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What is Data Washing?

What is Data Washing?

The importance of understanding Consumer Use Studies VS Clinical Data. 

There’s a growing misconception amongst beauty consumers—and the industry in general—that consumer use studies and clinical data yield the same fact-based, scientific results. 


Well, the hard truth is not all beauty research is the same.

While consumer studies have their place, in helping companies understand how people perceive their products and improving the product experience, they do not provide a quantitative measurement of actual product performance. The same is true of before and after pictures, with no image data analysis attached

Imagine sports cars being compared, not on their 0-60s acceleration time data, but on how the driver felt the acceleration. Or imagine comparing laptops, not on the measured microprocessor power video card speed, but rather on how gamers felt about the speed of playing Call of Duty. The company putting forth this data would be laughed out of the industry.

Sadly, not so in beauty.  In fact, recommendations based on how people feel, rather than quantitative product performance, is the standard.


Unfortunately, deceptive marketing in beauty is pretty rampant, and consumer research is often just marketing claims laid out as factual research. Consumers are often met with glossy terminology and tasked with deciphering tons of misinformation. It’s not uncommon for brands to make false claims or pass along consumer studies as clinical, factual information.  

At Codex Beauty Labs we remain dedicated to conducting efficacy testing at a third party (e.g., Essex Testing Clinic or Eurofins or MyMicrobiome) to ensure our products remain grounded in science and their performance is independently quantified by testing experts. It’s the reason why we developed The Codex Beauty Labs Efficacy Panel and are spearheading the need for enhanced product transparency. Quantitative data is what allows consumers to make fact-based purchasing decisions. Think cars and computers.

We’ve always made a case for transparency in beauty. Recognizing that data-driven efficacy claims are fundamental to skin health, we’re displaying quantifiable beauty data in easy-to-understand Efficacy Labels on our packaging—starting with the debut of The Antü Collection, and updating our Bia Collection.


But what is Data Washing?

Although there isn’t a formal definition on the web, an article on Architectural Beauty helps illustrate the point. Many beauty companies make broad claims using a long list of benefits, and often rely on ingredients data rather than the whole formulation. As ingredients can interact with one another (ask any cosmetic chemist!), the potency of the raw material can be enhanced or diluted. 

Some ingredients, like vitamin C lose potency in formulation and after opening.  While the shelf life of Vitamin C tablets varies from 12 to 18 months, the shelf life of most vitamin C serums is 3 to 6 months, with a degradation in product potency along the way as the Vitamin C oxides through contact with light, heat, and air. But many products show a period after opening of 12 months, with no supporting data.  If the company did efficacy testing, it could measure this degradation and know how to improve product performance. 

It is only through efficacy testing that real-life results can be measured and delivered through enhanced product transparency.

Unfortunately, some beauty companies are relying solely on experiential consumer feedback, and this research is not substantiated with the actual data. For example,

97% agree skin suppleness and firmness is improved*

* Based on results of a self-assessment study of 32 women ages 18-68, after 21 days twice daily use.


How can a consumer self-assess suppleness and firmness?  A cutometer instrument will actually quantify these two parameters in a well-defined way.

Other companies claim to perform clinical studies, but don’t report the data, rather relying on “action” words.  For example:

100% showed significant skin exfoliation overnight* 

*Based on a 28-day clinical study of 36 women, ages 30-60, once nightly use.


What does the word significant mean?  Why didn’t the company report data measured with a Squam Scan instrument to quantify the change in skin proteins found in this outer layer?  The percentage change would be a quantitative way of reporting the exfoliation.

We define data washing as passing along consumer use studies (non-quantifiable consumer feedback) or clinical study data without quantitative results of the actual measurement (just a marketing adjective), as clinically sound research or leading the consumer to believe that this collection of information is equivalent to scientific research. Consumer use studies cannot deliver quantifiable performance that can be objectively compared; Clinical study data reporting with adjective rather than measured numbers hides the actual performance too. 

With no data, how do you know the result is meaningful?  Is a 1% change good enough to report?  What about a 10% change or a 80% change?  How can the beauty industry make progress if there are no benchmarks?  How can companies offer the best products at the best price if the user can’t really compare their performance?


Why Are Efficacy Trials Important

Efficacy trials provide real, measured performance parameter data that allows to transparency in communicating product benefits, and are necessary for brands to make efficacious claims.

As with the launch of our sustainable, plant-based biotech Antü Brightening Collection, our formulations are scientifically-proven to alleviate UV damage and improve texture. We are writing technical papers and filing patents, all of which become public domain information, and prove what our products do with measurements.

We use consumer-facing efficacy testing labels to help consumers understand quantitative data and make purchasing decisions based on full transparency. Clinical research and efficacy testing are important to us as highlighted in our recent feature on the peer-reviewed cosmetic science website Cosmetics and Toiletries Magazine.


We believe that by publishing our data, we can establish a new reference point for both consumers and the beauty industry," said Barbara Paldus, CEO and founder of Codex Beauty Labs. "Customers should expect every brand to justify its product claims with quantitative data in order to objectively compare product performance and price.”

— Cosmetics and Toiletries


Efficacy testing is necessary to support product claims and prove product performance. We're advocating for quantitative results of actual measurements (not pretty words) to be more readily available for the consumer in an easy-to-digest way. Using efficacy panel labeling will hopefully democratize beauty, and we hope we can influence other beauty organizations by publishing our data. 

Read More: Beauty That Bares All


Welcome to The Efficacy Panel. We’re not shy about putting labels & performative ingredients on full display.

Why Our Beauty Efficacy Panel is So Right NOW                                                                 

In the era of Skinmalism, transparency around performative skincare is paramount. Learn why we’re putting Efficacy Panels front & center on every box—and driving the need for enhanced product transparency.

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