FDA to cosmetics companies: Tone down your ads...or else!

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by Chip Reid / CBS News

khou.com

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 8:13 AM

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning message to several cosmetics companies: Tone down your ads...or else.

The FDA is going after the companies for how they market their products. Listening to the advertisements like those touting "break through technology" and "ten years in the making" you'd think today's skin care products were bottled at the fountain of youth.

And as the war against wrinkles becomes more scientifically complex, the promises become bolder, like the one that suggests using the product can help "to outsmart genetics."

But now the FDA is cracking down, sending warning letters to at least four companies, including Avon and Lancome, and threatening to block sales or even seize their products if they don't tone down their ads.

Dermatologist Dr. Tina Alster used to be a consultant for Lancome, so she has seen the business from the inside out.

"It's surprising that they didn't react to these claims before," she said.

Alster says the FDA looked the other way for years as companies puffed up the effects of their cosmetics.

"But once they start encroaching on changing the structure or function of the skin, that's where they go over the line into being considered a drug," said Alster.

To sell drugs they would need FDA approval -- and that could take years, during which the companies would have to suspend sales of the highly lucrative products.

Propelled by baby-boomers, sales of anti-wrinkle potions last year were almost $3 billion.

And youth in a bottle doesn't come cheap. One product sells for $68 for just two-thirds of an ounce, or approximately one and a third tablespoons.

Both Avon and Lancome say they are working with the FDA to resolve the advertising issue.

Alster says the companies will probably give in and tone down their ads. That's because the alternative would mean losing millions and millions of dollars while the FDA decides if these anti-aging products are cosmetics or drugs.

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