Tuesday, July 12, 2011

That doesn't mean what you think it means.

Today I bought a cheap bottle of lotion to keep in my purse that has a fragrance that isn't terribly offensive so I can apply a teeny bit when leaving anatomy lab and smelling of dead, preserved horseflesh. I quickly glanced through the ingredients and found placenta extract listed. It made me raise an eyebrow but ingredients like this aren't put there for people like me. I read that and say to myself, "Nice marketing gimmick." The average woman reads that and says, "Oooh! How exotic!"

I decided to do a quick Google search on the supposed skin health benefits of placenta extract and opened up a whole new world of woo and lulz. My particular favorite is quoted below.

"Placenta Extract contains proteins, coagulation factor, erythropoietin, polysaccharide, lecithin, vitamins, enzymes, various types of amino acid and growth factor. Medically tested and proven, the skin cells become more active after use, which in turn enhances the immunity of the skin."
 Wow, okay. Let's take this step by step, shall we?

  • Proteins, polysaccharide, vitamins, enzymes - The only way this could be more vague is if they'd smacked a label on the bottle that read, "This lotion contains macromolecules." Enzymes is a particular favorite buzzword of mine in the world of woo. Woosters use it for all sorts of stuff, be it skin care, dietary supplements, and on and on. Tell someone something will "boost their enzyme activity" and they'll gobble it up faster than you can keep the product on the shelves.
  • Coagulation factor - Which one? Prothrombinase? Thrombomodulin? Fibrinogen? Leaving that aside, why on earth would I want to rub something on my skin that causes blood clots?
  •  Erythropoetin - This one cracks me up. Erythropoetin is a hormone that regulates red blood cell development. Let's assume, purely for the sake of argument, that the entire hormone could be absorbed through the skin and enter my blood. Why I would want to suddenly have a huge influx of hormone that promotes red blood cell production? Doesn't that actually sound kind of dangerous, as something that could potentially cause a thromboembolus or stroke?
  •  "...the skin cells become more active after use, which in turn enhances the immunity of the skin." - How? Explain this mechanism, please. How does increasing the "activity" (another vague, generalized term) of skin cells help them to better maintain the mechanical immunological barrier your skin provides?
Stuff like this makes me laugh and depresses me beyond belief every day, because as silly and ridiculous as it is, people buy into this crap! Companies love to throw out science-y sounding terminology to confuse and enthrall the general public. Unfortunately it's very effective, and not just with things as unimportant as which lotion to buy, but also with much more serious issues such as whether to vaccinate your child. We see it in vet med, as well. Particularly with things like pet food.

During a lab in my nutrition class last semester a student asked me what an ingredient was on one of the food labels we were supposed to be interpreting. It was Lactobacillus acidophilus, one of the "pro-biotic" bacteria that naturally occurs in your gut. It was in powdered form and in a dry dog food, which means that it was dead dead dead and completely biologically inactive. She asked me why it was in the food, then. I guessed that it was probably because a gullible owner would read that and say to themselves, "Oh, I know that word! It's in my yogurt! If it's good for me, it must be good for Buddy!" But I said that I couldn't be sure and perhaps there was some beneficial effect of a destroyed bacteria that I was unaware of, so we asked the professor. Guess what his answer was? It provided nothing to the diet and was there for ingredient recognition purposes in order to sell more food.

Think critically, people. Don't accept everything you hear. As one of my professors loves to say, "Thiiiink about it!"


  1. Oh so very true! (Mind if I repost, with credit to you?)

  2. I've gotten into the habit of looking up ridiculous sounding ingredients in things I buy, so I can totally relate to the equally amused and depressed feeling. But really, it's ridiculous that people buy into this crap.