What 'Clinically Tested' Really Means In Skincare - And Why It Matters Less Than You Think

If you're a skincare enthusiast, you likely have a large collection of products that are labeled with words such as "dermatologist approved" and "clinically tested." While you're shopping, seeing these words on items might give you peace of mind and more incentive to purchase them. However, understanding what they really mean can help you elevate your skincare game.

The words "clinically tested" might lead you to believe that the product you're buying has gone through a series of tests to ensure it's as effective as the manufacturer promises. At the least, you may think that it's safe when used properly. While this can certainly be the case, "clinically tested" (as well as "clinically proven") does not mean the product has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to GoodRx. In turn, this also means it hasn't undergone and passed the clinical trials that are necessary to receive approval from the administration.

This doesn't mean that you need to stop using your favorite skincare products, but it's worth knowing what it actually indicates. As the American Academy of Dermatology Association explains, "clinically proven" or "clinically tested" simply means other consumers (like you!) tried the product. In many cases, it can be difficult to find out details, like how many people tried it and how long they used it, which might leave you scratching your head.

'Expert-graded' vs. 'clinically tested' skincare products

Whether your concerns are signs of aging or acne, anyone who has purchased skincare products knows the sticker shock that can come with investing in these items. Unfortunately, words like, "clinically tested," are often included on labels to justify the price tag.

Another phrase you need to know is "expert-graded." Though you may not actually see this phrase on a product, it suggests that measurements were taken over time to gauge the effectiveness of the item and its ingredients. For this reason, the assessment of "expert-graded" products' efficacy is more objective. However, this term doesn't necessarily indicate any type of certification or FDA approval, and it's just one of two ways that a product can be labeled as "clinically tested," with manufacturers not being required to name the method that was used for each product. (The other method is consumer perception testing, but it relies on consumer anecdotes rather than factual evidence.)

With all of these buzzwords flying around, buying any skincare product can be intimidating. Educating yourself on some of the common ingredients used in these products, such as retinol and vitamin C, can help you make more informed shopping decisions. In the end, you can gain more peace of mind, knowing your hard-earned cash is going toward a product that may give you the results you desire.

Other misleading words used on skincare product labels

Unfortunately, "clinically tested" isn't the only misleading phrase or word used on skincare product labels. Some other words you should be mindful of as you shop include "organic," "dermatologist-approved," and "fragrance-free." Depending on your health and any underlying conditions you may have, this might be essential. For example, "fragrance-free" doesn't necessarily mean that the item has no scent; it simply means that it does not contain ingredients that are only in the formula to create a certain odor. This can be problematic for those who have skin conditions, such as eczema, which may be irritated by products that include fragrances.

Similarly, "organic" can be a misleading word used on skincare items. Standards issued by the U.S. government state that in order for "organic" to be included on a skincare product label, between 75% and 94% of the ingredients need to be organic. In many cases, you'll notice while shopping that percentages are not noted anywhere on these labels.

"Dermatologist-approved" indicates that at least one dermatologist either approved of the item or reviewed testing of it. In turn, they would recommend it to consumers or patients, but you should still be wary if you have underlying skin conditions. If you feel unsure about any product you purchase, you may want to hold off on using it until you can talk to your own doctor or dermatologist.