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?