Although some toothpastes and home-use kits can legitimately claim to “whiten teeth”, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Copy Advice team is increasingly coming across tooth whitening being offered by beauticians and clinics. Tooth whitening carried out by non-dental professionals could be illegal. Clinics not employing dentists or dental hygienists and dental therapists with the necessary skills should in the first instance check with the GDC.
Marketers making product performance claims about teeth whitening should ensure they are supported by appropriate evidence and that they are relevant and meaningful to the consumer. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint about an ad that claimed the product could whiten teeth by three shades because the advertiser was unable to substantiate the claim (Church & Dwight UK Ltd, 17 October 2012). Another marketer stated, “Teeth whitening kit. Instant results in up to eight shades whiter.” However, the ASA considered that the methodology of the study and consequently, the significance and reliability of its results were not adequate to support the teeth whitening claims. Among other things, the ASA was concerned that the study was not blinded and no control group existed (Fdd International Ltd, 11 June 2014).
In 2021, the ASA investigated Snapchat ads for a tooth whitening kit, which included the claims “Clinically proven at home teeth whitening” and “2.2X FASTER THAN TRADITIONAL WHITENING” and Before and After photos of the product. The investigation focused on whether the claims of efficacy could be substantiated, but also whether the photos used in the ad had been exaggerated. The advertiser provided clinical studies to back up their claims, including in vitro clinical studies – however, the ASA found the majority of the studies did not test the actual product, but other products, and had other issues, such as a lack of a control group. The ASA therefore concluded that the evidence presented was not sufficient (Hismile Pty Ltd, 17 February 2021).
Marketers should also not promise results fast, or after one/minimal use if they cannot substantiate the claims. One advertiser was found to have breached the Code because they claimed and implied through wording and photos that the product produced whiter/brighter teeth after one use – however, the ASA again found the body of evidence insufficient to support the claims (Smiles Powder UK Ltd, 29 May 2019).
- Whitening Toothpaste
As above, marketers wishing to make claims about the efficacy of their whitening toothpaste must hold robust evidence. In the past, the ASA has upheld a complaint about an ad for ‘Sensodyne True White’ because it had not seen evidence that the product had a perceptibly greater whitening effect than the brand’s ‘non-whitening’ toothpastes. While the ad did not feature any explicit comparative claims along these lines, the ASA Council considered that consumers were likely to understand from the brand name and accompanying ‘whitening’ claims, in the context of toothpastes designed for sensitive teeth and other toothpastes on the same website that did not feature whitening claims, that the product was particularly effective at whitening teeth and would infer that the toothpaste was able to whiten teeth to a perceptibly greater extent than Sensodyne toothpastes that were not marketed as ‘whitening’ (GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (UK) Trading Ltd, 28 March 2018).
The ASA will always assess ads on a case-by-case basis, and it may be possible for an ad for whitening toothpaste to not convey such an interpretation to consumers. However, the above ruling suggests that the ASA Council may be likely to regard advertisements for such products to contain an implied claim that the toothpaste will have a perceptibly greater whitening effect than the same brand’s non-whitening toothpastes. Marketers are, therefore, best advised that the ASA may expect to see evidence that shows that the whitening efficacy of a toothpaste claimed to be ‘whitening’ is perceptibly greater than the brand’s ‘non-whitening’ counterparts. In the absence of this, even general ‘whitening’ claims – including those in the product name – could risk of being found in breach of the Code.
The ASA also ruled against one ad which stated, “… removes stains in just 1 minute, with over 90% of staining removed during a 5 minute period … A recent study conducted at Bristol University Dental School proved that Beverly Hills Formula whitening toothpaste removes stains in just 1 minute …” because the advertiser was unable to provide robust scientific evidence to prove that the product could remove stains within this time frame, including how the removal of stains had been measured. The ASA also considered that the ad misleadingly implied that tests had been conducted on all of their products, which was not the case (Purity Laboratories Ltd, 10 October 2012).
- Photoshop and Post-Production Techniques
Marketers should be able to show that whiter teeth are the result of the product and not digital manipulation (Procter & Gamble Ltd, 20 November 2013, Procter & Gamble Ltd, 5 December 2012). See this guidance on the use of pre and post-production techniques in cosmetics advertising which sets out the principles which marketers should consider when creating marketing material in relation to the application of pre and post-production techniques, and Cosmetics: the use of Production Techniques which includes information on social media filters. Advertisers might also find our guidance on Before and After photos of use.
An ad should not imply that a whitening treatment involves lasers or that a procedure is used by dentists when it is not (SunsetTeethWhitening.co.uk, 19 October 2011, AllWhite3000 Ltd, 22 June 2011). Any markers wishing to advertise laser teeth whitening should ensure they hold robust evidence for all claims.
- Pricing and Promotions
Marketers promoting savings claims for tooth whitening services should be able to provide evidence that their service was sold at the “was” price (Laser Cosmetics Ltd, 12 June 2013). Evidence might consist of sales invoices for example, which demonstrates that the treatment was previously sold at the stated price, before a discount was applied (MyCityDeal Ltd, 26 June 2013, AllWhite3000 Ltd, 22 June 2011).
In terms of promotions for teeth whitening, including social media prize draws and competitions, marketers should be aware of Section 8 of the CAP Code, which deals with Promotional Marketing. Guidance on Cosmetic Interventions: Social Responsibility discusses promotions in the beauty/cosmetic sector, and more can be read about promotional marketing in this General guidance and Prize Draws on Social Media guidance.
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