As a blogger with a heavy focus on beauty, I encounter countless pitches from brands claiming clinical performance as proof of efficacy – “98% improvements!”, “100% approval by testers!” and similar claims often bombard us. But actually explaining the science of clinical trials is something brands often sweep under the rug, because to do so means exposing how much of these claims are merely pretty packaging. And so, it was incredibly refreshing to learn about Onomie Beauty– a brand that prides itself on transparency, education, and consumer feedback. And all that hard work definitely pays off.
Unlike the rigorous standards required for drug testing, cosmetics do not actually need FDA approval to go to market. Given this, beauty manufacturers are only liable for proper packaging and ingredient disclosure under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) and Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FP&L). Even the most basic safety screens are not mandatory. This means all those claims to change your skin and accomplish this and that for your pores could mean zilch.
However, brands like Onomie that are truly committed to their products can (and do) take extra steps to first establish a baseline of product safety, then go even further by seeking clinical testing from a neutral third-party lab to prevent any fraudulent claims and ensure the highest quality results. It can be a costly process, taking into account everything from participant recruitment, preliminary screens, qualitative evaluations, and use of highly advanced instruments for more quantitative and analytical tests. As such, conducting clinical trials demonstrates not only a strong faith in the efficacy of the products, but also a deep sense of commitment towards wanting a better understanding of the degrees to which they may affect consumers.
ABC’s of Clinical Trials
Just as one can choose to shop around for products or retailers, brands too can also shop for laboratories that may have more or less stringent testing requirements. So what should we look for among clinical trial protocols and results?
[K]eywords to look for include: independent, unbiased, and sample size (30 or higher).
First and foremost, look at what type of study was conducted. Was this an independent study? Was there a placebo involved (this applies more so to pharmaceuticals, although not inapplicable for cosmetics)? How many participants were included in the study? And over what period of time? For example: what good is simply testing a product among five women employed by the same company over one week? (P.s. it takes approximately three weeks for our skin cells to turn over and see lasting effects of skincare products). To boil it down, keywords to look for include: independent, unbiased, and sample size (30 or higher). Essentially, you want a study conducted by an independent party with no skin in the game besides honest and accurate scientific testing; study participants who will not be biased and can report consistent results under any scenario; and a large enough pool of participants to accurately mirror how the rest of consumers may react to the same products.
Next, examine the degree of technology and care applied. Some brands don’t even go so far as to offer additional information on this front. That being said, Onomie is one of very few that welcome questions and are willing to explain how they test their products. In fact, they use AMA Labs, a highly regarded independent laboratory with a state-of-the-art facility, for all of their clinical studies. Among their services is Matched Scientific Photography™ (MSP) for unbiased, precise visual comparisons of before and after results in controlled environments. Doing so eliminates biases from variables such as lighting and temperature that may impact results. In conjunction with MSP, the lab also employs Photogrammetrix, a suite of photographic measurement techniques to quantify these visual results. This means AMA can literally measure your pore size, depth and length of wrinkles, and more. Compared to tabulating results based on only qualitative feedback from participants about how they think the products work, test, and feel, these advanced services put a hard number on results to create empirical evidence. And guess what – Onomie uses them all!
In the cosmetics and beauty realm, verbiage is everything.
Finally, note the wording and fine print. Are the quoted numbers simply medians, singular examples, or averages? Bear in mind, brands that say 100% of women saw results could just as easily mean that all women saw very minimal but technically improved results. Another lesser known trick is for brands to go so far as to claim 100% of women saw improvement, but that figure could simply be 6/10 (a majority) rounded up to a full 1.0 or 100% figure. In the cosmetics and beauty realm, verbiage is everything. So keep your eyes peeled, note the nuances, and maintain a healthy skepticism.
The Significance of Clinical Trials: Testing Viability vs. Efficacy
To retierate, clinical trials are not FDA mandated for cosmetics, and in fact, neither are baseline safety screens. Brands can actually go straight to market without conducting such tests as long as they are sold direct to consumer or provide their own supply to a retail chain. It goes without saying that a product that has not yet proven its safety and viability cannot consistently demonstrate high efficacy. Thankfully, Onomie goes above and beyond to do both 🙂
Many brands will claim safety testing in the form of two primary screens adopted industry-wide called the RIPT (Repeat Insult Patch Test) and PET (Preservative Efficacy Testing). First, RIPT is used to test for allergic responses and sensitization of products. The former concerns an immediate immune (i.e. allergic) response when a consumer uses a product, while the latter is concerned with immune responses that may develop over a prolonged period of time. Meanwhile PET is another important screen to evaluate a product’s ability to sustain shelf life and prevent spoilage. This is what validates the bottle with a 6M or 12M figure on the back of all your cosmetics. Forget whether the products work or not- first and foremost you want to make sure that they won’t go bad in a short period of time and are safe to use on your skin now and in the future.
Make no mistake however: safety testing cannot replace nor is it equal to actual clinical trials.
Make no mistake however: safety testing cannot replace nor is it equal to actual clinical trials. It can be easy to fall prey to persuasive marketing after seeing the words “testing” printed across the packaging. While RIPT and PET are great precursors to a brand’s development of a product, nothing beats an actual clinical study conducted with a third-party lab to empirically validate the results. This important distinction narrows down the field of trust-worthy beauty brands even more so, in which Onomie continues to stand out. Onomie believes that these safety tests are the minimum bar for all beauty brands and differentiates itself by going several steps further to conduct such thorough clinical trials.
Clinical trials are also important for another major reason- they provide an opportunity for ongoing feedback and improvement. A general timeline for brands involves testing a new product around 6-9 months prior to launch. The study first involves approximately 2-3 weeks for participant recruitment, a washout period (this ensures that the effects of prior products used are neutralized and participants start from a clean slate), and protocol development. The trial itself is then conducted over the client’s desired usage time. Finally, results are tabulated and evaluated to ensure quality control while any anomalies are analyzed further. At this juncture, brands can decide to move forward if results are acceptable or continue to make refinements to produce the highest quality product. Just like the opportunity afforded by voluntarily applying the RIPT or PET, this too is something that brands can choose to capitalize on if they are serious about truly developing the best product.
Ultimately, it’s not just about a brand’s claims on their ability to deliver results or the amount of money spent to earn that “clinically tested” label. These trials serve to quantify results, validate product benefits, and create opportunities for continued improvement. The most tangible benefit is of course, producing the hard numbers that can irrefutably prove claims of improvements.
Why Onomie Does It Right
Now that we’ve gone through the basics and significance of clinical testing, try to recall if any brands you know of that can substantiate their claims so thoroughly or are willing to educate the consumer on these topics. In my recollection, there is only one to date- Onomie Beauty.
In fact, the brand dedicates an entire page of their website to educate consumers on how to properly assess clinical results and the results of how each product performed in tests (P.s. you can find it here). For example, there was an average of 35% improvement in participants’ skin while using the Priming Serum over 8 weeks. Similarly, they found an average of 26.75% and 27.56% improvement after using the Illuminating Eye Treatment and Concealing elixir, respectively, over the same period of time. However, I will note that these figures can be confusing as they are displayed somewhat less prominently than the statistical statements made directly below the before & after photos (such as that quoting 72% improvement in skin brightness in the Priming Serum’s Skin Tone Improvement section). In fact, the higher figure refers only to the results in each photo alone. When asked about it though, Onomie did explain that this was simply to demonstrate the full potential improvement seen by a participant, which I appreciate and hope they can clarify on the website.
The packaging is feminine and of course more than Instagram worthy, but don’t let the pink fool you- the three pack a powerful punch.
But let’s put numbers aside for a second. Even before delving deep into the science backing the products, I was already a fan. Their Priming Serum is my go-to on days when I wear minimal makeup and still want to look radiant. It also serves as an extra primer layer when my skin needs more hydration. It’s one of those products that you know instantly upon applying it, that your skin feel nourished. The A.C.E. Illuminating Eye Treatment and Bright Concealing Elixir, the only two other products in Onomie’s repertoire for now, are also standout items that never leave my purse. The packaging is feminine and of course more than Instagram worthy, but don’t let the pink fool you- the three pack a powerful punch.This is no surprise given all three products are patent pending for the ground-breaking way in which the brand combines ingredients to maximize efficacy. If my personal testimony isn’t enough, the forthcoming seal of approval from the U.S. Patents & Trademark office should do the trick.
It can be disappointing that nowadays, far too many brands over-promise by displaying a seal of clinical testing as a sign of confidence. Then after trying these golden products, we find that most of them miss the mark. Granted, a lot of cosmetics can simply come down to trial and error (as beauty is quite subjective). But in the face of marketing statements that sway consumers looking for guaranteed results, education and knowledge about clinical tests or even general verbiage can make a significant difference. On a high level, just keeping in mind some of the keywords mentioned above will provide a good check of whether a brand is simply wooing you with dulcet tones or has actually done the hard science to back results. And of course if you don’t want to deal with that at all, you can always just stick to Onomie 🙂
As always, thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed!