July 28, 2011 at 07:03 PM EDT

How flawless is too flawless? That’s a question the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK’s independent advertising watchdog, has answered for L’Oreal, which has come under fire for two magazine ads — one featuring Julia Roberts for Lancôme’s Teint Miracle foundation and one featuring Christy Turlington for The Eraser foundation by Maybelline. Jo Swinson, a Member of Parliament, complained to the ASA that the ads were misleading due to excessive airbrushing. The ASA banned the ads from running again in their current form on the grounds that L’Oreal was “unable to provide us with sufficient evidence to prove that the ad images accurately illustrated what effect the products could achieve, and that the images had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques.” Though L’Oreal provided photos of Roberts and Turlington on the red carpet to show their natural beauty and detailed what post production techniques were used on the ad images, it did not supply the original shots of Roberts and Turlington before those techniques were employed for comparison.

Reps for Roberts and Turlington have not responded to EW’s request for comment. But L’Oreal has issued statements expressing its disappointment in the ASA’s decisions. In regards to Roberts’ Teint Miracle ad: “We do not believe that the ad exaggerates the effect that can be achieved using this product. In consumer tests among over 100 women, 77% agreed that Teint Miracle made their complexions look radiant and luminous.” And as for Turlington’s Eraser campaign: “The advertisement features Christy Turlington who has beautiful skin and features a product that has been proved scientifically to conceal imperfections. Even though the ad features an obviously illustrated effect, some lines are still clearly visible beneath the illustration and we do not believe that the ad exaggerates the effect that can be achieved using this product. In consumer tests among 253 women, 78% agreed that The Eraser provided flawless coverage.”

An ASA rep tells EW complaints about this type of cosmetic ad are rare, but notes, “This isn’t to say that the use of post-production techniques isn’t widespread — it is — however we are only concerned where such techniques might materially mislead the public.” In December 2009, the ASA upheld a complaint against Procter & Gamble for a misleading magazine ad for the Olay Definity eye illuminator featuring an image of model Twiggy. More than 700 members of the public complained via a website campaign. Their concerns were forwarded to the ASA by Swinson.

What do you think: Are the ads misleading? Even without knowing what exact “creative license” L’Oreal took with the photos, Sharon A. Blinkoff, an attorney with Venable LLP who’s represented clients in the cosmetic industry for more than 20 years and sits on the board of directors of the Independent Cosmetics Manufacturers Association, tells EW it’s unlikely that the U.S.’s Federal Trade Commission would have taken the same stance against the ads. “Under U.S. law, the question becomes whether a consumer acting reasonably would be in some way misled and believe that the product would do things that it doesn’t in fact do. I think consumers are used to cosmetic companies taking some creative license with their presentation and generally know what foundation products do and what they don’t do. Our regulatory agencies recognize the ‘sophistication’ of the American consumer,” Blinkoff says. “There’s also the notion that these are not very high-ticket items: consumers can judge for themselves whether they’re satisfied, and if they’re not satisfied, they won’t buy it again…. Even the lighting that you use when you take a photo of a model will sometimes change the appearance. Are we now gonna say everybody has to be put under standard lighting, so that we make sure that there’s no deviation? Instead of having beauty shots, we’ll have mug shots. Consumers like the aspirational characteristics of these photographs. They know that they’re not gonna become a Julia Roberts.”

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