Many types of eczema are often caused by environmental irritants and allergens resulting in itching, dryness or cracking of the skin; the treatment can involve identifying and avoiding the cause, for example grass pollen or house dust mites. Products, such as emollients applied to the skin to form a barrier, can help alleviate the symptoms. More information is available from the National Eczema Society on www.eczema.org.
- Are all eczema treatments considered to be medicines?
Depending on the mode of action, topically applied products which are presented in ads for the treatment of eczema can either be physical or pharmacological. Products which work by using physical actions such as those achieved through an emollient (which act as a barrier), are likely to be considered to be medical devices, and those with a pharmacological action are likely to be considered to be medicines. Marketers of topically applied products are therefore recommended to obtain advice from the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) about whether their product is a medical device or a medicine prior to making claims to treat eczema.
Marketers are reminded that medicines must be licensed for eczema treatment before they can be marketed for that purpose and that medical devices must be appropriated certified and also be registered with the MHRA before making medical claims in ads.
- Which types of claims are likely to be a problem?
In 2011 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints about a skin cream which made references to dry skin, eczema and psoriasis. The advertisers believed consumers would understand that the cream could help to relieve the symptoms of the conditions, rather than cure them. However, the ASA considered that the advertisers were making medicinal claims for an unlicensed product and subsequently ruled the treatment claims problematic (Foot Care, 11 May 2011).
In 2016, an ad for a topical eczema treatment claimed to be as effective as a steroid cream, better for hydration than an emollient and promoted itself as a “breakthrough” treatment for eczema. The ASA ruled that all three claims were misleading because although clinical evidence was supplied for each of the claims, that evidence was not found to be sufficiently robust to support the claims and comparisons (Omega Pharma Ltd, 21 December 2016).
Some complementary therapies claim to treat or relieve eczema. To date, Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has seen no convincing evidence for the effectiveness of any complementary therapy in treating or preventing eczema and no signs that the efficacy of conventional steroid treatments can be matched.
In 2021 the ASA published a ruling where it upheld complaints about unsubstantiated claims that homeopathy was an effective treatment for a number of conditions, including eczema (Homeopathy UK, 5 May 2021). Similar claims were upheld in relation to ads for reflexology in 2012, due to the lack of convincing clinical evidence (A Better Being, 3 October 2012).
Marketers of other products, such as vacuum cleaners and water softeners, should ensure they hold adequate substantiation before making claims that they can treat the symptoms or causes of eczema (Harvey Water Softeners Ltd, 31 August 2011).
- What about food intolerance testing?
Marketers should avoid making claims that causes of eczema can be established through food allergy testing unless they hold robust clinical evidence to demonstrate that such testing can demonstrate a proven link.
- What about cosmetic products?
As a rule of thumb, cosmetic products are suitable for everyone and should not be targeted at sufferers of particular conditions. While marketers may claim their products have a “sensitive formula” or are “suitable for dry and sensitive skin”, they should be wary of making claims that their product is for “sensitive skin conditions” or similar.
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 Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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