Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I feel pretty

A friend of mine recently sent me a link about beauty treatments.  She wasn't, I think, trying to give me any sort of unsubtle suggestion about my need to use such products.  The reason she thought of me was that the world of cosmetics is no longer a simple matter of cleansers, scents, and body paints of various sorts.  It's now its own little mini-universe of pseudoscience, filled with jargon, half-truths, and outright lies.

The link my friend sent me, which you can view here, is only a small sampling of the types of beauty products that the gullible can spend lots of money on.  If you'd rather not peruse the whole list, I present below a few of the most egregious examples, along with the prices, which I am not making up.

1)  Ina White Gold Detoxifying Crystal Salt ($85).  The advertisement says, "This bathing treat uses Himalayan crystals to draw out toxins lurking in the body.  In fact, a 30-minute soak is equivalent to a three-day detox!"

First of all, you don't have any toxins "lurking in your body" that your kidneys and liver aren't perfectly well equipped to deal with.  Anything toxic your body produces isn't excreted through the skin in any case, so I don't care what you put in your bath water, you're not going to draw much out through your skin except for water.

Which brings me to the next claim:  that this stuff "leaves your skin feeling firmer."  I'll just bet it does.  It's... salt.  Plain old sodium chloride, which is the same regardless of whether it comes from the Himalayas or from the shaker on your dinner table.  ("Ina White Gold" does have some herbal extracts in it to make it smell nice, though.)  And the reason it leaves your skin feeling firmer is because you've dehydrated your upper skin layer -- same as when you've gone swimming in the ocean and not showered off afterwards.  Your lower epidermis has lost water and shrunk a little, and your skin will feel a little too tight for a while afterwards.  It has nothing to do with toxins, toning, or the Himalayas.

2)  The Energy Muse "Miracle Bead" Wearable Scents bracelet ($25).  This one combines energy field nonsense with magic bracelet nonsense and aromatherapy nonsense to create a woo-woo trifecta.  It is a little bracelet with a "natural seed" that emits "positive vibrations," treated with a perfume that will give you "movement, vitality, and confidence."  All I can say is that if spending $25 of your hard-earned cash for a seed on a string gives you confidence, you must come by your confidence a different way than I do.

3)  Origins "For Men" Skin Diver Active Charcoal Body Wash ($19).  Charcoal, as we all know because it's barbecuing season, has purifying properties.  So we're supposed to slather charcoal glop all over our bodies to "draw out pore-clogging toxins."  I'll stick with soap, thanks.

4)  The Organic Pharmacy Detox Cellulite Body Oil ($58).  More detox stuff, this one scented with grapefruit and rose oil.  This one, in addition to "drawing out toxins" again, is supposed to get rid of "cellulite."  What is cellulite, you may ask?  Sit down, children, for a brief biology lesson.

Cellulite is fat.  No different than any other fat.  Why, then, does it look dimply?  Because the distribution of connective tissue on the upper legs and butt is different from that on the stomach.  The skin layers on the lower torso are "pegged down" by heavy collagen fibers, similar to the stitching on a mattress, so when you gain weight there, it creates a puckery appearance.  No diet, no vitamins or herbal extracts, and certainly no "detox body oil" is going to "get rid of cellulite."  The only way to get rid of cellulite is to do what gets rid of every other kind of fat in the body, to wit:  eat less and exercise more.

And if you haven't already blown enough money on stuff like the above, you can go to the Shizuka Day Spa in New York City ($180) and have them paint nightingale poop extract on your face, the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel Reliquary Spa ($225) and have them drum on you with bamboo reeds to "balance your energy flow," or The Peninsula Spa of Beverly Hills ($275 and up) to have a massage with "gem oils," which is massage oil colored to look like emeralds, rubies, or sapphires.

I wish I was making this stuff up.  Even the cheap beauty products, the kind you can find on grocery store shelves, are advertised using pseudoscience; look at the shampoos which are "enriched with protein and vitamins," as if humans are some kind of alien life form that can somehow absorb nutrients through our hair.  I suppose the drive to look youthful and vibrant is strong enough to induce people to drop serious quantities of money on whatever they think will work -- but besides the lamentable gullibility factor here, there's the sheer greed of the manufacturers for misleading these people about what these products do.  The gullibility is unfortunate; the lying should be outright illegal.

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