Fact-Checking Your Beauty Routine: Why You Should Read Through Claims and Labels
You never fall for fake news, so why buy questionable skincare products? Here’s why fact-checking also applies in beauty.
Gone are the simple days of getting skincare advice from only three reputable, nay, infallible sources: your dermatologist, Vogue, and your mom. There was a time when mainstream media was in the triumvirate. You could trust a magazine to tell you the truth. If not, they apologized in a few cubic centimeters of precious print. These days, fact-checking is a must. But with so much information coming your way — most of it unsolicited and determined by a mysterious algorithm — what’s a girl to do?
Fact-checking has become an essential part of being a sensible human being. Nowadays, you switch on your phone and see various videos on your feed from accounts you do not follow and cannot verify. The logical thing to do is visit said account to see if they're credible. However, this is more challenging with beauty-related posts since these rarely come from malicious sources that aim to spread lies. Usually, you get it from a misinformed teenager whose post accidentally went viral or an influencer who doesn’t know any better.
In the realm of beauty, unlike, say, politics, disinformation is hardly ever sinister, but this doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high. Here, succumbing to gullibility can ruin your skin, not to mention waste your time and hard-earned money. It’s one of those few spaces where believing the hype over practicing due diligence immediately backfires.
But what does fact-checking mean in this case? Does this imply that skincare companies are lying to you? How do you know which TikTok trends you need to verify and which ones to believe? Will you have to validate every claim on every product from here on? Must things be so complicated?
Hype Does Not Always Mean Fact
The short answer is, no, things don’t have to be complicated. Fact-checking is not a burden to consumers but a necessary step in their education. In this age of hype and engagement, you can’t always trust popularity to mean fact. Several factors can determine a post’s popularity. Some strategies include tactics, such as shock value, exaggeration, and a contrarian point of view.
For example, videos on dyeing your hair with purple shampoo have been popular on TikTok and YouTube. While this isn’t something new, the virality of these posts sparked a real-world trend. But does it dye your hair? No. Unless you leave the shampoo in for a long time (think 16 hours) for it to stain your bleached strands minimally. This process can leave your hair dull and dry.
like TRESemmé Pro-Color Series Blonde Brilliance Shampoo restore bleached or highlighted hair to its original brightness. It removes brassiness by depositing violet pigments that tone down the yellows in your hair, reviving your blonde hue. It's a toner, not dye, so the color doesn’t stay on the hair too long. You're also supposed to rinse it out and not leave it in.
Another example is videos of people making homemade face masks with ingredients like coconut oil. While some people can tolerate it, those with broken or acne-prone skin should never apply it to their faces because it is highly comedogenic. However, many of these videos fail to come with this disclaimer. It’s safer to use a like POND's Pineapple Face Mask, not to mention more effective.
Was there a lot of hype around these “discoveries”? Sure. But they don’t work as well as they claim. In science, hype is how mainstream media sensationalizes scientific discoveries to catch attention. A 2015 study in the British Medical Journal revealed an 880% increase in the use of hype words such as “robust,” “unprecedented,” and “innovative” over the last four decades.
It demonstrates how hype is present in most industries — even research. While the intention may be purely to get more clicks and views, it also shows that the lofty promises of hacks aren’t always 100% reliable and should undergo fact-checking as well. If scientists can embellish, what’s stopping the average YouTuber from doing the same?
Regulations on Cosmetics Are Not Universal
Another reason to be more careful when purchasing beauty products is the inconsistencies in regulation. Since many beauty products sold locally are from abroad, many of them still fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It includes personal care products and cosmetics such as makeup, perfumes, hair dyes, and nail polish.
However, according to the U.S. FDA website, these products are not subject to FDA pre-market approval authority. Brands themselves are responsible for the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing them. The FDA cannot order a brand to recall its products for safety issues, only request it.
Moreover, under the Federal Food and Drug Cosmetics Act, the agency loosely defines and regulates terms like “organic” and “natural.” There is no standard when it comes to these claims. It's the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that approves , provided that the product meets the requirements of the Natural Organic Program (NOP). However, the USDA has also warned that the term is not an indicator of safety. The consumer must decide whether they’re willing to take a chance.
On the other hand, the European Union, which covers 28 countries, has much stricter policies. According to Safe Cosmetics, an independent watchdog operated by the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners Organization, the EU has banned 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics. These chemicals are reportedly suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive issues. Some commonly used ingredients banned in the EU but legal in the U.S. include formaldehyde, hydroquinone, triclosan, lead, parabens, petroleum distillates, phthalates, selenium sulfide, and quaternium-15.
Under EU law, cosmetics must undergo pre-market safety assessment, product registration, and authorization nanomaterial use. Testing on animals for cosmetics is prohibited. Meanwhile, in the U.S., only 11 chemicals are restricted from cosmetics. Check your U.S.-made product labels for the following: bithionol, mercury compounds, vinyl chloride, halogenated salicylanilides, zirconium complexes in aerosol cosmetics, chloroform, methylene chloride, chlorofluorocarbon propellants, and hexachlorophene.
If, for example, you want to make sure that a product doesn’t contain certain ingredients that you may be sensitive to, choose one that explicitly says so on the label to be safe. Dove 0% Aluminum Deodorant Aerosol contains 0% alcohol and 0% aluminum salts, as indicated on the packaging. If you’re trying to stay away from aluminum in deodorants, this is the product for you.
Unauthorized and Fake Products are Everywhere
In the Philippines, the FDA, a regulatory agency under the Department of Health, also regularly posts public health warnings about unauthorized products under the Cosmetic Advisories of its website. Here, “unauthorized” means the brand and/or its products are unregistered and have not gone through the FDA’s evaluation process. This includes obtaining a license to operate from the Center for Cosmetics Regulation and Research arm of the FDA. The distribution and sale of unregistered products are prohibited until the advisory is lifted, which can also be viewed on the site.
In this case, fact-checking entails verifying if a product is indeed registered. Is it manufactured or distributed by a company that has the authority to do so? Consumers can visit the to check if a cosmetics company has a License to Operate (LTO) and a Certificate of Product Registration/Notification (CPR/NN).
The popularity of new commerce platforms such as e-commerce sites, social media stores, and live sellers adds another complex layer to fact-checking. Platforms like Shopee and Lazada have Shopee Mall and LazMall, which only carry authentic products from legitimate brands. Counterfeits such as fakes or replicas have no place here.
However, counterfeit products are still available outside of Shopee Mall and LazMall, despite regular spot checks. You’ll easily find fake perfumes being sold at 10% of the price of the authentic version, and since these e-commerce platforms have frequent sales, it’s now more difficult to judge fakes by how cheap they are.
Shopee recommends buying products from Shopee Mall for authenticity. If you buy outside the Mall, check consumer reviews and read the product description to see if the seller is an Authorized Distributor of the product. You may also choose stores with a Preferred Seller badge, which means the shop received recognition for excellent sales and customer service. Their products are also tagged as “100% authentic.”
Make Fact-Checking a Habit
Today, being careless with the information we choose to consume and believe can have grave consequences. Social media has leveled the playing field when it comes to information dissemination. Although motherships like Meta and Google campaign against fake news and go after fake accounts rather aggressively, many of them still go unchecked. According to a study by Dartmouth University in 2018, fake news reaches more people and spreads faster than the truth. Imagine what those numbers must be like today.
Research by MIT led by cognitive sciences professor David Rand, Ph.D. suggests that people who believe fake news or buy into false publicity aren’t necessarily biased. On the other hand, the study reveals that those who believe false things simply don’t think carefully, as published in the American Psychology Association.
In the areas of skin care and cosmetics, it’s mostly up to the consumer to make an informed choice. See a new but questionable beauty trend on TikTok? Do your research before trying it out. There are content creators like Robert Welsh, Brad Mondo, and Hyram Yarbro who’ve made it their mission to debunk dubious beauty trends and products that are all hype.
Want to buy something from an Instagram seller but not quite sure if it’s authentic? Just look for it on reputable platforms like Shopee Mall or Laz Mall. Uncertain if an ingredient is bad for you? Get the expert opinion of your dermatologist, who knows all about these terms and more importantly, understands your skin.
In the broader scheme of things, fact-checking isn’t just for personal benefit. By learning about terms, ingredients, and regulations, you are also helping promote a culture of accountability, which in the end, can make the industry better and consumers everywhere happier. The information is out there, all you have to do is look.