Clinical Trials vs Clinical Studies

Lets talk about clinical trials and clinical studies... They‘re always being preached by brands and purposely placed on packaging, right in the front, to catch the consumers attention. But does anyone actually know what it means? Does anyone ever notice that sometimes it says trial and sometimes it says studies? There must be a difference, right? Correct! There’s a big difference.

Before I explain what each means, I want to play a quick little guessing game... Out of the two names, which one sounds more serious? Clinical STUDY or Clinical TRIAL? Think about it for a minute and take a guess on what one you think would be the gold standard... If you guessed clinical study is the gold standard and what everyone should look for on packaging between the two, you’re actually wrong.

Clinical Studies, also known as observational studies or “consumer studies”, are tests that are done in normal settings to quickly get statistics for a product. For instance, you may see on a package or in the website description on the product page that 50 people tried the product and 97% of them saw a boost of hydration.While this may be true, the problem with that is, you have absolutely no idea about who the 50 people are and what type of skin/concerns they have. For instance, if you give a moisturizer to someone who has never used a moisturizer before, they’ll likely be very impressed. Their skin likely would be hydrated and they’d see “results”. But lets say you gave the same moisturizer to someone who has a routine already, that regularly uses skincare, they may say “well, it didn’t really do much”. In other words, clinical studies are “facts” that brands use to market their products into being something it might not really be. And let me be very clear, not always are they intentionally lying, not always are they choosing people (who has never used a moisturizer) to try their products so they know they’ll get the best results. However, it does become a bit of a gag when they are saying all this positive, but then people get it and the reviews are “it’s basic, nothing special”.

Clinical trials, however, are the gold standard. This is the type of study that people really want to look out for because it is designed to prove that the ingredients and claims a company makes, are valid. Clinical trials are “research studies performed in people that are aimed at evaluating a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention.” This means that the people in the study are being looked at before, during and after the trial, or in other words almost 24/7. The importance with a clinical trial or in-vivo (more below) is that the brand is proving that the ingredients within their unique formula is effective. For example, we all know L-Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) is the gold standard, but what we don’t know is what it’s like inside the formula you created.

Now, just to get more confusing, sometimes you may see “in-vivo testing” or “in-vitro testing” written on the package or on the website product page, and to simplify it for you: civo = clinical study, vitro = clinical trial. But in case you like knowing all the ins and outs, I have written below a short summary of both and suggest you continue reading so you fully understand.

In-Vitro comes from the latin word “in glass”, which as you can already imagine is the exact opposite of our skin. What they do is place isolated skin cells into a petri dish and test if they’re able to penetrate the skin. The problem with this is that our skin cells aren’t isolated, so while it may show it was able to penetrate deep into the skin, it may not work the exact same way once you apply it topically onto your actual face. Again, it’s not to say that brands are trying to lie, scheme and virtually scam consumers, because this testing is the most cost effective way to do testing, especially if you are a small starter-up company and don’t have $50,000-$200,000 to test a single product out. So, don’t look at brands as scammers just because they chose this, just remember that it may not be all what they claim.

In-Vivo comes from the latin term “within the living” and that basically should summarize exactly what this test is going to be. It is a study done within humans, to prove a product is as effective targeting the concerns on human skin, exactly how the brand claims they will be. A downfall with this, it’s incredibly expensive to do. A typical trial will run anywhere between 4-12 weeks and will have a specific amount of people that were tested. You can usually tell on a package if they did in-vivo testing because it will say something along the lines of “In a 10 week trial, 87% of the 35 participants with hyperpigmentation saw an improvement with the overall appearance of the skin” or something along the lines. They usually will let you know 1) how long the trial was. 2) how many participants. 3) what kind of concern they have (always will be relevant to the brands claim as to what the product helps with). And 4) they always want to let you know the percentage of people who saw the improvement. Usually, you see realistic percentages, anywhere from 80-90% - not to take away from any tests that show higher, but usually you don’t see “100% of people saw improvement” because no product is bulletproof.


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This website may contain some affiliate links, which means I will make a small commission on sales of the products you may wish to purchase through the link. My content is not influenced by advertisers, affiliate partnerships or brands. All opinions are my own, forever and always, since day 1. Thanks.

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