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23 Jun 2022

6 health claims that aren't as impressive as they sound

Terms like 'clinically proven' and 'hypoallergenic' are less scientific than you might think

Manufacturers employ all manner of marketing terms to lend legitimacy to their products and tempt us in to buy. 

But a lot of scientific-sounding terms are unregulated, hazily-defined or in some cases downright misleading.

We've rounded up some claims you might see on health products, over-the-counter medicines or cosmetics to explain what they actually mean as well as which ones are legitimate and the dodgy ones to watch out for.


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1. NHS approved

Don't be fooled if you spot a product that claims to have NHS approval. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed to us that the NHS doesn’t approve or endorse any medical devices, so this isn't a legitimate product claim. 

We discovered pulse oximeters being sold on online marketplaces that were illegitimately using the NHS logo or claiming to be 'NHS approved', and you might find it on other similar products as it's a common sneaky tactic.

2. Clinically proven

This phrase is acceptable but still relatively meaningless, as all medicines for sale in the UK have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which will only give out a licence if a product's effectiveness is supported by research. 

'Clinically proven' doesn't tell you much about the quality of the research or evidence though - it could refer to anything from a small study commissioned by the manufacturer to a large-scale and independent clinical trial.

The MHRA says this phrase is 'an implied claim that the product has met the appropriate efficacy test in relation to disease or an adverse condition,' which is somewhat vague. So, don't assume it's a cast-iron guarantee a product works as you might expect.


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3. Orthopaedic

Commonly found on mattresses, this is a marketing term rather than a medical one, despite sounding appropriately official.

It tends to be used on products designed to give extra support to your back, but beware - it has no certified definition and manufacturers aren’t required by law to provide proof of testing to support any orthopaedic claims that they make. 

Additionally, the British Chiropractic Association points out that there is no one size fits all approach to treating a bad back.

Need a new mattress? Head to our mattress reviews to find out which provided the best support in our tests.

4. Hypoallergenic

Buying a hypoallergenic product is not the same as buying something that’s labelled as 'non-allergenic' or 'allergen-free,' as the prefix 'hypo' literally translates to ‘under’ or ‘less than normal.'

So, while something labelled as hypoallergenic is still relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction, it's not guaranteed as it doesn't relate to a specific standard that manufacturers have to adhere to.


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5. Dermatologist approved/tested

This lends authority to a product, but can mean lots of different things, from a dermatologist being involved in the formulation process of the product to patch-testing it on themselves or a panel of volunteers. So, like 'clinically proven,' it doesn't give you a good idea of how much evidence there is or how robust it is. 

There’s no legal definition of the dermatologist-tested label either, so there are no minimum test requirements. 

Plus, even if someone were to have a negative reaction during the testing process it could still be marked as ‘dermatologist-tested’ because technically it was, so it doesn't really tell you anything useful.

Cruelty-free

This one can mean something objective, when accompanied by the right logo - but the words ‘cruelty-free’ on their own aren't a certification.

You need to look for the Leaping Bunny (above), the Cruelty-Free bunny or either of the PETA logos (again, both bunnies). Products using these logos need to adhere to certain commitments on animal welfare. 

If you’re unsure, check the brand’s website - some may choose not to display the logos on their products but will always display them online.


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