Citruslabs Survey Finds Consumer Skepticism Of 100% Claims Used To Promote Products

Not all consumers believe 100% of people applying a cream saw their wrinkles vanish, but that’s essentially what many beauty brands are communicating to them.

As knowledge about product testing grows, Citruslabs argues beauty brands should rethink their push for 100% claims generated from consumer perception studies—and the clinical research organization has conducted a survey to corroborate its argument. In the survey of 1,000 consumers, 69.16% expressed trust in 100% claims versus 84.81% expressing trust in 80% claims, 88.57% expressing trust in 70% claims and 60.46% expressing trust in claims below 59%.

“Our research indicates that claims showing a 75% success rate strike a chord of credibility with consumers, suggesting that perfection isn’t always persuasive,” says Susanne Mitschke, CEO and co-founder of Citruslabs. She adds several brand clients have told her, “‘My competitor has 100% claims, I want them, too.’ Shockingly, we were also asked more than once if we could just remove the results of some participants from our analysis to make the results better, which we obviously did not do and will never do.”

In a report entitled “The Science-Backed Claims that are Winning Consumer Trust in 2024” covering Citruslabs’ survey, the company writes one consumer it interviewed said, “As soon as I see claims of 100%, I’m skeptical. Nothing is ever 100%. For me, anything over 80% warrants a closer look. I won’t buy right away, but I’ll definitely do more research because that seems like a believable number. Anything over 90%, I’m likely to buy, but 100%? That just seems unbelievable.’”

Citruslabs’ survey comes as consumer perception studies and clinical trials are increasingly becoming standard in the beauty industry as demand for clinically backed products escalates. According to reporting by the publication Women’s Wear Daily on first-quarter data from market research firm Circana, clinical brands currently constitute the biggest segment of skincare. Getting savvier about the product testing brands classified as clinical are conducting, consumers are looking under the hood to assess how they’re done.

Susanne Mitschke, CEO and co-founder of Citruslabs

However, Mitschke asserts brands are making consumers’ efforts to understand product testing difficult by blurring the lines between clinical trials and consumer perception studies. She notes they frequently tout consumer perception studies as “clinicals,” but claims generated from clinical trials don’t generally resemble claims generated from consumer perception studies.

Mitschke explains, “In actual clinical trials, improvements of 10% to 30% are really good results, even better when they are also statistically significant…Best-in-class brands like SkinCeuticals use 20%, 30% claims because they are conducting actual clinical studies.”

Citruslabs handles both consumer perception studies and clinical studies, and its beauty clients include Oui the People, Saie, Common Heir, Arcaea and Iota. The company defines consumer perception studies as studies examining how people perceive, experience or feel about a product. Consumer perception studies enlist fewer participants than clinical trials and depend solely on the results of questionnaires for claims.

In questionnaires for consumer perception studies, Mitschke says, “Questions are often phrased in ways that they tend to choose ‘agree.’ For example, ‘Do you agree or disagree that product X hydrated your skin,’ or ‘Do you agree or disagree that product Y helps to smoothen out your fine lines/wrinkles,’ and this is how you get claims like 100% agree that…”

Citruslabs’ website describes clinical trials as “designed to produce robust, scientifically validated results.” They encompass validated questionnaires, statistically significant sample sizes and “biomarkers or skin markers to support product claims. Clinical trials are reviewed and approved by an institutional review board (IRB).”

“Perfection isn’t always persuasive.”

Consumer perception studies are cheaper than clinical trials, a key reason they’ve proliferated along with their capacity to deliver product claims associated with towering percentages. At Citruslabs, prices for consumer perception studies start at $10,000. Single group clinical trials start at $20,000 and randomized control clinical trials start at $40,000.

Citruslabs’ clinical trials typically last eight to 12 weeks for cosmetics, except hair studies that typically last six months. Its consumer perception studies typically last two to 12 weeks, except hair consumer perception studies that last three to six months.

Overall, Citruslabs’ survey shows a high level of trust in clinically studied products, particularly compared to products that make claims without clinical studies. It finds 92% of consumers prioritize clinically tested products, and 92% of women trust product claims backed by research versus 70% trusting product claims not backed by research.

Gen Z consumers are the most trusting of clinically backed products. Ninety-one percent of them trust product claims backed by research versus 71% trusting product claims not backed by research. Baby boomers are the least trusting of clinically backed products. Eighty-one percent of them trust product claims backed by research versus 52% trusting product claims not backed by research.

While trust is high in clinically studied products today, Mitschke worries it could erode if brands seek to manipulate studies and product claims, and the scientific rigor they promote rings hollow. “The push toward perfect claims has met its match in the era of the informed consumer,” she says. “At Citruslabs, we advocate for a beauty industry that embraces the limitations and strengths of its products with equal fervor. By fostering a culture of transparency, grounded in the rigorous application of clinical research, we aim to build lasting trust with our consumers.”