The difference between a clinical trial and a consumer survey

“89% of people would recommend it to a friend”

“75% of people said their skin felt smoother”

These kinds of statements are often used in the world of beauty, but what do they mean and how seriously should we take them? 

To really understand the merits of claims such as these, you have to look at the source. The vast majority of claims in the beauty industry come from consumer surveys, so let’s examine them and the various pitfalls they contain.  


These contain multiple issues. They are usually conducted by the company in question and are relatively cheap to carry out. In some cases the survey is repeated several times, with the company cherry picking the best results from each. 

You generally have no idea who the subjects are, what the age range is or what their experience was before using the particular product. Furthermore, if the survey is only conducted on the established customer base – then these people have already ‘bought’ into the particular product. The survey does not take account of those who tried the product and were unsatisfied. Ultimately, a consumer survey is purely opinion, based upon participants subjective feedback, not on anything measured or studied under a microscope in a clinic. Consumer surveys are open to manipulation and selection, and finally, are extremely vulnerable to what is known as ‘the placebo effect.’


Doing something day after day, whether it is rubbing a new cream into your face or drinking a ‘miracle potion’, then being asked your opinion on the change in your skin, means you will automatically look for alterations. Subsequently, many people will see change where there is none. This is all down to expectation. The placebo effect has been observed time after time; it is a recognised phenomenon.


Clinical trials are not opinion. It means that the test is conducted in a clinical setting and the subjects have been measured before and after (and sometimes during) the trial. However, just because a product claims to be ‘clinically tested’ does not automatically mean it can be trusted. Look for the detail – the kind of trial that was carried out. Below I have outlined the main three

1. Open Label 

On an open label trial, there is no control group and the people being tested know they are getting the product. Therefore, if any questionnaire is conducted with the study you are immediately in ‘placebo effect’ territory. Furthermore, if the subjects being tested have been given the product for free, there can be an unconscious bias to like it and claim to have felt results. 

Without a control group, it is impossible to eliminate external factors from affecting the results. For example, the most popular time to conduct ‘clinical’ beauty studies is during autumn. At the end of summer, after constant exposure to sun and the elements, our skin can be impacted. Between autumn and winter, typically skin improves, and any study conducted then, without a placebo control group, will benefit from this improvement and be able to claim it in their results. 

2. Single Blind 

This means that there is a control group, but those conducting the tests know which group is which. With single blind trials (especially those that have not been conducted independently) this leaves open the prospect of bias. For example, were certain people selected deliberately for one group or another, and during any questionnaire part of the trial, were they complimented or encouraged to give a particular type of feedback? 

3. Double Blind – Placebo Controlled – Randomised

This is the gold standard of testing and completely eliminates the placebo effect. Subjects are randomly assigned a group and neither the subjects nor those measuring them know which group they are in. This is the type of trial that is typically used for high-grade pharmaceuticals and medicine. Being both extremely expensive, time-consuming, and impossible to manipulate it is rarely used in the beauty industry

You should still look out for certain things: Who conducted the clinical trial? Was it independent? When was it carried out? On how many people, over how long, what was the age range? For example, if you are a 50 year woman and looking at clinical trials conducted on 20-40 year olds, it is far from certain that you will experience the same effects as those observed in the trial.

Ingenious Beauty 

At Ingenious we believe in science and rigorous testing. We want our customers to have faith in our claims and know their money is well spent.

Recently we commissioned the largest independent clinical trial ever conducted on a collagen supplement (116 women were recruited aged between 30-60 years). It was a double-blind and placebo-controlled trial in which 98% of women taking Ingenious Beauty experienced a significant improvement to the quality of their skin in at least one clinical measure. 77% experienced a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, 62% experienced greater hydration, 55% experienced increased elasticity, and according to a blinded photographic comparison of randomised before and after facial images, 73% showed a significant improvement in overall facial appearance. Our full clinical trial results can be seen here

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