You’ve seen an advertisement promising that a certain cream or serum will wipe years off your complexion. The website might even promise that trying the product is risk-free—but, of course, you’d better hurry because there’s a limited quantity left!
It sounds like such a great deal, and you have been loath to look at those fine lines cropping up around your eyes. Why not go ahead and open up your wallet?
Anti-aging brands have been keeping a secret from you.
It’s not a veritable fountain of youth that can wipe away decades, imparting a youthful glow. Instead, the secret is that our age-related insecurities have fueled a multi-billion dollar industry that’s expected to be worth over 191 billion by 2019.
Our age-related insecurities have fueled a multi-billion dollar industry that’s expected to be worth over 191 billion by 2019.
That’s not to say that every cosmetic brand is benefiting more from pretense than you will from their products. But, the hard truth of the matter is that the anti-aging industry is rife with scams.
How can the average consumer stay alert to anti-aging scams, especially when companies keep coming up with new super ingredients or back their claims with impressive-sounding scientific studies?
That’s the good news: By learning to recognize certain red flags, you’ll be able to call shenanigans on anti-aging scammers in no time—saving you money and potential headaches.
If you’re a fan of our anti-aging product reviews, you may already be familiar with some of these points—since they’re referenced so often, we thought it might be handy to compile them all in one place.
Without further ado, here’s a compilation of HighYa’s best advice that will show you how to never fall for another anti-aging scam again.
Why Anti-Aging Creams Cost So Much (and What You’re Paying For)
What’s an anti-aging product worth? The answer depends on how effective it is at delivering on what’s promised. However, it turns out that efficacy doesn’t factor into the price as much as you’d think.
Whether $10 or $100, when you purchase an anti-aging product, you’re paying for a lot of intangibles, including packaging, advertising budgets, licenses, and the brand’s equity.
How Anti-Aging Brands Use Hype to Raise the Price
Even if prestigious brands could produce their anti-aging products for less, many keep prices high to create a sense of exclusivity—and it works.
Time and again, consumers have shown that they rate different products better if they think it’s more expensive. It’s not your fault.
We’ve been trained over the years to equate price with value and find it difficult to ignore the stigma of “cheap”—especially when it comes to a youthful appearance.
Bottom Line: Price can be an indicator of quality to a point, but expensive doesn’t always mean better. Additionally, be wary of brands that sell themselves as exclusive, since you’re essentially shelling out extra cash for membership to a make-believe club.
Exclusive and Exotic Don’t Mean Effective
Anti-aging products often justify higher price points because they include what’s called “aspirational ingredients.” This includes exotic sounding plants or precious gems.
However, despite sounding luxurious, there’s little proof that these ingredients do anything but raise an anti-aging product’s price tag.
Additionally, consumers should understand that ingredients applied to the surface of your skin aren’t “sinking in” as many manufacturers claim.
Basically, your skin exists to keep stuff out!
Know that there’s little evidence that applying all the ground-up gold leaf you could afford would do little more than draining your wallet before rinsing down the sink the next time you washed your face.
Bottom Line: Remember that no matter how valuable an ingredient is, its effects are temporary.
Endorsements Also Add to an Anti-Aging Product’s Cost
Celebrities make a pretty penny by endorsing products. But, be wary: While a famous face backing a brand doesn’t actually mean a product will be more effective, the marketing technique has been shown to inspire consumer spending.
Fake celebrity endorsements aside, does your favorite star actually use the product they’re photographed next to?
While we can’t speak for every celebrity who’s promoted an anti-aging product, the answer is that they most likely don’t.
What’s the harm in a famous face inspiring your next face cream purchase?
Essentially, companies who enlist celebs to help them sell are hoping to inspire irrational purchases, even though a less-spangled option might do the same job at a lower price.
Bottom Line: Remember that celebrities are there to inspire imagination—which is fine on the silver screen, but less so when handling your Platinum Card.
Credentials Also Add to an Anti-Aging Product’s Cost
Whether real or contrived, authority is one of the easiest ways to create a feeling of evidence. More simply, when consumers see mention of a doctor, researcher, or other industry expert promoting a product, we tend to automatically assume that their claims are legitimate—even if it’s just words next to a picture.
Dr. Ben Goldacre is a scientist-turned-vigilante who’s fed up with how authority figures use “science-y-ness” to sell products. In an interview with The New York Times, aptly titled Wrapped in Data and Diplomas, It’s Still Snake Oil, Goldacre states:
“It is used decoratively as marketing in a way that is meaningless....You can pay for Valmont Cellular DNA Complex (made from “specially treated salmon roe DNA”), but Vaseline works just as well as a moisturizer.”
Sometimes anti-aging brands use authority figures to hike up the price tag on their products. However, scammier brands attempt to “wow” shoppers with bar graphs, diagrams, and mentions of scientific studies that don’t prove a thing—all with the hope that you’ll think it’s too much of a hassle to look further.
Goldacre’s efforts to educate consumers about how often brands attempt to bamboozle you into buying is admirable. Especially considering how easy it is to create totally fake clinical proof to support just about any product claim.
In our article, How to Tell the Difference Between Legit and Fake Clinical Studies, we follow one journalist’s first-hand account of how easy it is to create a fake clinical study—and how quickly the falsified information spreads.
While weeding out fake data can prove difficult, know that there are several steps you can take to identify a less-than-honest clinical study. Just ask yourself:
Who funded the study? If it was the same company who’s selling the anti-aging product, chances are there’s some conflict of interest that affected the results.
Where is the study published? If the only evidence of said study can be found on a product’s official website, there’s no proof that their claims have been validated by any legitimate source.
How many participants were involved? Without going into too many details, know that you can make pretty much anything seem plausible with a small enough sample group.
Bottom Line: Just like celebrity endorsements, be wary of paying more for a name—anti-aging products backed by authority figures aren’t necessarily more effective than cheaper alternatives. Additionally, be wary of clinical studies or scientific statements that appear “fool-proof,” and they’re likely betting that you won’t look any closer at the lack of actual data.
How Dishonest Anti-Aging Companies Can Steal Your Cash
Now that you have a better understanding of how to spot overblown claims used by anti-aging brands, it’s time to learn about the risks of making a purchase.
We say “risk” because the business models used by many anti-aging scammers are designed to lure you in with free trials and easy-peasy sounding autoship clauses—both of which are designed to separate you from your money.
What’s the problem with free trials and why shouldn’t you take advantage of such a good deal? In What are Free Trial Offers & Autoship Programs & Why You Should Avoid Them, we break down why “risk-free” is rarely the case. Here’re the main points:
An offer you can’t refuse: In our experience, anti-aging brands intending to scam customers will convince you to sign up by emphasizing that you’ll only need to spend a few dollars to see for yourself if their product works for you.
Until it’s too late: After paying the minimal cost to ship the trial product, you may notice it takes an inordinately long time to arrive. While you might be impatient to try your new anti-aging regimens, they’re banking on the fact that all those days in transit eat into your return window.
Now you’re receiving automatic orders: Chances are, you didn’t even realize you’d signed up for an autoship program. Unfortunately, unless you act quickly, you’ll start receiving shipments of the product every so many days—and see sky-high charges on your credit card for them too.
But, you can’t reach customer service to cancel: Companies who employ free trial scams to steal your money often have purposefully poor customer service or limited hours, making it extremely difficult to exit your membership, even after you’ve noticed the ongoing charges.
» For Further Reading: Free Trial Offer (and Autoship Program) Scam: What It Is and How to Avoid It
In the above articles, we also explore that not all autoship programs are bad. However, those that are legitimate tend to clearly and boldly state that you’ll be signing up for repeated shipments—as well as give you the option to opt-out.
What happens if you’re already stuck in the cycle of an autoship program? We recommend turning to your credit card company to stop charges and possibly dispute what’s already been taken from your account.
Though, because autoship programs are a “legal scam,” know that getting a refund is less than likely—which is why we strongly suggest avoiding them in the first place by purchasing a product that doesn’t require you to sign up for revolving charges.
» See Also: How to Deal with Unethical Customer Service
Finally, Understand the FDA’s Rules on Cosmetics
The Food and Drug Administration classifies cosmetics as GRAS—the acronym for “Generally Recognized As Safe.” Since FDA regulations tend to put people to sleep, we’ll keep this short and sweet.
Basically, cosmetics, including anti-aging products, have a cap on what kind of results they can deliver without being considered a drug.
According to the FDA, a drug is something “intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease” and “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals.”
Under GRAS, the FDA classifies cosmetics as “products intended to make people more attractive.”
Since the FDA does such a less-than-stellar job clearing that up, we’ll go a step further. If a product can effectively boost collagen production, minimize wrinkles, or affect changes in your cells, it’s a drug.
Alternately, anti-aging cosmetics can temporarily reduce the signs of wrinkles, sagging skin, or other trouble spots. But the bottom line is clear: Products that create real, lasting change in your skin are only going to be available by prescription.
Further, under the general interpretation of GRAS, the only reason that little-known anti-aging brand is claiming that their product provides a facelift in a jar is that the FDA hasn’t yet gotten wind and asked them to desist.
Despite so many scams surrounding anti-aging products, there are ingredients that have been shown soften the signs of aging. These include AHAs, retinol, hyaluronic acid, and peptides.
In How to Take Care of Your Skin: 10 Steps to Good Skin you can follow our tips that help you develop an effective skincare routine, as well as learn which products are best suited for your skin type.