European & International News

UK Advertising Standards Authority bans L’Oreal ads for excessive digital enhancements

[Brussels, 27 July 2011] The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) this week upheld a complaint lodged by MP Jo Swinson and banned a series of magazine ads for makeup products by the cosmetic giant L’Oreal, for being misleading and "not representative of the results the products could achieve" because they had been digitally manipulated. The Lancome and Maybelline anti-ageing foundation ads featured the actress Julia Roberts and the supermodel Christy Turlington.

According to UK newspaper reports (read the article by The Independent or the article by The Guardian), L’Oreal admitted that in its advert featuring Turlington technicians had worked to "lighten the skin, clean up make-up, reduce dark shadows and shading around the eyes, smooth the lips and darken the eyebrows".

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, Ms Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, said the two adverts were "particularly bad examples of excessive re-touching." "Even if women do know they are being lied to, it doesn’t make it right", she addded.

The MEP also brought up some of links with body-image and eating disorders that are a great concern to the EWL: "I think there’s a bigger issue as well because, you know, we are in a situation where one in four people say they are depressed about their body.

"If you look at the young women aged 16 to 21, half of them say they would consider cosmetic surgery at that age, and you’ve also got a situation where eating disorders have doubled in prevalence over the last 15 years.

She said "flawless images" in advertising, the media and editorials were not helping the situation.

Many consumers would welcome more realistic pictures, she went on.

"I think they (consumers) would welcome some reality."

The work of the EWL on women in the media and cosmetics advertising

In May 2011, the EWL met with representatives of the cosmetics industry in Brussels to discuss self-regulation in advertising. The EWL is keen to promote codes of conduct throughout advertising with respect to the representation of women and men. The EWL also supports the existence of strong public regulatory oversight agencies open to complaints from members of the public. For more informaiton on the position of the EWL, see here.

See also:

Ruling of the ASA

The UK Advertising Standards Agency stated, "On the basis of the evidence we had received we could not conclude that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques."

UK - ASA Adjudication on L’Oreal (UK) Ltd
L’Oreal (UK) Ltd t/a Maybelline
Date: 27 July 2011
Media: Magazine - Health and Beauty
Agency: Gotham - Complaint Ref: A11-149632


A magazine ad for "The Eraser" foundation by Maybelline featured an image of the model Christy Turlington. Parts of her face had been covered by the foundation while other areas were left uncovered to show the effects of the product. Text stated "The Eraser perfect cover foundation. Conceals instantly, visibly, precisely ... Covers dark circles and fine lines to help conceal crow’s feet - as if erased! For ultimate flawless-looking perfection ... The Eraser covers, fills and smoothes precisely." Additional text described the product as "THE NEW ANTI-AGING FOUNDATION". Small print along the bottom of the ad stated that the image was an "Illustrated effect".


Jo Swinson MP challenged whether the ad was misleading because she believed the image had been digitally manipulated and was therefore not representative of the results the product could achieve.
CAP Code (Edition 12) - 3.13.11


L’Oreal (UK) Ltd t/a Maybelline (Maybelline) said post-production techniques had been used to create "blocks" over the model’s face that differentiated between areas that the product had been applied to and areas that it had not. They stated that the image had also been digitally re-touched to lighten the skin, clean up make-up, reduce dark shadows and shading around the eyes, smooth the lips and darken the eyebrows. They pointed out that fine lines under the eye, crow’s feet, expression lines on the cheek and lines and pores near the model’s nose were nevertheless clearly visible, even on areas where the product had been applied. They believed that, despite the fact post-production techniques had been used, the image accurately illustrated the results the product could achieve.

Maybelline said the image should be considered within the context of the ad, which promoted foundation, a product that would by its nature conceal imperfections, fine lines and wrinkles. Maybelline believed that the visual, although illustrative, was consistent with the claims made in the surrounding text, which they believed made clear that the product would reduce the appearance of lines and blemishes, but not eliminate their appearance altogether. They also believed the image used was consistent with the public perception of the model Christy Turlington who was a beautiful woman with a naturally fantastic complexion. They provided photographs of her at public events which they felt demonstrated this.

Maybelline explained the mechanism by which the product adhered to the skin and reflected light off the skin’s surface, creating what they felt was a velvet-smooth finish. They stated that the moisturising properties in the product also helped to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. They provided consumer testing results which they believed demonstrated that the public agreed with the claims they had made for the product.



The ASA acknowledged that many readers would recognise the model Christy Turlington. We considered that those who did not would nevertheless understand that a model used to advertise foundation would be naturally beautiful and that they would have been professionally styled, made-up and photographed for the ad.
We noted that Maybelline had intended to demonstrate the results readers could realistically expect the product to achieve and we considered that the “blocks” over the model’s face, although clearly stylised, created a before-and-after comparison that would be interpreted by readers as Maybelline had anticipated. We noted that they believed the image and surrounding text explained that the product would cover wrinkles and blemishes but that it would not eliminate them entirely and we accepted that lines and blemishes were still visible on the areas of the model’s face to which the product had been applied. We noted, however, that the area around the model’s left eye had been digitally re-touched and we considered that the text had drawn particular attention to the product’s effect in this area.

We considered that the combined effect of the image and the surrounding text was to suggest that the product could have a significant impact on the appearance of imperfections in the skin. We noted that the claims in the text were broadly consistent with the results of the consumer testing, however, we considered that the information Maybelline provided regarding the digital re-touching of the image was insufficient to establish whether the difference between the “blocks” was an accurate representation of the results the product could achieve. We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.

The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.11 (Exaggeration).


The ad must not appear again in its current form.

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