The Difference Between Dermatologist Tested and Approved

  • Terms like “dermatologist-tested” and “dermatologist-approved” on skin-care products can inspire confidence — even when you’re not sure what they really mean.
  • The terms have different meanings, although neither one has a formal legal definition.
  • Here’s what one dermatologist says you need to remember about the labels.

For so many of us, doctors know best: we value and trust their years of training and expertise to dependably guide us through medical issues. Whether it’s a regular checkup or help with a particular concern like cystic acne or dry skin, what they say goes, even if we’ve prefaced our appointment with our own informal deep dive on WebMD. So, naturally, when we spot “dermatologist-tested” or “dermatologist-approved” on the packaging of skin-care products, those words carry weight — even if we’re unclear on what they mean exactly.

First, know that they both have the intention of lending credibility to product efficacy, explains board-certified dermatologist Jessica Weiser, MD, FAAD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University. Semantically, you could make the argument that they have a similar connotation. It might be assumed that if a dermatologist is testing a product, they approve it. Also, it could be reassuring enough just to know that a doctor played even a small part in the formula you’re about to put on your precious skin, even though it’s really a cosmetic chemist doing all the formulating. Needless to say, it’s easy to get confused.

Even though “dermatologist-tested” and “dermatologist-approved” have different meanings, experts aren’t so sure that either term tells you much about a product’s efficacy. “These terms are primarily beneficial for marketing as they are nonspecific and often biased,” Dr. Weiser says. “Doctors may be paid consultants or offered financial incentives for either testing or approval.” Plus, there aren’t any solid legal regulations for either term. Keep reading for Dr. Weiser’s breakdown of the meanings behind dermatologist-tested and dermatologist-approved.

What Dermatologist-Tested Means

“It means that at least one dermatologist tested the product for one observable feature — safety, sensitivity, skin tone, etc.,” Dr. Weiser says. “Tested, however, does not mean that it met the expected end point, only that it was tested.” Generally speaking, she says, claims from larger companies tend to be legitimate. Consumers can always ask brands for more specifics on what was tested, how many subjects there were, and so on.

What Dermatologist-Approved Means

If a product says “dermatologist-approved” on the packaging, that means that the doctor would suggest it to patients or publicly to other consumers. “This type of recommendation does not mean the product is advised for all consumers or that it will be effective for specific patients and skin types. It’s just a general opinion from a doctor or a group of doctors,” Dr. Weiser says. She also says that dermatologist-approved is considered to be more significant than dermatologist-tested.

Of course, regardless of whether a product says “dermatologist-tested” or “dermatologist-approved,” the most accurate input is going to come from an in-person appointment with a doctor who can determine your skin-care needs. “The best advice an individual patient can receive is from their own dermatologist after a thorough examination,” Dr. Weiser maintains.

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