The 20th century retailing tycoon, John Wanamaker, said half of my advertising doesn’t work. I just don’t know which half.

The odds are even worse in skin care products the creams and lotions that claim to clear, lift, firm, tighten, and correct your complexion. Less than 50% of the products you put on your face actually help you look younger. Fewer than that are worth what you pay for them.

Why are skin care products so confusing? Why is there so little brand loyalty? Part of the problem is that the last 20 years have brought a tsunami of new skin care products, new ads, new claims. The splashy advertising, the celebrities and the offers combine to produce instant hype. Every new product promises a new advance or technology or significant improvement . Because this revolution is so new, everyone retailers, consumers, dermatologists, editors are struggling to figure it out.

Some cosmetics companies like it that way. They invent funny names for molecules. They retouch the living daylights out of those unretouched ads. They cleverly (yet legally) manipulate the copy. These deceptive practices are called smoke and mirrors the metaphor for deceptive or fraudulent practices. The term was first invented to describe the way in which magicians could make objects appear or disappear by using mirrors amid a sudden burst of smoke. It’s clever, but also deceptive.

It works for magicians, and it works for the skin care industry. So women, the willing and unknowing, plunk down big bucks because they want to believe in magic. It’s a national addiction. People everywhere want to fight aging and are looking for solutions.

If you’re going to spend money on skin care products, spend it advisedly. Make sure that you’re not being conned. Make informed decisions. Invest in products that really work. Discriminate. Know how the channel of distribution affects the quality of the merchandise, and the price that you pay. Understand how ads are delicately written and carefully crafted.

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