Truth Behind Testing: Clinical vs. Consumer Trials

Truth Behind Testing: Clinical vs. Consumer Trials

Imagine you're at your local drugstore, staring at a new skincare product promising to erase fine lines and wrinkles. The packaging claims that "clinically tested" results can be seen within weeks.

How trustworthy is this claim? 
How do clinical trials compare to consumer trials, and what hidden truths might they harbour? 

To explore these questions, we delve into the nuances of skincare clinical trials and consumer trials, uncovering the layers of rigour, regulation, and sometimes murky truths behind them.

Defining Clinical and Consumer Trials

Clinical Trials:
Clinical trials are highly regulated studies conducted to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments, drugs, or devices. They follow a strict protocol approved by regulatory bodies like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States or EMA (European Medicines Agency) in Europe. 

These skin treatment clinic trials are often divided into phases:

  • Phase I: Tests on a small group of healthy volunteers to assess safety and dosage.
  • Phase II: Focuses on efficacy and side effects in a larger group of people who have the condition.
  • Phase III: Involves a much larger group to confirm effectiveness, monitor side effects, and compare with commonly used treatments.
  • Phase IV: Post-marketing studies to gather additional information on the drug's risks, benefits, and optimal use.

Consumer Trials:

Consumer trials, on the other hand, are less formal and focus on the end user's experience with the product. These trials are usually conducted by a skincare clinic seeking to gather feedback on usability, satisfaction, and marketability.

They may involve:

  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Product testing at home
  • Focus groups

Unlike skincare clinical trials, consumer trials are not required to follow strict regulatory guidelines and often lack the scientific rigor and controlled conditions seen in clinical studies.

Hidden Truths Behind Clinical and Consumer Trials

Clinical Trials: The Unseen Challenges

High Costs and Long Durations: Clinical trials are expensive and time-consuming. According to a 2020 study by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, the average cost of developing a new drug and getting it to market is around $2.6 billion. Trials can take years to complete, causing significant delays in bringing treatments to market.

Ethical Concerns: There are ethical issues related to participant consent, especially in trials involving vulnerable populations. Additionally, there have been instances where negative results were suppressed to present a more favorable outcome.

Limited Diversity: Many clinical trials for skincare products lack diversity in their participant pool, which can lead to less effective treatments for underrepresented groups. A 2019 FDA report highlighted that minorities, women, and the elderly are often underrepresented in clinical trials.

Consumer Trials: The Underlying Issues

Bias and Reliability: Consumer trials are prone to biases, such as selection bias and response bias. Participants may not represent the broader population, and their feedback can be influenced by personal expectations and perceptions.

Lack of Transparency: Companies may not disclose the full methodology or results of their consumer trials. Positive feedback is often highlighted, while negative results may be downplayed or omitted.

Regulatory Loopholes: Since consumer trials are not subject to stringent regulatory oversight, companies might use misleading claims based on these trials. For example, "clinically tested" does not necessarily mean "clinically proven," leading to potential consumer deception.

Research Insights
Various studies have highlighted the discrepancies and challenges associated with both clinical and consumer trials. For instance, a 2018 analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that industry-sponsored clinical trials were more likely to report favorable outcomes compared to independent studies. This suggests potential bias introduced by financial incentives.

On the consumer trials front, a 2021 report by the International Journal of Market Research revealed that many consumer trials lack the necessary controls to ensure unbiased results. The study emphasized the need for better standards and transparency in reporting consumer trial outcomes.


While both clinical and consumer trials play crucial roles in product development, they each come with their own set of challenges and hidden truths. Clinical trials in cosmetics, despite their rigorous standards, can be costly, lengthy, and sometimes ethically contentious.

Consumer trials, though valuable for market insights, often lack the scientific rigor and transparency needed for reliable results.

When done right, clinical trials should be your most trusted source of your skincare. At SkinQ, clinical trials and results have always been pillars that the brand has stood for and ensured to give its customers the truth about their solutions

Back to blog

Featured Products