This well written and well researched piece could have been a fantastic service for readers, one of the few stories we’ve seen to examine the medicinal claims being made by cosmetic companies for their products. Instead, it takes its cues from the same marketing it purports to examine. The story deserves credit for asking tough questions, but it should have dug deeper.It should have relied less on the cosmetic industry and its contract research organizations and more on independent experts.
There are new “cures” for aging being pitched at the graying population every week, and the skin creams, laser therapies and other treatments can cost thousands with limited proof of long-term benefit. Stories that take on these claims deserve a round of applause. We hope, though, that more stories take a hard look at the way the “evidence” for these therapies is being generated and perhaps manipulated to serve a marketing aim.
The story says that these products retail for $65 to $95. We would have liked to have seen how long one of those products would last with typical daily use. Is it $95 a month? Every three months?
The reporter apparently had access to an “84-page patent application” for the product being sold, but the story does not present quantify any of the evidence that may have bene found there. Instead, it allows a company vice president to say that “a study of 30 women showed that after 10 days of using the Algenist serum, they had a 25 percent decrease in wrinkles as shown by silicone replicas of their faces.”
No harms are mentioned in the story, which is too bad given that this product is apparently uNPRoven, both in labs and in the marketplace. Many would assume that there is no possible harm that could come from applying a natural product containing a seaweed compound. While that may indeed be true, there is no evidence to support that lack of any comments about potential harms. Since there are no data available about its use in premarket testing and the product has yet to reach the market, it would have been reasonable to point out that the potential harms of alguronic acid are unknown at the moment
We give the story a lot of credit for taking this subject on. We think it did a great job of asking for independent reviews of the marketing claims. But the story, ultimately, presented very little in the way of analysis. It says for example that “Studies conducted by an independent lab and commissioned by Algenist, none of which have been published in a peer-reviewed journal, showed alguronic acid increased cell regeneration and the synthesis of elastin (which gives skin that snap-back youthful quality).” For most readers, the phrase “independent lab” will make them think that this product has been properly vetted. More astute readers will be concerned that the results were not “published in a peer-reviewed journal.” But we think the story should have been more cautious in presenting this information as independently generated evidence when, in fact, this is no different than any pharmaceutical company hiring researchers to prove the efficacy of its products. Dr. Dana Sachs, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says in the story “the claims on cell regeneration and elastin synthesis are based on in vitro models, which is hard to extrapolate to in vivo, and again no statistical significance is presented, so this is a weak claim.” But the story, sticking to the company’s marketing line, allows a company vice president to brush this aside by saying, “statistical significance was found but not included in press materials. And, according to the company, a study of 30 women showed that after 10 days of using the Algenist serum, they had a 25 percent decrease in wrinkles as shown by silicone replicas of their faces.” We don’t think it reasonable to provide this type of information unless there is some way to validate the claim. We think the balance of the story tips too heavily toward creating “the story” that the company wants to sell about an amazing ocean discovery.
This story, like so many stories about aging, treats the natural biological process of getting older as something that can and should be fought, stopped or altered. By setting up these products as being able to “protect middle-aged faces from environmental assault,” among other phrases used in the story, it gives credence to the marketing claims and contributes to a pervasive sense that people must protect themselves somehow against aging lest they be damaged.
Again,we love that the story took this company’s marketing materials and attempted to have them independently analyzed. But the story chose poorly when picking experts. After 10 paragraphs of effusive language about a new wave of ocean-derived anti-aging products, the first ostensibly critical voice in the story is given to Dr. David McDaniel, who is described as “a dermatologist and the director of the Institute of Anti-Aging Research in Virginia Beach, Va.” what does McDaniel say? He “said he was impressed by the in-vitro testing of alguronic acid. “In the petri dish, their data seems to show some substantial benefits to their active ingredient,” he said. But he cautioned that in-vitro testing does not demonstrate how a final formulation works off the shelf.” The story does not point out that the institute is a contract research organization that provides service to manufacturers including study design, laboratory testing, clinical testing and media consultations.
The story does attempt to make comparisons and goes into a good amount of detail about similar products on the market, but here, again, it allows the company touting this algae-dervied product to make an unchallenged claim of superiority. “There are more than 100 algae-derived ingredients used in cosmetics worldwide, Mrs. Lewis said. The patent-pending alguronic acid in Algenist is a “single, purified, highly bioactive compound,” said Tony Day, the vice president for research and development at Solazyme, and therefore delivers “much higher activity to the skin” than products using only a microalgae extract.” We don’t think that provides readers with the sort of serious comparison they deserve, especially in a market this crowded.
The story starts out by making it clear that “Algenist moisturizers, serum and eye balm are already available at Sephora.com and will go on sale in the company’s stores this week.”
The story does a good job describing why the company selling this product is excited about its prospects, but it never establishes what sort of edge, if any, this product would have on the thousands of other “anti-aging” products being sold. There are hundreds of anti-aging products containing a product derived from seaweed. The suggestion that this one is somehow unique remains to be proven
The story goes well beyond any news release.