The UK-based company that supplies Naticol marine collagen in 10g sachets, displayed the Facebook ad on April 26, 2023, claiming the product could maintain skin elasticity, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and achieving thicker hair.
The ASA determined that the claims made were unsupported by the evidence provided by Kollo Health.
It ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form, and Kollo Health was advised not to make claims about the product's effects on skin, hair, or nails unless supported by robust evidence.
Additionally, they were instructed to ensure that future ads did not contain unaccompanied general health claims or unauthorised specific health claims.
The advert complaint
The paid-for ad featured a link to customer reviews and an embedded video with a presenter discussing the product's advantages.
The presenter referred to the product's appearance on mainstream television and highlighted the benefits of daily collagen intake, including improved skin health, stronger nails, thicker hair, and enhanced joint health.
The ASA received a complaint challenging the legitimacy of the claims made in the ad, namely questioning the substantiation of assertions such as "help maintain the elasticity and firmness of your skin," "reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles," "thicker hair," "your skin being more hydrated," "stronger nails," and "improved joint health.”
Food law expert Kristy Coleman, legal director at Ashfords, explained: “A health claim is any claim which states, suggests or implies that health benefits can result from consuming a given food, which includes implied (e.g., from imagery or words that allude to a health claim) or direct claims.
“For example, claims referring to skin function and strength of nails would be considered health claims, just like calcium-containing foods and strong bones.”
The issue, she notes, is that “in making such claim, care should be taken to ensure a product does not present itself as medicinal, either by function or presentation, that it can prevent, treat or cure disease.”
Challenging the claim
Kollo Health responded by asserting that the video presenter was referring to collagen in general, not making specific claims about their product.
However, as Coleman deciphers: “This was clearly an ad about the product, Kollo, not collagen in general. If the health claim is not authorised, it cannot be used, whether talking about it generally or in relation to a specific product.”
The company also provided documentation in support of its claims, in the form of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised clinical study in which 40 female subjects aged between 54 and 64 years were randomly assigned either 10g Naticol daily for 12 weeks, or placebo; a consumer panel study assessing the effect of a daily 10g dose of Naticol on 52 female participants from Tokyo over 30 days; and three further studies evaluating either 2.5 g or 5g doses of Naticol.
However, the ASA expressed concerns about the small sample size and demographic limitations of the studies presented.
Coleman explains: “The quality of the study is important, if and where it is published and whether there is any bias, for example, is it paid for by the company making the claim.
“The most reliable study is a randomised controlled study, but the sample size and representative population will still be important in deciding whether it is enough to substantiate a claim.”
Coleman explains that “claims must be listed on the GB Health Claims Register to be used, irrespective of the amount of evidence you may have.”
“The GB register is free to access and available to all, before making any health claim, make sure it is an authorised one and the product concerned contains the relevant ingredients and meets the condition for use.
“The CAP Code and BCAP code is also freely available for all business to consult. If in doubt, seek professional advice from a solicitor who specialises in advising on adverting claims.”
And European food and cosmetics law expert, Dr. Mark Tallon, added: “Ignorance of the law is no defence.
“So not understanding the requirements of the regulation (one being in place over 16 years) is simply not relevant.
“You type the term ‘Health claims & EU’ into a search engine and any company can begin to understand requirements. If not hire a consultant as would any company looking to place products on the market legally. It’s a cost of doing business professionally.”
He concluded: “The area of beauty (cosmetic) claims vs. health claims is one of opportunity and innovation but where we have areas that are open to legal or regulatory interpretation as in this category of claims then a risk of non-compliance is much greater.”