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Cosmetic Advertising : What Do You Need To Know?

Advertisement is a notice or announcement in a public medium promoting a product or service via mass media such as newspaper, magazines, television, radio, outdoor advertising or direct mail; or new media such as blogs, websites or text messages.

Advertisement is also considered as one of the most important marketing strategy because it is a means of informing the public in the quickest and most interesting way. Some of us are easily manipulated or influenced by advertisements while some may have doubts on the information given. As a consumer, what do you need to know about cosmetic advertising?

Cosmetic products in the market is subjected to comply with the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations 1984 and Guidelines for the Control of Cosmetic Products in Malaysia where Cosmetic Advertising Code is one of the requirements to fulfill when it comes to advertising of cosmetic products.

In order to understand more about the advertising code, the following is a brief description of the basic principles which can be used as a guide together with some examples of advertisements that are allowed for cosmetic products.

Basic Principles Of Cosmetic Advertising Code

  1. Honest or truthful presentation

    Advertisement should contain information that is reliable, accurate, truthful, informative, balanced, up to date and capable of substantiation and in good taste. They should not contain misleading or unverifiable statements or omissions likely to induce unjustifiable use or give rise to undue risks.

    Example #1:
    “Approved by the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH)”

    Such statement is not allowed to be advertised or stated on the labels of cosmetic products. Since 1st January 2008, cosmetic products are controlled through notification procedure where the company or person responsible for placing a cosmetic product in the local market must notify the Director of Pharmaceutical Services (DPS) through the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) prior to market, manufacture or import of a cosmetic product and to declare that marketed products will always comply with the regulatory requirements in terms of safety, quality and product claims which are supported by sufficient evidence.

    Notification procedure does not indicate endorsement or approval by MOH for any cosmetic products. However, cosmetic products in the market is monitored closely via post marketing surveillance activities and regulatory measures will be imposed on companies found to violate the regulations set by the authorities.

  2. Standard of Morality or Decency

    Advertisements should not contain statements or visual presentation which are, or likely to be interpreted to be contrary or offensive to the standard of morality or decency prevailing in the Malaysian society or in any way defamatory or humiliating to any segment of the public.

    Example #2:
    Graphic elements or photos that reveal breast on the label or advertisement

    The use of provocative images for example breast or graphics contents that are contrary to the moral standards of the local society is strictly prohibited for cosmetic products.

  3. Before and After Effects

    Before and after effects of cosmetic products are often used to attract consumers by increasing their confidence level on the efficacy of the products. However, “Before” and “After” situation must reflect truthful and factual comparisons. Advertisement comparing “before” and “after” situations should cite with prominence the specific time elapsed between two situations.

    However, there are a lot of advertisements out there which do not reflect truthful and factual comparisons where photos without make up are compared to photos with full make up on or edited photos. These comparisons are unreasonable and do not show the real situation and is seen as intention to deceive the consumers.

    Another example is the advertisement for breast care products where the effect has been magnified by increment in breast size from “Cup A” to “Cup C”. Moreover, breast enhancement product is not allowed as cosmetic product.

  4. Testimonial

    Advertisements shall not contain or refer to any testimonial or endorsement unless it is genuine and related to the personal experience over a reasonable period or time of the person giving it. Testimonial or endorsement which are obsolete or otherwise no longer applicable shall not be used. Company also has to make sure that the particular testimonial is authentic where same product with same formulation is used and sufficient supporting documents can be provided. Other factors which can contribute to difference in results such as use of other skin care products at the same time should be taken into consideration.

    Apart from testimonials by users, testimonials by professionals such as doctors, dentist or other healthcare professionals are also used in advertisements.Testimonial by professionals should observe the ethics of their professions and do not violate regulations of the governing bodies or institutions regulating that profession. For example, any advertisement which involves dentist or dental practitioner to promote any cosmetic products for dental or oral care is not allowed by the Malaysian Dental Council. National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has issued a directive in 2011 with respect to this matter.

  5. Quantitative Claims

    Clinical testing and research results published in the advertisement shall be true and can be proved with sufficient supporting documents that include methods and analysis which can be accepted scientifically. In addition, a study should be relevant to the claims made and claims made should meet the definition of cosmetics.

Actions and Challenges

NPRA will actively monitor advertisements for cosmetic products through continuous post-marketing surveillance activities to protect consumers from misleading advertisements. In accordance with the principle of cosmetic notification, notification holder is fully responsible for all the advertisements of the notified cosmetics under their company. Notification holder has to ensure all the advertisements comply to the Cosmetic Advertising Code and other related regulations. Actions will be taken to cosmetic notification holder found not to comply to the Cosmetic Advertising Code.

Monitoring of advertisement is a major challenge to NPRA as there are many mediums which can be used for advertising and what is more difficult is advertising via new media such as websites and blogspots. This is mainly because internet is easily accessible to public and anyone can put any information on the web, and sometimes information looks more credible at first glance. Unfortunately the reliability of information is hard to judge.

Therefore, consumer should play a more proactive role in judging the credibility of information and not to be swayed by ambiguous advertisement easily. Consumers are encouraged to report information on misleading advertisement to NPRA,using Notified Cosmetic Complaint Form, available through the link:https://npra.gov.my/images/public/BORANG_ADUAN_KOSMETIK.pdf and e-mail to kosmetik@npra.gov.my for further action.

Last Reviewed : 22 August 2019
Writer : Jasmine Lee Yee Chen
Translator : Chang Pei Thing
Accreditor : Noor Hidayah bt. Mohd Nor
Reviewer : Wan Mohaina bt. Wan Mohammad
  : Hanum Maisarah bt. Abdul Rahman