Angel dusting is a technique that’s used by many cosmetic companies. If you’ve not heard of it before, then let me explain.
A tiny amount of an active ingredient is added to a cosmetic (or a food supplement). It’s generally not enough to cause any measureable benefit, but it will be just enough to mean it can be listed on the product label and focussed on in advertising.
It’s a common practice – yet it’s seldom reported on. I wonder if this is because newspapers and magazines are keen to keep cosmetics companies (who spend huge amounts of money on advertising) on side? Or perhaps I’m being cynical 🙂
Let’s look at an example: We all know that vitamin C is a good thing; it’s a strong anti-oxidant, therefore great for the skin. However, did you know that a skin cream must contain at least 10% vitamin C for it to have any possible impact on the skin? And that’s not all. Any jar containing vitamin C must not let light through or be left open too long – if either happens then oxidation occurs, rendering the vitamin C content useless.
Some companies use angel dusting in a harmless way just to get your attention (and your cash). They try to entice you to buy products by adding a touch of a popular and easily recognisable ingredient. Consumers feel positive about the product because they recognise the ingredient and are therefore more likely to buy it.
Current cosmetic labelling regulations mean manufacturers have to list all ingredients – but not the quantities – so it’s an easy loophole. Active ingredients tend to be expensive so adding only a touch gives the illusion that the product will be effective without driving the manufacturing price up
The other kind of angel dusting is when cosmetics manufacturers add a non-efficacious ingredient just because research or perception has proved that consumers desire this ingredient – even though it doesn’t do anything!
For example, let’s pretend we believe the urban myth about chocolate having anti-ageing properties. Scientists know for a fact that chocolate tastes great, but they also know it doesn’t do a thing for your skin. However they add chocolate to a face cream knowing it’s ineffective – because consumer perception says that chocolate is a good thing. And again, consumers are more likely to buy it.
Releasing a new cosmetic cream is a relatively simply process
As long as the ingredients are on the approved cosmetics register you can get a new skin cream on the market fairly quickly. By comparison a new drug has to run a gauntlet of trials to prove it is safe and effective. It needs a licence. And vitally it needs to prove that it’s more effective that existing products. If only cosmetic creams had to do this!
So what’s the moral here?
Unsurprisingly it’s to do your research.
- Find out just how much of a key ingredient is in a product and then make sure that that’s enough to do the job.
- Check what storage conditions it requires – and that it won’t be rendered useless once you’ve opened the jar.
- Check what the key ingredients are supposed to do – and look for medical evidence to back it up.
If you’ve got any questions or thoughts about this post, or any of my other work, you can comment on this blog post, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @DrDanielSister. I look forward to hearing from you.