Last month, during a brief stay in Italy to visit my family, I noticed a disturbing new trend in advertising: creams designed to “lift” breasts and buttocks.

The last time I had seen a print ad for a similar product, I was in my early teens: in the back pages of all the popular teen magazines, I would see ads for X-ray glasses (destined for boys, to see through the clothes of women) and various “miracle” creams designed to accelerate puberty and turn a flat chested girl into a Pamela Anderson-like bombshell. My friends and I would dismiss this as utter rubbish (with the exception of a hopeful pimply faced boy in my class who once purchased X-ray glasses and brought them to school. Sadly, they didn’t work).

Fast-forward to today. Imagine my shock, when, while sitting in my dentist’s waiting room, I see that ads for creams to “increase breast size” are peppering the pages of virtually all the women’s magazines I pick up. Even more surprising? These creams belong to major (read: well respected) cosmetics companies.

Some examples (note: one of the photos below is a bit graphic, showing a nipple, so NSFW for those of you in the United States. Us Europeans are used to a lot worse)

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The Title: “Dalla Ricerca COLLISTAR” (“from Collistar’s Research Team” – thus legit, no?)

“La rivoluzionaria novità che rassoda e solleva il seno” = “The revolutionary new product that firms and lifts breasts

“più alto 2,7 cm” = “1,1 inch higher

“più voluminoso +1cm” = “1/2 inch more volume

“più sodo per il 90% delle donne testate” = “firmer breasts for 90% of women tested

And now, let’s look at the pretty little asterisks that accompany each claim. Mind you, you may need eyeglasses to read those teeny tiny scribbles at the bottom of the page:

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“Test clinico-strumentali” = gibberish? Well, let’s say clinical tests conducted on 20 women at an important Italian university. “An important Italian university”? WTF? Also: “maximum values reported after 60 days”. Whatever that means.

Let’s look at another ad, this one from Pupa, a cosmetics company that usually targets teenage girls and women in their 20s-early 30s:

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This ad uses a similar language – as well as outrageous claims:

Firming effect = 94%

Rounder breasts (whatever that means) = 97%

Higher breasts = 88%

An interesting tagline, bottom right: “+ volume – chirurgia” (+ volume – plastic surgery)

And now, a quick look at the asterisks:

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* Maximum value found in 3 subjects out of 35. Median value: 1 cm.

*** Tests are self-evaluations of 35 women during 8 weeks.

The self-evaluation part is what interests me. Because, whenever you see claims about anti-wrinkle creams, or anti-cellulite creams, or any other potion on the market (creams to increase breasts, buttocks, make your hair fuller, etc.) the percentages the ads refer to are not objective scientific findings. No. All beauty companies – big and small – use the results of self-evaluations in their marketing campaigns.

I once saw a documentary on TV that featured a French lab where they test 90% of cosmetics on the market. Women who participate in the study are given loads of free samples and usually return to the lab after 2 months to fill out a questionnaire about their satisfaction with a given product. A smiling lab attendant asks questions about one’s satisfaction (with yes/no answer) and then the results are compiled. In the documentary in question, a turtle-faced woman in her 60s say that the anti-wrinkle cream she had used had shown positive results. I couldn’t believe it. It’s ALL SUBJECTIVE: no scientific tests are carried out to confirm the claims. After all, if creams could actually reduce wrinkles, lift breasts, eliminate cellulite, why would women resort to expensive and intrusive procedures like Botox, breast implants and liposuction?

What these cosmetics companies are actually selling is HOPE.

After all, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon once said: “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”

For an insightful article about the misleading marketing practices of cosmetics companies, click here.

It’s the same with the breast creams above. A few more examples:

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What to do about this? Send your complaints to consumers’ associations.