We trawled the supermarket for products that carry claims they've been tested, recommended or approved by some sort of medical fraternity. Most displayed claims along the lines of "dermatologically tested", or "recommended by dermatologists", however, we also found claims of approval by paediatricians (Curash and Aveeno Baby) and gynaecologists (Femfresh). There are also oral hygiene products endorsed by the Australian Dental Association. Most companies we contacted provided information about testing related to the claims.
Although consumers can be confident that the claims are backed up, there was still a wide variety in the types of testing done. For example, all the products claiming to be dermatologically tested were patch tested (to ensure there was no dermatological reaction when the product was placed on the skin), but others were subjected to more extensive tests, such as photoallergy tests (to make sure there was no reaction when the product-treated skin was exposed to UV light), tests for comedogenicity (pore blocking), and tests for repeated exposure and long-term effects.
Unilever told us that Omo Sensitive laundry detergent is tested for skin sensitivity by patch testing cloth that has been washed in the detergent at the recommended dosage. Adults with sensitive skin are used for this test, which is carried out according to a standardised test protocol in Australia by an external testing authority and endorsed by a dermatologist.
Rexona and Dove Clinical Protection antiperspirants are patch tested overseas (mainly in the US) by an external testing authority, according to a standardised test protocol that has been endorsed by a dermatologist, with results also assessed by a dermatologist.
Johnson & Johnson
A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson Pacific told us that tests on its Aveeno and Neutrogena ranges are regarded as large-scale and are conducted by independent dermatologists in non-affiliated laboratories.
The test battery for its Aveeno range includes a repeat insult patch test, photo-toxicity test, photoallergy test and cumulative irritation test. The company's claims of recommendations from dermatologists and paediatricians are based on routine market research surveys asking doctors for specific information on the products that they recommend to patients with common skin needs and conditions. Their unprompted brand responses are recorded, with both Aveeno and Neutrogena consistently listed amongst the doctors' top recommendations.
The Neutrogena Razor Defence face scrub also has repeat insult patch tests and cumulative irritation tests, with a comedogenicity test as well as a six-week safety-in-use test.
L'Oréal's Hydra Sensitive After-Shave Balm claims to have been ''tested under dermatological control''. L'Oréal provided detailed results from a battery of clinical tests conducted by dermatologists on men with sensitive skin, showing that repeated use of the product helps reduce redness, irritation and overheating observed immediately after shaving.
The packaging of Nivea Post Shave Balm states "Skin compatibility dermatologically approved". A spokesperson told us this means that "our cosmetic products have been extensively tested, demonstrated to be safe and suitable for use on skin". Extensive testing includes repeat insult patch testing to examine acute and cumulative skin sensitisation, photoallergy tests, in-use studies to determine irritation under in-use conditions, a facial-stinging test to determine sensory discomfort and comedogenicity testing.
Imperial Leather hand wash has undergone repeat insult patch testing in independent laboratories in Australia and overseas (the UK) to ensure it meets the claim "dermatologically tested".
At an independent laboratory in the US, the Palmolive Naturals range of shower gels undergoes a series of human skin irritation studies, which are directly supervised by a dermatologist. The testing concludes that the gels are safe for a wide range of skin types and don't cause irritation.
Products carrying the logo of certain organisations also imply they meet certain standards – but what are these standards exactly, and what does it mean for consumers?
Skin Cancer Foundation Australia (SCFA)
The Research Unit of SCFA reviews the effectiveness and accuracy of product information and marketing statements, and the supplier of a product that meets the criteria is entitled to place the logo on their packaging and use it in advertising and promotional material. The foundation charges an annual licence fee for each product, which helps fund research and education activities.
Skin Cancer Foundation
Based in the US, but endorsing products internationally, the Skin Cancer Foundation (not to be confused with the Skin & Cancer Foundation Australia) awards its Seal of Recommendation to products that sufficiently and safely help prevent sun-induced damage to the skin. The manufacturer provides clinical data, which is reviewed by a volunteer committee of experts in the area of ultraviolet radiation and its effects on the skin.
National Asthma Council Australia Sensitive Choice
Products with the Sensitive Choice blue butterfly logo may be better choices for people with asthma and allergies. Requests to join the program are subject to a product review by a panel of medical specialists and other experts. The council points out that being in the Sensitive Choice program ''does not represent that the product or service is the best or better than others in a category, simply that the product is acceptable and not harmful based on the evidence available''. Participants are charged an annual fee, with funds raised being used to help asthma organisations continue their work in improving asthma care. Aware Sensitive laundry powder carries the National Asthma Council Sensitive Choice logo, and contains no fragrance, enzymes or optical brighteners – which can cause skin problems for some people.
Australian Dental Association Seal of Approval
Found on toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash and sugar-free chewing gum, the Australian Dental Association Seal of Approval recognises products that are safe and effective and ensures that any advertising claims made about the products have been substantiated. Companies pay for assessment and there's an annual licensing fee, which is designed to cover costs rather than raise funds.
Recommended by Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association
The Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association provides information about the prevention of asthma and allergies. It has a product assessment program – with assessments based on research results, analyses and the formula for the actual product. These are conducted by its Product Council, which includes specialists in medicine, chemistry and technology.
Products recommended by the association are free from allergens, perfumes and irritating substances. Apart from personal care products – including Naty nappies, which are sold in Australia – endorsed products include bedding, architectural interior products and Volvos!