In this week's blog, I'm going to explain how you can become your own research assistant to ensure you get the best products for you. If you're wondering why you would need to become your own expert, I would suggest that if you are paying money for products that you put on your skin, you want to be pretty sure they're working and worth what you're paying.
Before I explain how you can become your own research assistant, let me briefly explain, in everyday language, how research works because that's the basis of how your beauty products make it to the shelves in the first place. Once you have an understanding of that, you can find out how you can become your own researcher so you get the best products for YOU.
Types of Study
The best type of study for any product claiming a benefit for your health or your skin or whatever is one where all the possible causes of bias are reduced so that the result is likely to be true.
There are scientific ways to reduce bias in studies which include
- randomly deciding who gets what 'treatment'- called a RANDOMISED study
- comparing the treatment with a placebo (or dummy treatment) - called a CONTROLLED study
- not allowing the person being 'treated' (and also the people doing the assessment) to know if they are actually getting the true treatment or a dummy - called BLIND or DOUBLE BLIND study
- ensuring that the treatment (or placebo) are the only different things being done at the time
- using meaures that test whether there has been success or not that are as objective as possible
having large numbers in the trial
So, when beauty products are tested to see how effective they are, ideally the test will have as little bias as possible.
Common ways of testing beauty products
include the following:
- before and after studies - these are most likely to give a true result (without bias) when there is 'third party testing' so an independent person looks at the person or photos before and after and grades the changes. It is even better when the independent third party tester isn't sure whether the photo is before or after (so this may be referred to as BLIND assessment or comparison)
- half body treatments compared with the standard treatment on the other half of the body - again, these are more likely to be true when the results being measured is assessed by someone independent and preferably someone who doesn't know what treatment was used on what side, or where there is a photo so that any changes can be seen
- consumer studies - these may involve bias particularly if they are based solely on people saying they have smoother skin or less wrinkles. This is because we can often see results when we believe the product works. Therefore, having photos of before and after results or an independent person grading changes is better in this type of study
- animal testing - I'm not saying much about this as I personally don't use (or promote) products that are made by testing on animals
- dermatologically tested - this is something I commonly see on products. I actually don't know what it means. It could just mean that it's been tested on skin - that's a start, but hardly reassures me
- dermatologist tested - again this is quite vague in my opinion. It's great a dermatologist has looked at the product but did they test just on their own skin or what?
Becoming your own beauty product research expert
When deciding on the best products for YOU, there are a number of considerations:
- your skin may be nothing like any of the people in the studies so may react differently
- the environment where you live may be completely different from that of the study and this may mean the products behave differently
- you may want something different from your skincare than the result studied, for example, your priority may be that products are non-toxic first and foremost and then give the desired result (reduced fine lines or whatever) secondly whereas the study has been all about the result (fine lines)
So, how do you become your own expert.
- Well, nature is pretty kind and you are blessed with a body with two sides so you can apply your new product to one side of your body and compare over time (up to 3 months but sometimes with just one application) to the other side where you can use your usual product or none at all. Then you get to compare the results on your skin where you live doing what you do everyday. The photo below shows results after just one application of product
- The other way is to take before and after photos and compare. Again, this may be after a 3 month period or may be a short as one application. Better still, give the photos to someone who isn't in on what you're doing and ask them to tell you what, if any, differences they see between the photos. The photo below shows results before and after 3 months of product use
- I also suggest you do a little bit of research about the brand you use. Does the company have a policy for non-toxic products first and foremost - that to me is very important. Coming from a medical background, I have seen too many instances where effective treatments have been used but they are far from non-toxic and can actually be harmful. Thalidomide was very effective at treating morning sickness but the effect on the baby was extremely harmful
- Do a quick Google search of the product brand/company you use with the term 'scientific advisory board'. See what comes up, if anything. I like a company to be transparent about the research and studies they do and so I expect there will be a board of scientists advising on the research being done. I look for a range of disciplines on that scientific advisory board not just dermatologists, for example.
I believe if you are paying money for beauty products, you should be able to see that they work on your skin. I believe you also should be able to find out about the studies that result in the product claims. Maybe, that's just me, but I want to be mindful of what products I use on my skin, I want to know they are non-toxic and I want to know that I am getting what I pay for.
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