Beauty and Cosmetics: The use of production techniques

Feb 3rd '21

Following a tightening up in position on the use of pre and post-production techniques in cosmetics advertising, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) issued guidance entitled “Guidance on the use of pre and post-production techniques in ads for cosmetics.


This guidance covers three areas:


  • Pre-production techniques such as styling, make-up, eyelash inserts and hair extensions;
  • Post-production techniques such as re-touching of photographic images using digital or
    other technology; and
  • Qualifications or disclaimers such as superimposed text.


The focus of this guidance is that advertised claims (including visual claims) should not misleadingly exaggerate the effect the product is capable of achieving. For example, lash inserts should not be used to do more than replace damaged or missing lashes, or to create a lengthening or volumising effect beyond what can be achieved by a mascara on the model’s natural lashes. Marketers wishing to use pre and post-production techniques in their ads are encouraged to read this guidance, along with the following guidance.


  • Airbrushing / Photoshop

General minimal “airbrushing” or photoshopping in ads is likely to be acceptable provided that this does not imply that the specifically claimed effect of the product is actually achievable in real use, where post-production techniques have been used to enhance the “after” effect of the product. The aim is not to prevent the use of glamorous imagery in advertising for cosmetics, and consumers are likely to expect a degree of glamour in images for beauty products. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) acknowledges that advertisers are keen to present their products in a positive light using techniques such as pre-production enhancement and the post-retouching of images. This approach is, of course, acceptable providing the resulting effect is not one which misleadingly exaggerates the effect the products are capable of achieving (Clinique Laboratories Ltd, 16 October 2013, Beiersdorf UK Ltd, 28 August 2013, L’Oreal (UK) Ltd, 1 February, 2012).


Marketers wishing to use Photoshop or airbrushing in their beauty ads are also urged to read our guidance on Social Responsibility: Body Image.


  • Social media filters

Filters on social media are overlays which can be placed over photos or videos during or post-production, and can achieve various effects, such as humorous or exaggerated cartoony features, use augmented reality or simply altering the tone or colour of the image. Whilst some filters on social media are obvious, some filters are not so identifiable, and if used on an ad, may even go as far to exaggerate the efficacy of a product. In 2021, the ASA investigated two ads for tanning products where filters had been used which artificially altered the appearance of the person featured.  The videos, which were posted to Instagram Stories, both showed influencers talking about the tanning products, and each used a filter which appeared to manipulate the colour of their skin and their overall complexion. The ASA considered in both cases that, because the filter effects were directly relevant to the intended purpose of the product, they did exaggerate the potential results, and the ads were therefore misleading (We Are Luxe in assoc. with Cinzia Baylis-Zullo, 3 February 2021 & Skinny Tan in assoc. with Elly Norris, 3 Feb 2021).


Whilst the use of filters in ads is not inherently problematic, marketers should be aware of the overall impression and final context of their ads, and ensure that any applied filters are not likely to mislead potential customers as to the efficacy of the product or service.


  • ‘Before and After’ imagery

The ASA has historically considered cases about ‘Before and After’ images where only the “after” image had used pre-production techniques, and re-touching related to any characteristics directly relevant to the apparent performance of the product, for example removing or reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles around the eyes for an eye cream and the excessive use of hair extensions or inserts that significantly added to hair volume in hair care advertisements. Marketers are reminded that ‘Before and After’ images are treated as objective claims just the same as written claims – any ‘after’ image should be representative of what consumers can generally obtain from the product.


The ASA did not uphold a complaint which challenged whether the Before and After’ photographs in the ad were representative of the results a skin serum could achieve because the styling and photographic pre-production techniques used for the “after” photographs did not differ from those used for the “before” photos, and post-production techniques had not been used to achieve the effect of “instant luminosity” as stated in the ad (L’Oréal (UK) Ltd, 5 December 2012).


For more information, see Before and After photos.


  • Mascara

In the past, the ASA has not upheld complaints for mascara products where lash inserts were used in order to achieve a uniform lash-line effect, where post production techniques had not been used to alter the length or volume of the lashes beyond that which consumers could likely expect (L’Oréal (UK) 15 February 2012) or indeed where no post-production techniques were used at all (L’Oréal (UK) Ltd, 20 June 2018).


In 2012, the ASA upheld a complaint for a mascara ad featuring Natalie Portman which stated, “Dior Show New Look…Lash-multiplying effect volume…It delivers spectacular volume-multiplying effect, lash by lash” because it had not seen sufficient evidence to show that the post-production retouching on Natalie Portman’s lashes in the ad did not exaggerate the likely effects of the product and because post-production retouching was applied on the eye lashes, an area which was directly relevant to the performance of the product (Parfums Christian Dior (UK) Ltd, 24 October 2012)


Similarly, in 2017 the ASA investigated an ad for Rimmel Scandaleyes mascara. The ad, which showed the mascara being applied to the eyes and several shots of Cara Delevingne wearing the mascara, was found to misleadingly showcase effects of volumisation and length that were very unlikely to ever be achieved by consumers (Coty UK Ltd., 19 April 2017).


  • Moisturisers

Whilst the ASA accepts sensory claims for moisturisers (for example, “skin feels firmer, smoother, more toned”), visual claims which refer to the visible effects of the product are likely be considered capable of assessment in terms of whether the resulting effect exaggerates what the product can realistically achieve.


A complaint about an ad for a moisturiser featuring Rachel Weisz was upheld by the ASA because it considered that the claims “skin looks smoother” and “complexion looks more even” were misleading because the image had been substantially altered, and exaggerated the performance of the product. (L’Oréal (UK) Ltd, 1 February 2012)

The ASA did not rule against one ad which stated “Get flawless skin…without additional makeup without procedures without photo retouching” and featured an image of one half of a model’s face labelled “untreated” and the other half labelled “treated (in 40 seconds)”Because the image had not been digitally manipulated and had been taken immediately after application of the product, the ASA was satisfied that the photo did not mislead as to the effects the product was capable of achieving. (Indeed Laboratories Inc, 15 May 2013).


See also Beauty and Cosmetics: Creams


  • Nails

A complaint about an ad for an electric nail buffer, which stated, “Say hello to naturally beautiful, shiny nails” was upheld because the editing techniques used were directly relevant to the claimed ability of the product to produce shiny nails. Notably, production techniques had been used to brighten the colour of the nail, to whiten the nail tip, to neaten the reflection line and to tidy the boundary of the nail bed. Furthermore, the ‘Before and After’ images were particularly likely to indicate to consumers that these were the results they could expect to achieve (Lifes2good UK Ltd, 24 December 2014).


  • Small print and qualifications

Marketers should not use superimposed qualifications or disclaimers as a “carte blanche” to excuse otherwise disallowed activities or impressions. If the advertisement is inherently misleading, it remains so regardless of any superimposed disclaimer or qualifier. Marketers should ensure that the size and positioning of any important clarificatory text is appropriately placed to catch a reader’s attention. Ideally, the text should be printed horizontally as opposed to vertically (Coty UK Ltd, 24 November 2010). See small print and bartnotes.


Source: CAP


See also Beauty and Cosmetics: GeneralBeauty and Cosmetics: Cumulative Effects Beauty and Cosmetics: Creams and Cosmetics: Surgical and Non-Surgical Type Claims.


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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