Beauty and the Quack

Quackery is not just found in ‘alternative’ medicine and the high street homeopathic practice. Quackery exists wherever claims for health benefits are made that do not stand up to scrutiny. Today I want to look at the claims of a billion dollar business, one of the top 20 household products sellers outside of the US, Clarins. Are they guilty of quackery?

This is a bit of departure for the quackometer as it has not looked into beauty products before. People have been buying over-priced and over-promised products since the dawn of time in order to look younger and feel better. And this really does not concern me. We all like to have a good soak, preen ourselves, spruce up our feathers and feel invigorated and refreshed, smelling nice and being attractive. And we are prepared to pay a pretty penny for the privelidge too. But there appears to be a line that is being crossed regularly now and one particular product shows what that line is very well – Clarins Expertise 3p, or e3p, skin protection spray.

The claims for this spray are quite extraordinary:

An ultra-sheer screen mist containing a pioneering combination of plant extracts capable of protecting the skin from the accelerated-ageing affects of all indoor and outdoor air pollution but most significantly, the affects of Artificial Electromagnetic Waves.

The product works by using a:

Magnetic Defence Complex [which] protects skin from the ageing effects of Artificial Electromagnetic Waves.

It contains ingredients consisting of:

Magnetic Defense Complex (Rhodiola Rosea + Thermus Thermophillus) – [which] Reinforces skin’s resistance to the harmful effects of Artificial Electromagnetic Waves.

The product also makes claims about protection from pollution – that is a whole other kettle of fish, so I am just going to stick the the Electromagnetic wave thing.

So, this immediately raises a number of questions? What electromagnetic waves are these? How do they accelerate aging? How does a simple spray block out these waves and how does it tell artificial EM from natural EM? Simple questions and so I fired off an email to Clarins to see what would come back.

Here is the response in full from Lana Mouton, the innocent lamb in PR they get to answer these difficult questions:

Thank you for your interest in Clarins Expertise 3p.

I have attached a press document which I believe answers your questions. I can also tell you that the research behind this product is the subject of a scientific paper written by Dr Lionel de Benetti, Clarins Head of Research & Development with a contribution from Rashid Enamany, President, Eurotest (specialist private laboratory).

A draft of this scientific paper is currently under review by a leading US dermatology publication and so at this moment in time we are unable to forward it to anyone else. However, as soon as this situation changes, I will let you know.

Now, Google is the quackometer’s best friend, so a few searches reveal some interesting things. First, the words ‘Rashid Enamany’ are what is known as a googlewhack, i.e. these are two words that return precisely one page – a unique page with those two words on. Funnily enough, the page is a discussion thread about the absurdity of the e3p product. One of the participants has obviously written to Clarins and received back an almost identical response. My email response is clearly the standard Clarins brush-off when faced with a know-all enquiry about the stupidity of their claims.

So, what is this Eurotest ‘independent laboratory’ all about and who is their President, the googlewack, Rashid Enamany? Again, Google draws a blank. There is a company called Eurotest, but it appears to look after the testing electrical appliances. I’m not sure if they would stretch to testing the biological effects of EM radiation. Quite remarkably, this laboratory and their president do not appear to exist on the web. How they manage that these days is beyond me. Even my cat has a web page.

So, what of Dr Lionel de Benetti’s press release about the findings behind the product that will lead to a ‘scientific paper’, presumably co-authored with the googlewack? (Who will no longer be a googlewack then, as his name will be on a published paper. ‘Eminent’ is not a word that springs to mind.)

The contents of the press release is an interview with Dr Benetti entitled, “On the science behind the creation of Expertise 3P Screen Mist”. Now, I guess Dr Benetti is too busy running the billion Euro Clarins operations these days to be too worried about the nitty-gritty science, because there is really little science in this interview at all.

Now, Dr Benetti does make it clear he only talking about the EM that radiated from electrical equipment, such as mobile phones, televisions and other household stuff. Good. So, no claims are being made about x-rays or ultraviolet (which is a shame, since then e3p could then be a good sunblock.) He explains the inspiration for the product came from the startling fact that these rays could travel through thick concrete walls! For this reason ‘it seemed obvious to us to study their effects on our skin.’ Think about it – straight through concrete – what the hell is it doing to our skin? Er, probably going straight through too with absolutely no effect whatsoever. But let us not let basic physics get in the way of some product development.

And so this piece of pseudoscientific rhetoric is the driving force behind offering this product. But how did Dr Benetti’s team choose the ingredients Rhodiola Rosea and Thermus Thermophillus as the stuff that would reinforce the skins resistance? Well Thermus Thermophillus is supposedly found at the bottom of the sea where extreme temperatures and pressures are found. So if it can survive there, it surely can protect us against the EM dangers of toasters and fridges? It is a well known fact that the bottom of the sea is littered with discarded mobile phones from passing passenger ships and so only the hardiest organisms survive.

Now there is lots of gobbledegook on the press-release about DNA, free-radicals and cellular renewal, but it appears that the crucial experiment was performed by exposing skins cells to mobile phone radiation in the presence of this unique ‘magnetic defense complex’. And guess what? ‘Their structures hardly changed.’ Proof indeed. Funnily, I too can provide some substances that will result in unchanged skin structure in the presence of a mobile phone. My cat produces about 100ml a day. But I doubt the good Doctor would want to spray it on his face.

So, what is going on here? Well it looks like an age-old quacks trick. Convince your mark that they are exposed to a non-existent health problem and then provide them with the cure that will prevent the worst from happening. When nothing too bad happens to them you can say, “see, it works!’ (c.f. allergy testing, qlink pendants, dietary vitamin shortfalls.)

As the press-release says itself,

several studies have been conducted which have produced contradictory opinions. Personally, I think that there is no need to be alarmed when it comes to the effects on our health.’

But the following ‘science’ in the release and talk of radiation so powerful that it can go through concrete walls, plants the seeds of fear. The actual spray itself could not possibly claim to create a barrier to these rays – and the press-release is careful to avoid making direct claims. The only way to shield your head from the EM from mobile phones would be to wrap it completely in a conducting shield, such a tin-foil layer. But that is not going to improve the cosmetic appearance of most people, with a few noticeable exceptions.

The actual proposed mechanism of the spray appears to be more about mopping up free-radicals, but again, just how many free-radicals are produced by our EM environment and what harm these do is also not made clear.

Much of cosmetic advertising appears to work in similar ways: descriptions of problems from your environment that you may not have been aware off and may not even exist; hints and suggestions of benefit from a product, but nothing too direct; complex sciencey stuff to lend an air of legitimacy; and the fear that doing nothing is not an option. Hence a $1 moisturiser can be sold for $100 as long as it has some probiotic pentachromic DNA nutricles in it.

According to Clarins latest company reports, the founder of the company, Jacques Courtin-Clarins, decided to “take beauty seriously” and developed a ‘unique philosophy’:

Develop a dialogue with women to satisfy their desires for well-being and respect them by offering a range of the best plant-based skin care products distinguished by their innovation and effectiveness.

What I would really like to ask Clarins is how marketing a product like e3p is developing a respectful dialogue with women? Are you taking ‘beauty seriously’ with this product or is it some sort of French post-modernist joke on us all? Does inventing problems from EM radiation class as innovation? And are you ever going to publish anything in a peer-reviewed journal with the mysterious Rashid Enamany where we can judge the effectiveness of the product for ourselves?

On this theme…

11 Comments on Beauty and the Quack

  1. One site that’s useful for decent cosmetics information is http://www.cosmeticcop.com – the woman who runs it does sell her own cosmetic line but she’s (refreshingly!) transparent about that. Lists of ingredients and actual useful skin care information – all backed up by gosh-darnit actual scientific studies from real, peer-reviewed medical journals and the like. No woo such as “preservatives will give you cancer” and “face cream will cure your wrinkles”.

    (Disclaimer etc: I am not affiliated with the site in any way, though I have bought some of her products.)

  2. I usually agree with you Andy but sadly on this occassion I don’t and can’t! It really frustrates me when general members of the public publish their own opinions on subjects that they have absolutely no authority or knowledge on. Are you a chemist or scientist? Are you loyal bloggers chemist or scientists? If they are, do they work in the cosmetic field and have knowledge or experience on the subject of Electromagnetic Sensitivity? I am not a beauty person, I have no desire to look or feel younger despite my loving husbands nagging! Do you or your bloggers know what/who Electrosentives are? There is a whole other world out there that you do not know of and possible cannot know of. I too read the ads and website info regarding this new Clarins product and its seems quite clear to me that all they are trying to do is advise us on the effects these waves have on our skin – it ages it! That seemed very clear to me. Now as I have already mentioned, I have no longing to reverse the ageing affects the sun/pollution/2 kids and a very stressful job have had on my skin and I will certainly not be buying this product but I do implore you all to get off your backsides and look into this further – look past the adverising gimmick and ask yourself the question – Is it possible that what they are saying is true? They are after all scientist in the field of beauty and you and I are not! It would also be interesting to read more about Electrosentives and the effects EMF’s have on our health.

  3. Dear Anonymous

    “They are after all scientist in the field of beauty”

    That is one of the funniest comments on this site so far. Clarins are making claims that contradict all that is known about electromagnetic radiation and somehow ‘Beauty Science’ supercedes it.

    Even if there are people who are truly ‘electrosensitive’ (and the evidence is weak) then this E3p mist spray looks more likely to be taking advantage of them rather than helping them.

    Until Mr Clarins et al. publish their work we cannot know and must be very suspicious.

  4. I love this article!
    I am about to wite an essay comparing gender differences in advertising with regards to pseudo-scientific language used in advertisments for beauty products. It’s hilarious, men’s ads show a handsome face and say: you will look better and younger if you try this product. But women’s ads somehow need more ‘scientific’ back-up, perhaps to justify the overpricing of the products, and come up with words like collagen biospheres, collagen fibres, DMAE, aquacellular, neurocalm and the like. Have a look at this article, it just prooves your point exactly: http://www.unison.ie/irish_independent/stories.php3?ca=45&si=1525724&issue_id=13408
    …if a doctor in chemistry and a nobel laureate don’t think it’s real science, why should we, hey?

  5. Ahhh, Anja, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I can’t read your comment as it is a subscription service and my ‘Big Pharma’ cheque has not arrived this month.

    Your point is good about pseudoscience directed at women. One might naively presume that pseudoscience would be the stuff of ‘Men’s health’ magazine. But no. One area where pseudoscience is strongly directed at men is hi end HiFi – again the expense must justify it.

  6. The article quoted by Anja makes for a good read; it doesn’t need a subscription – just registration.

    For five years I ran the radio interference-tracing section of the Irish state commumications regulator. We dealt with the problems that no-one else could solve and the cases were diverse and interesting. We reviewed many cases of ‘Electrosensitives’ and, although we tried to be as open-minded as possible, we never found a genuine case.

    The symptoms certainly appeared genuine, but we could find no evidence to tie these symptoms to electro-magnetic radiation. An example is the lady who lived in a rural area but suffered a reaction to the emissions from a mobile phone tower in the nearest town. It was sufficiently far away that I was unable to see the offending antennas, even using binoculars.

    She relieved her symptoms by installing a cellular phone jammer, which works by transmitting interference(illegally as it happens) on the frequencies used by cellular phones.

    I had to explain gently that the radiation which she was receiving from the little box in her garage was over 100 times more powerful than the signal from the telephone tower…

  7. Rofl, the original article is good, but the “Anonymous” post takes the cake. Electrosensitives!!! Indeed.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. I think one of the things that winds me up the most is when contributors make comments like “[…] general members of the public publish their own opinions on subjects that they have absolutely no authority or knowledge on.”

    Admittedly, Anonymous is an obvious shill with an agenda, but many “genuine” folks maintain a similar degree of doublethink (although really it’s ‘triplethink’ at least).

    When this blog and others point out the fact that someone like Patrick Holford or Gillian McKeith have no formal qualifications, they’re either supported because they’ve “been working the field for [n] years”, or the very idea of requiring formal qualifications in order to speak as an authority on a subject is rubbished.

    THEN people come along and make comments to the effect of “What makes you so smart, you with no qualifications in the field?”

    They then, having firmly established the prerequisites for holding a valuable opinion, proceed to tell you you’re wrong… an opinion they hold which is generally based on no qualifications.

    This is compounded by people’s apparent obliviousness to the fact that the issues on which you are commenting require nothing more than a general understanding of the subject matter, a good understanding of the scientific method, a logical mind and a spirit of enquiry.

    Oh, and Anonymous? For the record, I suppose I am a scientist for what it’s worth, although a common complaint of so-called “electrosensitives” is that when studies fail to show above-chance results in provocation tests to demonstrate the existence of EMS, it’s because they’re run by the “wrong type” of scientist.

    The wrong type being, apparently, any scientist who fails to demonstrate the existence of EMS as a phenomenon.

    Anyway, rant over. This tickled me:

    “I have no desire to look or feel younger despite my loving husbands nagging!”

    Quite apart from the implied admission of bigamy, I wouldn’t call any husband (or husbands, the jury is out) “loving” who nags you to look or feel younger…

    The Clarins people are not trying to advise us on the effects of electromagnetic frequencies on our skin: they’re trying to sell us very expensive goop with no demonstrable protective benefits against phenomena that do no demonstrable harm.

    We ARE asking ourselves “What if what they’re saying is true?”, and we’re asking the Clarins researchers to tell us how they came to their conclusions. Is that so unreasonable?

  9. In August of 2007, Clarins got their asses reamed in the UK from the Advertising Standards Authority for all of the reasons in this article. The president and his so called “Doctor” are full of dreck and have been sniffing way too much of their own 3P…

    They need to go live in the bottom of the ocean and see if they are protected.

    Did you look at the founder who died? He claimed to have personally tested his products. Well, with all the wrinkles and sagging aged skin on his face he is NOT a TESTIMONIAL to the effectiveness of their line!

    No wonder Americans can’t stand the French…

    The product can not work for the following simple reason: Thermus Thermophillus needs a temperature of 40-60C to become heat activated…converted that is 104-140F. No HUMAN in their RIGHT MIND is going to heat up their face to that temperature to “PROTECT” it from EM waves.

    How is this stuff suppose to work if it is “SPRAYED” over a moisturizer and make up?

    Clarins 3P=the new snakeoil. At least with alternative medicine it has been around for centuries and there are some scientific studies on it, but, this product claims are beyond belief.

    Christian Courtin-Clarins=Bullshit artist Par Excellence!

    The FDA oversees bull like this and should be notified. What next, if you sprtiz 3P from a mister it will protect you from Chem Trails?

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