearance claims. As with skin care, new instrumentation-based and other objective test methods will need to be developed to fully support hair care that truly affects the structure of the hair. Therefore either more science needs to be done to fully prove the benefits or the claims need to be changed to appearance only. In the end, hair care companies will no longer be able to make unsubstantiated claims.

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