Friday, 17 April 2015

Cheat sheet - Consumer and Clinical trials, In Vivo vs In Vitro and ORAC testing

I am often met with claims of 'clinical trials' and 'independent studies' when reviewing skincare. It's to be expected, brands want to give the consumer 'evidence' that their product does what it says on the box.
The problem arises when they make those claims based on inadequate or irrelevant testing and put it in language that isn't easy for the customer to break down.

In its simplest form:

Consumer trials - you always see these in the small print on ads. They say something like 'In a study of 80 women, 67% found that X product increased hydration in the skin.'
The major problem with these 'trials' is that you frequently have no idea what demographic and skin type makes up that 80 women. If you put a really hydrating moisturiser on a 70-year-old woman that has only ever used soap and water on her face, she may think it's amazing.
If you put that same moisturiser on me, I may think it's doing absolutely nothing. Consumer trials, in a lot of cases, are really just marketing dressed up as facts. It may be a fact that 35 out of women 'found that the product enhanced the firmness of their skin', but what was their skin like before? What is your base level in the group of women? How old are they? Were they wrinkled to begin with? Did they have acne? Did they have sensitive skin? We will never know. These trials are based on the participants feeding back their thoughts on paper, not studied in detail under a microscope in a clinic. That's a consumer trial.

Clinical trials - these are, rather obviously, done in a clinical environment, on people, not petri dishes. (They will generally be classed as in vivo - see below.)
They include monitoring the participants before, during and after and gauging results by scheduling tests, procedures, applications and dosages; and the length of the study. While in a clinical trial, participants following a protocol are seen regularly by research staff to monitor their results and to determine the effectiveness of the products.

In vitro (latin for 'in glass') testing is the most widely used, the problem is that testing skincare in a petri dish does not replicate testing it on a live human being. Therefore, I tend to disregard any claims made around in vitro. It's basically saying 'this might happen if you use it on your actual skin! or you know, not'.
It's the equivalent of Jamie Oliver cooking an entire meal for you without tasting the food once during the cooking process. It should taste nice, but you don't know until you actually eat it.

In vivo (latin for 'within the living') is the most reliable form of testing as the products are tested on people, not samples in dishes. (In the old days of beauty testing it used to mean animal testing too - it doesn't now, don't worry) This testing, however, is extremely expensive to perform and understandably not easily available to smaller brands who would struggle to find £35-£50,000 to test one product. Most studies around in vivo are limited to under 50 people and for around 4-12 weeks - usually for cost reasons. For the simple fact that it is testing done on living, breathing human skin, it's still the most reliable though.

ORAC testing - ORAC testing is based on antioxidants and free radicals and originated in food testing. All that talk about blueberries and coffee berry being amazing antioxidants? That would be ORAC testing. There are three major problems with ORAC testing in skincare.
1: it was designed for food.
2: it uses in vitro - see above.
3: it has been completely disregarded by both the FDA and the EU as a reliable source of rating antioxidant capability in both food and skincare on human skin.
So, for example, to claim your product is 300 times more effective than other brands is at best, unethical and at worst, borderline illegal. If you made that claim as a blueberry farmer the EU and the FDA would take you to court. It's a minefield and if I was one of the other brands being targeted by the 300 times stronger crew? Frankly I'd be calling my lawyers.

So where does that leave you and I, the consumers who part with hard-earned cash?
While I always take the results of a full clinical trial seriously, honestly, the only voice I listen to these days is word-of-mouth. If a friend has used something and really rates it, I want to check it out. If another blogger that I respect raves about something - I always want to check it out.
Do you read the small print? Do consumer/clinical trials make any difference to whether you try something or not?

36 comments:

  1. I LIVE for the fine print on things. Here in America you wouldn't believe the adverts! Every other one is for some new prescription only medication with side effects like "higher risk of cancer, genital warts and dry mouth" and I feel like screaming...who would try these things!? One for toe fungus basically makes yrour toenails fall off! Eeeepp! But I blame it on being a librarian and needing to know everything about everything!


    I must admit the constant adverts for erectile dysfunction make me break out into hysterics!

    xo
    Sara

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  2. Animal testing unfortunately does still happen. Yes it's banned in the EU and in other areas of the world, but it can, and does, happen in other places. If animal testing of cosmetics was banned it would negate the need for so many companies to put animal testing policies/disclaimers on their websites. 'against animal testing except where required by law' is their way of saying 'we don't, but when x country says they want products to be tested on animals when they are sold in that country, we'll allow animal testing to occur so we can gain more profits from selling in that country'. If it truly was a thing of the past you surely wouldn't need to state whether a product is tested on animals when you post a review?

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    1. Animal testing is NOT banned in the EU. Caroline just said "in vivo" now means it was tested on humans only.

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    2. I appreciate that, however I think due to the way it is worded people will take it as 'don't worry, animal testing doesn't happen anymore in the world of cosmetics'

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    3. Most ingredients have been tested on animals at some point. A product may not have been tested on animals but all raw ingredients would have been.

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    4. Just an FYI testing cosmetic products on animals has been banned in the UK and EU since the mid 1980s :) but raw ingredients will have been at some point, it is required by law that all new ingredients have to be tested extensively on a rodent and a non-rodent animal before it can go to to clinical trials. Hence why it takes about 10 years for a new pharmaceutical drug to get to market, it all has to be safety tested.

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    5. Just an FYI testing cosmetic products on animals has been banned in the UK and EU since the mid 1980s :) but raw ingredients will have been at some point, it is required by law that all new ingredients have to be tested extensively on a rodent and a non-rodent animal before it can go to to clinical trials. Hence why it takes about 10 years for a new pharmaceutical drug to get to market, it all has to be safety tested.

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  3. I don't recall ever seeing anything outside of 'Consumer Trials'.

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  4. My absolute favourite is a new one I've noticed recently where an advert will say "Rated five stars on boots.com!"

    And then the small print will say "rated five stars on boots.com by DefinitelyNotOurSocialMediaIntern on 17/03/14". I MEAN, REALLY.

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  5. I read as much info as possible but unless am getting something cheap / for free I scour blogs, makeupalley, google trying to see how well a product is rated based on reviews from people who have actually used it ( for months rather than days). I must admit to believing a lot of what Kara the Perricone rep on QVC says - mainly as once I went to the Perricone counter in Selfridges and she gushed that my skin was "amazing" so I have a soft spot for her :) Most skin companies peddle absolue nonsense though and we need to take everything they say with a bucket of salt.

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  6. Yes, Talisa (the first comment) is right I always read the small print! So important! Clinical trials and in vivo (vivo = alive in spanish...latin roots ha!) are the most reliable. Check! Very interesting, and clear information, as usual! Thank you Caroline!
    Alina
    (www.eclecticalu.blogspot.com)

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  7. There are a lot of women in the world, and XYZ company has managed to find 80 of them to test. Woohoo! What's that confidence interval? Degrees of freedom? Are the results quantitative or qualifying? How did you define population and sample size?

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  8. I love that you posted on this subject Caroline. I always find myself rolling my eyes at those sorts of claims, because I know they play right into what some folks want to hear. My good friend for example takes everything she reads on packaging to heart and I find myself constantly saying "oh god, nooooooooo. Seriously, no" to her LOL.
    The other day her skin was red and raw from a day out on the mountains with no sunscreen or any sort of barrier moisturizer on. She then told me that she was going to take care of the problem by "scrubbing off the rough bits with *brand who shall not be named but is known for their apricot scrub laced with walnut shells* to make it smooth again" I literally cringed in front of her and then forcefully removed said scrub from her hands in the store. She thanked me later.

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  9. Hello, don't disregard any in vitro testing! they are extremely important in whatever research scientists carry out. In vitro experiments are the starting point! crucial.

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  10. I read as much as possible but find it hard to understand and confusing. Your explanation has helped a lot as usual thanks. I used to also rely on word of mouth and friends reviews, that was until I found you! Now your word is gospel so I won't usually buy it unless it has the CH stamp of approval in some way shape or form.

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  11. No, I never take any notice of '80% of women found that...'. I spend ages reading all the reviews, particularly on Makeup Alley and am still sceptical but part of me wants to believe this product will be miraculous.

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  12. I read the small print, but usually for a laugh. Being used to clinical trials regarding medication/severe illness, those customer trial claims make me giggle.

    LindaLibraLoca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

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  13. Quick question - I have seriously combo skin - oily nose, acne prone and blemished skin and dry patches especially on my forehead where more spots are. What do you recommend?! ☺

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  14. I never pay the slightest bit of attention to testing claims made by the companies for the exact reasons you mentioned here.
    I don't care how many women said 'it made their skin more hydrated' unless I know what they were using first! I want to be assured that someone who's got access to & uses the best damn stuff on the market, thinks that new product is amazing.
    This is why I rely on bloggers I trust & their readers comments. Thank you for what you do - it's massively appreciated to have some truth in a market swamped with fairytales & promises!

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  15. As a chemist, and someone involved in healthcare studies - thank you for trying to educate on this point. My OH and I laugh about this frequently. Tiny sample size, no control group, no study.design to speak of, statistically insignificant data. It all really annoys me. It's all well the ASA saying brands must declare these things in tiny print; if the consumer isn't science literate it's actually misleading

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  16. I took part in a consumer trial. It was for a mid range brand coming out with a new moisturizer. The cream's M.O. was to resurface skin while leaving it hydrated and healthy. However, it was a pretty basic formula. The only ingredient worth noting was niacinamide. The rest of the product were humectants and emollients.
    Anyway, I was instructed to just use a cleanser on my face and nothing else for an entire week before starting the trial. This was so my skin could have a "blank slate for testing." Of course my skin was screaming for a moisturizer...ANY moisturizer. I was to use the same cleanser and the brand's new moisturizer for 4 weeks. Of course my skin looked better than when I started, since it was dehydrated and rough from ceasing use of all my other products. Needless to say I chucked the moisturizer after the trial.

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  17. I too am used to clinical trials for medication and some cosmetics. There is no such thing as a miracle in a jar. For skin care I rely on the guidance of my dermatologist. I do agree it is important to read the small print and to keep in mind what worked for one person may not for you. What gets me is when some companies keep adding products to incorporate into your usual skin care. We all need to be cautious consumers.

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  18. Researching ingredients and then products that contain them is the best strategy. Retinoids and niacinamide for example have solid data to back them up. You can search for dermatology journal reviews and studies on Pubmed.

    -M

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    1. Can you recommend products with niacinamide?

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    2. IIRC, Olay Regenerist range contains 2-3%. niacinamide. Their new Luminous skin tone perfecting serum (in a pearly white dropper bottle) lists niacinamide as 2nd ingredient so I reckon it's even higher. L'Oreal Code Lumiere contains it, too, but I'm not sure of the concentration.

      Long-term use of niacinamide at 4-5% helps reduce blotchiness and thicken the skin's upper layer by improving collagen production. YMMV, but my skin glows and looks very clear/dewy when I use the stuff.

      -M

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  19. Could you do a cheat sheet (or maybe a series) on what ingredients to look for and ones to avoid? I get so confused looking on the backs of the bottles and tubes.

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    1. I second that!!!! I have learned quite a bit from the blog but there are still so many out there that I struggle with. Plus trying to figure out/decode the percentages and the order of ingredients on the label in relation to is efficacy. It's all a jumble some days :)

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    2. you can find ingridients ratings (good or bad, and why) on the Paula's Choice website. I could give a link, but I am not sure if I may do it

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  20. Personally I do take notice of the clinical trials but what makes me want to try a product is a good blog review, like your own of course. If lots of people rate it I'll likely give it a go. Likewise if something really isn't coming up trumps in blog posts I'll skip it. I do try lots of different products, if I really like the look of something I'll give it a go & make up my own mind but I do read a lot of blogs and product reviews (by consumers) before I lash out a significant amount of money. I'm picking up the Vichy thermal aqualia serum tomorrow based on your blog post ;)

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  21. I pay attention only to ingredients list and brand info. The thing with any trials, tests etc is that most of them are already set up in a way to give the desired result for the brand. Reviews are also tricky as everyone has different skin types and skin concerns. I've tried quite a few products with excellent reviews that I didn't like at all. But I know my ingredients so well by now, what works and what doesn't for my skin, so this is my main guide in choosing the right products :)

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  22. When I'm checking out a product I do read the info being put out by the brand, but always keeping in mind they exist as a business to make money, and to make money they need to spend low and sell high. If the inci list is good & does not include any of the stuff my skin reacts badly to, I read reviews from those in my age group, have similar skin issues and have used the product for at least 2 weeks (preferably longer). These reviews are typically on blogs, but not just any blog because some blogs have compromised their integrity by allowing themselves to be mere extensions of corporate marketing departments and will rave about any product thats been sent to them.

    Caroline, your blog is the one I respect and trust the most. Its the first gate (sometimes the only gate!) a product has to clear before I buy it. I cannot thank you enough for how you have helped me make better product choices & take better care of my skin <3 (Joy)

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  23. I was at the Clinique counter recently and the assistant told me about the 1800 tests that were carried out on each product. I asked her what these tests were and she got really angry and said "we're not lying" and that "no customer had ever asked hat before". She didn't know what any of the tests were but reassured me that the tests were done "by dermatologists in America" implying that they must be good tests then.

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  24. I look for results of peer-reviewed studies, probably not in original because I cannot trust myself to know how to interpret the methods etc. in studies, but as explained by scientists or those familiar with cosmetic chemistry. I'd read about ingredients and then look for products that contain these ingredients. I do not fully rely on friends' and bloggers' individual opinions, not really, because I do not trust anecdotal evidence. If someone says that a product is super drying and awful, I probably won't buy it, but if something is highly recommended, I will have a look at it. In the end, everyone's skin is different but there is a general body of scientific knowledge about ingredients so knowing about them is a great starting point.

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  25. Great explanations, the other problem with consumer trials is sometimes your not given a chance to give negative feedback, and follow up surveys only allow favourable answers :s

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