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How Does Cosmetics Advertising Work?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

Cosmetics advertising works by using several different techniques that encourage its target market to buy specific cosmetics and skincare products. The effectiveness of the advertising typically depends on convincing people that the product being advertised actually can improve their appearance and that they, the audience, are in need of appearance enhancement. Depending on regulations regarding advertising claims in the jurisdiction where the advertising is featured, the cosmetics manufacturers and their advertising producers may use several methods to persuade individuals to make a purchase. These can include "angel dusting" and medical claims, as well as promises of general lifestyle enhancement.

Many people are acutely aware that their personal appearance can have a significant effect on how they are regarded and treated by others. Advertising can play on these concerns by encouraging the target market to be concerned about signs of aging or making themselves more attractive to the opposite sex. For example, some cosmetics campaigns may emphasize the ability of a product to reduce wrinkles, giving users a more youthful appearance. In a time of high unemployment, in which older workers may be concerned about age discrimination, this type of advertising can be very effective.

Makeup products.
Makeup products.

Some cosmetics companies formulate their products in a way that can actually enhance the effectiveness of advertising. One well-known technique is called angel dusting. Unscrupulous cosmetics manufacturers will add a tiny amount of a well-known, and perhaps even effective, cosmetic ingredient to a product so that the ingredient name can be used in advertising campaigns. The fact that the ingredient is completely ineffective is not mentioned to potential consumers of the product. It is then left to the consumer to determine the actual concentration of the ingredient and the efficacy of the cosmetic.

Advertisements play on consumers' concerns, like looking more attractive to the opposite gender, for example.
Advertisements play on consumers' concerns, like looking more attractive to the opposite gender, for example.

Another effective component of cosmetics advertising is the blurring of distinctions between cosmetics and pharmaceutical drugs. The term cosmeceutical has been used to describe products that can have both medical and cosmetic benefits. The trouble is that, in some jurisdictions, the term is not regulated and may be used in advertising to make a product seem like a legitimate healthcare treatment when it has not undergone the same type of rigorous testing normally required of pharmaceuticals if they are to be sold to customers. Advertising may further confuse the issue by making references to clinical studies, including testimonials from doctors, and in some cases even using photographs or videos of doctors or actors and models dressed like doctors in the advertising.

Discussion Comments


We should address the underlying weakness of a society which demands conformity and youth.

I remember demonstrating for ERA and affirmative action. It obviously did nothing. Smarten up and think!


Cosmetic advertisements have become a lot like fashion shows. The women wearing the products are also dressed stylishly and are strutting to popular music.

Often, fans blow their hair back so that you can get a better view of their makeup. This gives a dramatic effect associated with glamor.

Cosmetic companies want you to believe that their products are fashionable and will thus make you glamorous by wearing them. All too often, though, the lighting and professional application of the makeup make the models look much better than normal people will in these cosmetics.


@lighth0se33 – It is sneaky, but the catch is that the cosmetics company doesn't even have to lie in order to do this. This is what I call deceptive advertising.

They tell you in their ad that the product contains something, and then they tell you that this something is known to increase elasticity and eliminate fine lines and wrinkles. They never actually state that their anti-aging cream will make you look younger.

You really have to pay close attention to detail in advertisements if you want to avoid getting duped. The truth and the lies are all in the wording.


Wow, I had never heard of angel dusting before reading this. That is such a dirty practice! I would refuse to buy anything from a company who participated in this trick.

I have always assumed that products advertised as containing certain ingredients really were supposed to accomplish what that special ingredient was known for. If something didn't work on me, I just assumed it was because my skin didn't respond to it, and it was because of my genetics.

I am going to research cosmetics carefully before buying them from now on. This really makes me suspicious. For all I know, brands that I have trusted for years could have been doing this all along!


@turquoise – I know that if I read a review of a certain cosmetic, it has more of an influence on me than a simple advertisement. I understand why a blogger would want to write positive things about products, but the most effective reviews are those that contain both pros and cons.

Let's face it – every beauty product has a flaw. Even the great ones have some sort of weakness, no matter how small. If I find a review that mentions this, I pay more attention to it than a review that only sings the praises of the product.

I am also suspicious of reviews that are overly negative. Do you know if cosmetic companies actually pay bloggers to write bad things about their competition's products? I'm unaware of whether or not this is practiced, but generally, if someone has only bad things to say about something, they are overly picky by nature.


I pretty much ignore most of the skin care and makeup advertisements. I think a lot of them are filled with toxic ingredients that aren't safe, so am very picky about what I use.

I buy all my cosmetics from a health and nutrition company that I trust and know what kind of ingredients they put in their products.

They might cost a little bit more than what I can buy in the retail store, but for me it is worth it.

Instead of spending so much money on advertising like many of the cosmetics companies do, this company spends money on research and testing their products.

I know advertising is a huge business, and it really works or companies would not be able to continue doing it. I just always try to look past the advertisement to the company behind the product.


I think there are several reasons why cosmetics advertising is so effective.

Most people want to look good or somehow enhance their appearance. There are cosmetic advertisements everywhere you look, so you are bombarded with them all the time.

Many of the products being advertised don't cost that much. In other words, you are not out much money to see if they really work. If this was a high dollar item, it might not be as easy to give them a try.

Even when I see pictures of women on TV or in magazines, I know their flawless skin has been enhanced, but I am still tempted to try new products that might make me look younger.

If I can do this for under $20, I don't feel like I have much to lose.


@burcinc-- Not me! All I want is to look a couple of years younger and I'm willing to try any product that claims it can do that for me. I have wasted a lot of money this way but I've also found some products that really worked so I think it's worth it.

Sometimes I think that beauty advertising is the easiest sector because we women are so concerned about how we look. In my family for example, every female uses cosmetic products and creams regularly whether they're 16 or 70 years old. I think women have a natural desire to look their best and even beyond that if it's possible.

Just tell us we'll look young and beautiful and we'll buy it!


This is an interesting article, it made me think about why I buy the cosmetics I do. I'm pretty young so I don't purchase things to look younger but I do purchase them to look better.

Another factor that has a huge influence on me is how the product looks, especially the packaging and colors if it's something like eye shadow.

I try to buy high priced quality cosmetics and there is one famous brand I really love. When I go to their store in the mall, I end up buying a bunch of stuff even though I din't plan to. They package and show off their products in such cute ways and colors that I just can't resist.

I don't know if this is a special advertising technique by cosmetics brands, but it definitely has an affect on me.


I think a whole new way of advertising cosmetics have started recently. It is called blog advertising.

What cosmetics companies do is they get in touch with popular beauty bloggers who might be interested in trying their product for free. They send bloggers some of their products without a charge and the blogger in return writes a review of the product and how the product worked for her. It's also common to place that cosmetic company's ads on the blog or website for free.

Some companies require that bloggers only write a positive review and some allow the blogger to write whatever she wants. But most people will try not to write anything negative so that they can guarantee more free goodies in the future.

This is a relatively new phenomenon, but as a beauty blogger myself, I've noticed that it's becoming very popular. It first started with less well known cosmetics companies but even the top notch ones are doing it now. I think this is the future of cosmetics advertising.

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