The Psychology Behind Bold Beauty Claims

Published in: News

Do you question bold beauty claims?

16x — that’s not too far off the mark. We’ve all seen these claims before: 4x brighter eyes, 74% thicker lashes, removes 6x more makeup than cleaning with water alone, clearer skin in 2 weeks guaranteed.


In the December issue of Global Cosmetic Industry magazine, Alisa Marie Beyer has a piece called “The Claim Game” about these bold beauty claims, and how crafting a compelling claim can mean the difference between a bestselling beauty product and a flop.

“Generally speaking…claims fall into two categories: emotional (for example, painful acne blemishes will disappear in two days) and numerical (such as, 97% of women saw smoother skin in two days).
— Alisa Marie Beyer, “The Claim Game”, Global Cosmetic Industry, December 2010

The magazine is a trade publication, and Alisa’s audience is mostly made up of cosmetics company executives. It got me thinking about beauty claims and how important it is for consumers to know what goes into the marketing, and how it pays to take every claim with a grain of salt.

The big companies study the psychology behind our purchase decisions. They know that most of us respond positively to seeing big numbers in claims, but they also know that if they make too many big claims, it’ll sound too good to be true.

It reminds me of that episode of Mad Men where they bring the girls who work in the office into a focus group. I can’t remember the product… I think it was Pond’s Cold Cream, and they talk about all sorts of things, like the ritual of taking off your makeup at night, and the hopes and dreams of the girls in the room — all to better target the advertising.


“…96% of women said their skin felt smoother, fresher and healthier instantly.”
— Anonymous beauty company

Some claims are just plain silly. 96% of women said their skin felt smoother, fresher and healthier instantly? Instantly? That’s awfully quick.

A lot of research and psychology goes into selling makeup and beauty products. A girl’s gotta stay on her toes.

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,


P.S. Happy last few hours of 2010! Are you doing anything fun tonight? I actually think we might be staying in…


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So far, 30 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Caty says:

    AIIIIIIII this makes me happy. I yell at my TV when I see silly claims like that. “YOU ONLY GET 4X LONGER LASHES BECAUSE YOUR MODEL IS WEARING FALSE LASHES!”


    Tonight I’m sitting with my cat, watching Ryan Seacrest on TV. Eeeeeeee.
    Caty recently posted … Face of the Day!

    • DiBonD says:

      I once saw Max Factor mascara ad and it was written “Please note that the model is wearing false lashes” and “Photo was made perfect with Photoshop”. So, I guess we can’t expect to have lashes or lips like models’ because theirs were even photoshopped.

  2. DiBonD says:

    Sometimes advertisements overrate some products’ quality, and women–especially teens–quickly believe in them. I hope this article helps us choose the right products for us

  3. snoopysteph says:

    This is exactly why it’s so smart to do some research before investing hard earned money in a beauty product. For the past 2 years or so I’ve been referencing and before I make a purchase in order to find out what exactly the ingredients are in a product and what they’re used for. It seems like more often than not the ingredients cannot possibly accomplish what is claimed because they aren’t present in a large enough quantity or the overall pH of the product will not allow it to work as claimed. Or, they’re just fancy sounding so the price tag can be inflated. It’s also important to remember that when you buy a product that has jar packaging all the fancy ingredients you’re paying so much money for start to lose their potency the minute you open the lid.

    When a company claims “research” results you have to assume that THEY are the ones sponsoring and/or paying for the research and not an independent, unbiased company. 96% of women felt their skin improve immediately? What the company doesn’t tell you is that they probably had all the participants (how many? 5? 500?) wash their face with a bar of Ivory soap beforehand – so of course their skin is going to feel better!

    There are some fantastic products out there that are carefully formulated to work as promised – but sometimes it’s like finding a needle in a haystack of cosmetic company marketing hype & bogus claims.

    • “It’s also important to remember that when you buy a product that has jar packaging all the fancy ingredients you’re paying so much money for start to lose their potency the minute you open the lid.”

      wow, i had NO idea this was the case! thanks for the info, snoopysteph!
      dani@callitbeauty recently posted … NOTD- Rimmel – Burgundy Flirt

      • snoopysteph says:

        Yep! Lots of cosmetic ingredients (like antioxidants, for example) become unstable when exposed to light & air. Definitely something to think about the next time you buy a pricey product!

  4. Tiffany says:

    I’m minoring in quantitative psych (statistics) so I can also add that it’s so easy to spin statistics or data to say what you want them to say!

    Happy new year! I’m staying in and watching football. Hope I can stay up until 12. Only 1.5 more hours here!

  5. some ads just make me roll my eyes. i.e. pretty much every mascara ad i see. i’m not sure if i should feel disgusted that these companies feel like they can fool me, or offended that they think i’m stupid enough to buy into their game when the model/actress/whatever is CLEARLY wearing false lashes :p.

    nowadays, i make sure to do my research. an ad and fancy numbers alone won’t inspire me to spend my money on a product. i make sure to go online and read up on reviews, see swatches, etc. that’s why i really love the beauty community 🙂

    as for new year’s, i’m staying in with the fam. it will be a small and cozy celebration for us. whatever you decide to do, hope you have a blast, karen!

    and a very happy new year to all you lovelies 🙂
    dani@callitbeauty recently posted … NOTD- Rimmel – Burgundy Flirt

    • Fieran says:

      In Europe, some of these ads have the claim “XYZ has been styled with lash inserts”. I guess they are kind of admitting it – but it still looks weird. I don’t think anybody wants that much lashes in the first place 🙂
      Fieran recently posted … Banana Fritters

  6. Alice says:

    I am sick. 🙁 Hoarse throat, headache, fever, and I just woke up from a nap to find out I have no voice.

  7. Heidi says:

    I’m staying home as well. I’m not leaving Missy alone with all the firecrackers that are set off in this neighborhood. They started in on that at about 7 already!

  8. vonnie says:

    i take them all with a grain of salt, definitely. especially those ludicrous makeup ads; how can i trust what you say and you don’t even trust your product enough to not use sky high false lashes? blech
    vonnie recently posted … SOCIALITE APPROVED- The Best of 2010

  9. Nancy says:

    I remember a very interesting thing I learned in my stats class about how “average” can mean anything from mode, mean OR median. In some cases, a certain type of “average” can sound so much better as a statistic. I find myself doubting the numbers we find in everything from advertisements to surveys.
    Nancy recently posted … A Trip to the Napa Valley

  10. leo says:

    Mega-donkulous? I MUST have this mascara! where can I find it?? WHERE??? 😉

    Seriously, as for all advertising 90% of the message is bubbles, but well.studied bubbles. That’s why the Internet is so useful for researching before buying!!

    And kudos to all the beauty bloggers that help us to get the best value for our hard-earned money… Happy 2011! 🙂

  11. Jian says:

    Their trial sizes are almost never large enough to be trusted, plus they don’t give details of who exactly they got to try their product, and the actual methodology that they used to come up with their results. So numbers are essentially meaningless!

    Happy New Year Karen!
    Jian recently posted … A remorseful goodbye to blogging

  12. Karen B says:

    I think that this is one of the reasons why I surf to beauty blogs and read a lot of reviews before I make a new purchase.

    I had a night in with three of my girlfriends and then at midnight we watched the wonderful fireworks in Ghent 🙂
    Karen B recently posted … Wednesday Wonderful- Friends

  13. Camille says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Karen. I’m ridiculously skeptical of any beauty claim, and this is the whole reason I sought out beauty blogs in the first place – to get someone’s honest opinion, and not base my purchase off a photo-shopped ad.

    Happy New Year!

  14. quimerula says:

    Dear Karen, thank you for posting this.

    And I know it’s totally out of topic, but if you know a lippie, gloss or whatever the same shade the one that the model is wearing, I would be forever grateful.

  15. Trisha says:

    I tend to ignore claims like those because they always seem like a lie, or at least an exaggeration.

    But, even worse? Ads for mascara where the model is wearing false eyelashes. False eyelashes = false advertising.
    Trisha recently posted … Happy New Year 2011!

  16. Glosslizard says:

    Whenever I read these claims of improvement, I always wonder if the women in question had been using nothing previous to trying the product in question. That would certainly account for some radical improvement!

  17. I wonder if this isn’t why I gravitate toward indie products – there’s a wee bit less eau de fertilizer wafting from their product descriptions and websites. Not that they’re paragons of truth – hardly! There’s just less to wade through…

  18. Emma says:

    I find the claims so hilarious, especially coming from the UK where they’re legally required to advertise if the product image uses anything fake i.e. lashes, extensions etc. and seeing the same ad in the US without. I sit there thinking, ha, ha, I know that you’re lying! Seriously, unless it’s really dramatic I almost never notice the effects of the ‘claims’ that they make.

  19. Nina says:

    if a product works, they dont need to make outrageous claims about what they can do for you. thats why i stay away from products that claim to offer me perfection … because they dont work!

  20. I really think it’s against the rules for cosmetic companies to use falsies in mascara commercials and print ads. I only wear falsies like once or twice a year. How are we supposed to know how the product truly works on our real lashes?! But beyond that they are not very forthcoming that the lashes in the commercials are not even real!

    It’s playing dirty!

  21. Kerry says:

    I hate that mascara ads all seem to say “model is wearing false lashes.” That doesn’t make me want to buy your product, you know. It makes me think I need to wear false lashes!

  22. amy says:

    Great posting Karen. I never pay much attention to the numbers and statistics on the packaging because I just find it silly and misleading. There are also lots of “enhancements” made in ads to entice us to buy the products, ie. photoshop and false lashes and etc used. They try to convince the consumer: if you buy this and use it for your lashes and skin, you WILL look like the models, despite that they are enhanced by photoshop and false lashes. *chuckle* I find this applies to many anti-aging and wrinkle creams too, when they sell to older women but use a younger model who obviously doesn’t need these creams yet.
    amy recently posted … Fabulous Pinkish Purple Lips LOTD MAC Stylishly Yours Cremesheen Lipstick in Style Curve

  23. noemii says:

    To be perfectly honest, when i hear such outrageous claims from products i think just that -that they’re outrageous and i never even go near them particularly with so-called ‘beauty’ products.
    I now tend to rely on instinct and reviews from people (like you) that tend to not have misleading information and have led me to some great products. Not to mention return policies of stores. I have no qualms over returning a shxty product any day of the week.
    It is very fascinating though, observing this “online beauty community”. Someone will mention in a video or post in their blog something about a new product and many will instantly get excited, and go out and buy or tentativly wait for a (hopefully) honest review.
    There Really is so much pyschology that goes behind Everything within advertisements and it never fails to shock me how badly people, especially women, do go for the insane claims products make. And i feel that it is mostly older women, not teens, that fall for all of it. All of this makes for a fascinating study, i feel. As an observer, and a follower of makeup and skincare junk, i am definitely intrigued.
    Oh, and i totally stayed in with my evil dogs on new years!

  24. claudia says:

    LOL! I knew I should have studied Marketing in college (but no, I chose Environmental Science)! When I see those claims that say “96% of women said that their skin felt smoother and fresher instantly,” I picture it as a multiple choice test. It would say, “Did your skin feel smoother and fresher instantly? yes or no.” And then the respondent probably thinks, “Well, I guess so” and bubbles in yes. It’s not like 96% of women used the product and exclaimed to passersby, “My skin felt smoother and fresher! Instantly!” 🙂

  25. irini says:

    As a psychology major myself,I have to say a big thanks for mentioning that!Not only are these claims misleading,but also can have an overall influence in one’s self esteem.Let us not forget that if it seems to good to be true,it probably is 😉
    irini recently posted … New AmericanGold

  26. meredith says:

    Great post. As a former corporate beauty marketing dropout, it was my job to spin those claims. It still is, but now I work with companies I believe in and have honest policies.

    Yes the mascara ads are some of the most obvious culprits, but what gets me more is the skincare ads – claiming to reduce wrinkles or firm sagging skin. The trick is that the manufacturers will do clinicals on the active compounds – then only add 0.003% to the final formula. But due to lax regulation, they’re not required to list at what percentage of actives those results were achieved.

    As a product junkie myself, the best advice is just to read your labels. If the top 5 ingredients are water and other ingredients you can’t pronounce, put the product down and walk away. You don’t need to pay $50+ for a cream that’s mostly water, preservatives and a miniscule trace of active compounds.

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