Placebo effect: believe your way to beauty results

Recently, a reader by the name of Chelsea commented about a new product she is keen to try but isn’t too sure. The product is costly and the reviews she has read so far are positive. However, she is hesitant about purchasing the product despite the raves partly because she is wondering if it is having such great reviews because of the placebo effect. Honestly, I’ve only come across this term “placebo effect” when I started this blog and even till now, I’m not too sure if I understand the term well enough but I’ll like to attempt discussing this today.

Correct me if I’m wrong but going by the materials I’ve read, it appears that a placebo effect or response is really about consumers’ faith that a product works because of some preconceptions about what the product can do and it has nothing to do with what the product’s efficacy. So in essence, it is the power of believing that often makes a beauty cream effective or worthwhile in the consumers’ minds. So what are some of the subliminal qualities assigned to a product that can evoke our expectations, create placebo effects for some of us to the extent of ignoring the actual efficacy of the marketed product?

Product packaging most certainly gets all our attention. For me, a product that is contained in a air tight bottle or dark glass bottle gets my attention as I would think that the product is formulated with integrity. So before even using the product, I will give the product some added points already compared to a product that comes in a cheap plastic tube – that is if they’re priced about the same. In addition, most of us are also easily impressed with the design of the packaging; the more elegant it looks, the more likely we will fall under the belief that the cream is of high quality.

Nah, packaging characteristics can only slightly influence the degree of the expected skin benefits but never good enough to create a placebo response for me.

Noticed how some products are priced a lot higher? I’ve seen products with ingredients that are nothing to shout about and yet, are priced at a premium because marketers have the notion that a higher pricing would influence consumers to think that the product works better than it does. Better still if it’s endorsed by a celebrity that slather the cream from head to toe. Well, I’ll admit that I used to be fooled into thinking that a more expensive cream will work better than a drugstore brand but over the years, through lessons learnt, I know that an expensive cream is not always the best one.

Well, there are still times when I might start out thinking that a product will work better because it is more expensive but I’ll still judge based on the true efficacy.

Peer pressure
Okay, this maybe something that is less common but it can possibly create a placebo effect. A product that comes highly recommended by someone close to you might actually make you feel that it’ll work well when in actual fact, it did not for the simple reason that different people have different skin conditions. Yet, out of our belief in that person, we might think that the product has done something for us as well.

Nah, this has not happened to me because I never rely purely on someone’s strong recommendations – not even coming from someone I love.

Brand image
Another factor I find that may contribute to the placebo effect is the brand image of a product. A product that has been endorsed by a dermatologist or even a celebrity might heighten our interest and affect our objectivity to the extent that we think it’ll do wonders for us. I suspect that this is quite typical of products that are over hyped; consumers just get bought in by the avalanches of raving reviews.

Ah, I maybe interested enough to purchase the product due to the attention given but this one does nothing for me in determining the product’s efficacy because I do understand that dermatologists or celebrities endorse products out of personal motivations.

Again, I would not deny that I am sometimes sold by ingredients alone. I mean, how many times have I bought something just based on the ingredient list? Many! And so, a lot of times, I start to imagine that the product has done something for my skin when it might not have done so. So for me, the best is to take some before and after pictures to compare. That way, I’ll not lie to myself.

*Ahem* I maybe influenced by the ingredient list and might imagine a product to work well for me if it does not break me out. However, I’ve resorted to taking pictures now in order to give a fairer review on my blog.

This is a funny one but it’s true. How many times have you bought a product out of a belief that it’ll work and then pridefully convinced yourself it’s working. My hand is up. Maybe it’s a product from your favorite brand as well or because you’ve spent so much on it, you just refuse to admit that it’s not doing anything for you.

Heh, I’ll say I’ll like to believe it’s working but most of the time, I’m more incline to submit to the truth. I don’t really have a lot of pride to begin with – with non-living things.

Anyway, right now, what I think is that placebo effect means that one is in self-denial and is lying to oneself. Has that happened to you? I’ve ransacked my memory and I don’t really think I’ve actually experienced the full extent of the placebo effect with beauty products. While I might start out believing that a product can work for me, but if the results aren’t telling, then I will be convinced of the truth eventually. I know for a fact that I only buy a product twice if it has done something for my skin. But I have experienced the placebo effect when it comes to taking health products or supplements. Well, that I’m still learning!


  1. EcoBeauty says:

    Usually, the biggest placebo trigger on me are rave reviews. When a product works well on a lot of people, it makes me feel that it’s going to do a good job on me, too. Second would be ingredients… I’m a sucker for certain anti-aging and brightening wonder ingredients ?
    EcoBeauty last post is: Is Your Dirty Pillowcase Causing Your Pimples?

  2. Fiona says:

    As much as people may frown on it, I still consult my pendulum when choosing new products. What affect me on choosing products: ingredients, packaging, the company’s pledges, and last but not least, smell. So usually I’ll choose which products to consider, then from those chosen ones I’d consult the pendulum. A bit weird, I know… but it’s just my way of choosing #k8SjZc9Dxk#k8SjZc9Dxk

    But, placebo or not, state of mind takes effect too, so I believe if a person believe that the product is working, then it is working (sometimes anyway). Example: those hologram bracelets that claim to have effects on body’s wellness… I have friends who said that they felt it working… despite the fact that it has been recognized world wide as hoax.

  3. sesame says:

    Supernatural selection process? Haha…it’s okay as long as it’s helping you.

    Oh I’ve come across those bracelets…yeah, I guess the reception depends on the person’s state of mind. Some pple are more open minded.

  4. sesame says:

    Okay, rave reviews don’t work for me. In fact, I find they have an adverse effect as I tend to scrutinize the product even harder and then end up disliking it. Wonder if this is reverse placebo?

  5. Chris says:

    For me, the placebo effect kicks in when I pay a lot for a product. I don’t want to believe I wasted my money, so I tell myself “it works well enough for me to finish the jar!” ?
    Chris last post is: Tutorial: Smokey Eyes with MAC Sparkle, Neely Sparkle!

  6. sesame says:

    Haha…yes, totally understandable. We need a reason to continue using the product.

  7. Sarah Bellum says:

    Great article! And don’t forget about fragrance as the cause of a placebo effect. We’ve made one batch of conditioner, split it in half, put a different fragrance in each half and asked people to test it. They told us the two products worked differently even though they were identical except for scent!

  8. Fiona says:

    Haha :p Yeah, sometimes I get looks from people when they caught me pulling a pendulum out in store. LOL. But occasionally I see people using pendulum at the supermarkets.

    I think some of those bracelets/pendant alike do have genuine healing and regeneration properties, it’s just that there are so many of them out there we no longer know which one works and which ones are gimmick.

  9. sesame says:

    Oh you use it when shopping on the spot? Ah…no wonder you can looks…haha. I thought you use it at home only.

  10. sesame says:

    Fragrance? Yeah, I did not think of that but yes, it would create a placebo effect. Come to think of it. I have been comparing products using essential oils compared to products with synthetic fragrance and because I like the former, I tend to think better of the product too.

  11. Chelsea says:

    Fun article! I’m one of those people who likes to think that I get ripped off less often purely because I research products before purchasing them. However, I wonder whether I too fall victim to the “placebo effect” simply BECAUSE I do not want to feel as if my research resulted in a bad decision (hmmmm…does this fall under “pride”?). Hate feeling ripped off too, especially since I’m in the beauty industry and should know better!!

    Then again, I have to agree with Sesame that the placebo effect is probably slightly less effective in the cosmetic industry than in other industries. After all, a sugar pill disguised as an aspirin can trick your brain much easier than a container of cream can trick your mirror!

    p.s. I must confess… years ago I bought a bottle of “breast enhancement” pills and I actually went up a full bra size. Placebo or science? WHO CARES! HAHA!

  12. zmadison says:

    i think advertising works alot on me. all those product descriptions at the back easily influence my buying decision! then i make myself believe that the products can achieve those claims =p

  13. sesame says:

    It does? I’m more incline to be bought over by press features than ads. But yes, the ads do draw my attention.

  14. sesame says:

    Then it’s not placebo! It really worked! That’s good! Your point about research is interesting; it has happened to me too like after I searched online on a product, am agreeable with the ingredients and I get it – chances are, I’m more inclined to think that it’ll work.

  15. Swati says:

    this actually happens…especially with me for brands like Lush and Body Shop which I have heard so rave reviews but alas!!! when I used them…the results were just average ? its all the hype create around a brand name which infuses customer with some confidence and when they don’t really find it living up to their expectations, a form of psychological compromise comes to the fore…and yeah…ingredient list is probably one of the main selling points today followed by the packaging and advertising of the product!!!
    Swati last post is: Mentholatum Acnes Creamy Wash {Product Review}

  16. sesame says:

    Reviews influence you huh…seems so for many of us. I will want to try the product if I read something good about it but like you mentioned, most of the time, a product that is overhyped may not do quite as well for us.

  17. Rola says:

    I work in the biotech industry and we often discuss the placebo effect of drugs on patients who are on clinical trials. The placebo effect plays a part in the patients’ psyche wishing that they themselves would get well and they would appear healthier and stronger. But in reality, the test results do not lie. It is interesting that you brought up this point. Thanks.

  18. sesame says:

    So do the test results show that the drugs work or purely due to the patient’s psyche?

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