12 Miraculous Beauty Treatments That Are Complete Bunk
The beauty industry is huge; huge enough to merit the tag Big Beauty. Thanks to advertising fueled by celebrity endorsements promising all the glamour of Hollywood and using science-y sounding terms like “clinically proven” and “detoxification,” the skin care industry alone is estimated to be worth $80 billion worldwide. Add in all the other anti-aging products, and you are looking at a $300 billion industry.
The perfect storm of aging Baby Boomers desperate to reclaim their youth, Gen-Xers anxious to retain it, a well-funded industry happy to sell them products, and a celebrity-obsessed media allowing claims of efficacy with little or no scrutiny has resulted in a glut of beauty products whose legitimacy is questionable at best. We hear that Kate Middleton uses a bee venom facial to keep her face young and wrinkle-free, with no evidence as to how that might be so. Ditto when we read about Demi Moore using leeches, or Katie Holmes using snails. And there is the poster child of celebrity beauty tips, Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of alt-beauty and health website Goop.com and famous proponent of master cleanses, detoxs and vaginal steams. Paltrow reportedly spends $21,000 a month to keep up her beauty regimen.
Big Beauty is a master of using pseudoscientific terms and clinical “studies” to validate its products. The truth is, there is next to no meaningful research out there on beauty products. The studies that are cited are usually from researchers funded by the industry itself. In place of real science we get testimonies and assurances from celebrities and paid spokesmodels, often reported by magazines that have a vested interest in distributing “tips” to their readers. Meanwhile, a recent study found that only 18 percent of all the claims made in commercials by cosmetic companies were accurate, and that fully half of the brands the researchers looked at made claims that were either false or entirely subjective.
But the weird thing about beauty is that most people know this and still buy the products. The University of Guelph in Canada did a study in 2010 in which women were asked about anti-aging products. The majority of the participants were skeptical of the effectiveness of the products, yet it made no difference. “So many of the women we spoke with were aware of the gimmicks and doubted the level of effectiveness of the products, but they still used them,” said Amy Muise, the study’s co-author.
The breadth and variety of bogus beauty treatments is impressive. Here are 12 of the most dubious.
1. Dry shampoo
Touted as a way to save time in the morning by skipping washing and drying your hair, while at the same time preventing overwashing, dry shampoos have been gaining in popularity. Just spray it on (most dry shampoos are rice or oat starch) and it soaks up the excess oil in your hair, leaving a pleasant just-washed smell, and out the door you go. One tiny problem: dry shampoo can cause your hair to fall out.
Sonia Batra, a Los Angeles dermatologist, told the Atlantic that dry shampoo, “deposits substances to coat the follicle that can build up. The resulting inflammation can weaken the follicles and increase shedding. These products can also cause hair follicles to stick together, so that a hair that would normally shed during brushing may take two or three strands along with it.” Then again, having no hair rids you of the problem of needing to wash it.
2. Semen facial, aka the man moisturizer.
OK, so even Big Beauty isn’t touching this one, but actress Heather Locklear apparently swears by spreading a little man-juice on the face to rejuvenate the skin and eliminate wrinkles. Maybe this is how porn stars retain their youthful looks, either that or just being young. Popular beauty blogger Tracy Kiss concurs, and her YouTube video on the topic of semen facials has been viewed over a million times, veering into online porn viewership numbers. There is, you should know, no basis for this treatment.
“There is no evidence-based medicine behind it. No science at all,” Lisa Kellett, a Toronto dermatologist, told the Toronto Star. It turns out that the molecular structure of semen prevents it from actually being absorbed by the skin. Stick to regular moisturizers, which are molecularly formulated to be absorbed.
3. Vampire facial.
First pump up the face with a dermal filler called hyaluronic acid. Then take some of your own blood, usually from the arm, use a centrifuge to extract platelet rich plasma (PRP), and in a series of injections, return that PRP back into your face. The theory is that the blood platelets contain growth factors that will repair your skin and restore your youthful glow. The treatment has been used in the past to accelerate the healing of burns and wounds, and athletes like Kobe Bryant and Rafael Nadal have undergone it to help recover from injuries. However, there is zero science behind its efficacy as a facial. Still, Kim Kardashian swears by it, so it must be true.
4. Fire facial.
The fire facial is popular in spas all over China, but hasn’t yet caught on in the U.S. Not surprising since it involves setting fire to your face. Well, not exactly. A towel is soaked in alcohol and a special beauty elixir, wrapped on to the face, and then lit on fire. The towel is then quickly extinguished with another cloth (before your face melts, presumably). The treatment allegedly “stimulates the skin and addresses dullness, sagging and wrinkles.” Other than the fact that there is no science behind these claims, the fact that you would be lighting a fire on your face should give anyone pause.
5. Sheep placenta facial.
Victoria Beckham is reportedly a big fan of the sheep placenta facial. In this treatment, stem cells from the afterbirth of a ewe are extracted and applied to the skin. Supposedly the stem cells spur our own stem cells into action, repairing our damaged skin. Never mind that we have barely scratched the surface of what we know about stem cells for actual medical use, and there is no credible knowledge of what they can do as a skin facial.
6. Snail facial.
Ask Katie Holmes how she stays so youthful and she might tell you about her snail facials. Popular in Southeast Asia, the snail facial involves applying live snails to your face and allowing them to crawl over the skin, depositing their slime (scientifically, helix aspersa muller glycoconjugates). The snails disperse their mucus when under stress, and the substance supposedly contains healthy nutrients that will alleviate acne, stretch marks, scars, and wrinkles.
"This clearly is not very scientifically done," said Stephen Mandy, a Miami Beach dermatologist, who pointed out that there is no evidence snail slime does anything to combat aging skin. Moreover, snail mucus can possibly trigger allergic reactions.
7. Oil pulling.
The Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling has been popularized of late by young actress Shailene Woodley, as well as the ever-present Goop-er, Gwyneth Paltrow. The treatment consists of swishing a tablespoon of oil, usually coconut, sesame or sunflower, around in your mouth for 20 minutes. Woodley and other proponents claim this will whiten your teeth (also, some claim, dubiously, it will cure diabetes, acne, hangovers, and other illnesses). While a few studies have indicated the treatment might reduce bacteria in the mouth about the same as a regular mouth rinse, dentists warn it is no replacement for regular dental care.
The oil supposedly removes plaque from the teeth because it is a fat and dental plaque is fat-soluble. However, Robert Collins, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, has noted that there is no evidence that plaque is fat-soluble, and, “Even if it was, it doesn’t mean that it would disrupt the plaque.”
8. Leech facial.
Leeches have been used medicinally for as long as there has been human civilization. Originally thought to balance the body’s “humors,” modern medicine continues to use them to help heal skin grafts, among other things. The saliva from the leech contains an anticoagulant that stops the blood from clotting, useful in skin graft surgery and limb reattachment.
The beauty industry has other ideas, though. The leech facial involves allowing leeches to attach and suck blood from the face, and then smearing the leech-ed blood back onto the face. This allegedly will give you smoother, younger looking skin. Adherents like Demi Moore claim that the proteins and lipids in the leech saliva act to moisturize the skin. Needless to say, no science has shown this to be a fact. And anyway, do you really want leeches sucking blood from your face?
9. Kitty litter facial.
Take a little kitty litter, add a splash of water and rub it on your face and thighs as a mask and skin defoliator. Reportedly Christie Brinkley has endorsed the kitty litter facial. While cat litter may act as a clay mask, the granules are sharp and can cause small tears in the skin. Additionally, some brands contain aluminum silicate, a known neurotoxin for humans. When you are tempted to raid the litter box, resist and stick to regular mud masks.
10. Geisha facial aka bird poop facial.
Japanese geishas used the feces of the nightingale to remove the heavy makeup they wore, and today the geisha facial has gained adherents around the world. The dung of the Japanese nightingale supposedly has restorative properties, smoothing the skin and giving it that Tom Cruise glow. Cruise, in fact, uses the dung, according to Now Magazine. “Tom doesn’t go in for Botox or surgery, but he does pay close attention to all the new and popular natural treatments. He recently started experimenting with the nightingale poo facial.”
True or not, dermatologists are not wowed by the geisha facial. There is little scientific study of feces as a skin conditioner, despite anecdotal acclaim. And while the ingredient in bird feces, urea, can indeed moisturize the skin, it is readily available in many other less expensive moisturizers (the geisha facial can cost around $200).
11. Bee venom mask.
We’ve heard of the “bee-stung lips” look, but how about the bee-stung face? Believers in this facial procedure claim that applying bee venom to the face fools the skin into thinking it has been stung, causing the body to direct blood to the face and producing collagen and elastin to smooth and soften the skin, while restoring elasticity. Among the proponents are Victoria Beckham, Kate Middleton and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Because the venom is anaphylactic, it can relax the muscles in the face, which could theoretically contribute to a younger look. But, as dermatologist Jeannette Graf explained to Allure Magazine, “there haven’t been enough clinical trials to judge the effect of the venom.” Moreover, there is the possibility of an allergic reaction or damage to skin cell membranes.
12. Fish pedicure.
One of the latest spa crazes is removing dead skin cells from the feet by plunging them into fish tanks and letting the fish nibble away at the dead skin. The supposed benefits include improved circulation, reduced foot odor and softer and suppler feet. However, there is little real science behind these claims, and no guarantee that the fish won’t transmit disease, either from the nibbling, or from the dirty water in the tank. Moreover, there have been claims that the fish used in these treatments are kept hungry to assure they will go for their dead skin appetizer.
The takeaway from all of these examples is to approach claims of “clinically proven” and “dermatologist approved” with a jaundiced eye. The beauty industry is expert at making their treatments sound like science without actually employing science, or by employing very subjective science. Exotic-sounding and expensive procedures to make your skin soft and your face young are almost always no more effective than proven and more inexpensive products.