6 Healthy Products That Aren't
There's a sucker born every minute: a phrase that's as true
today as it was when coined over a century and a half ago about
P. T. Barnum and his suggestible sideshow customers. Though we
may no longer fall for tales as tall as the Cardiff Giant, we
consumers still eat up a whole lot of bogus claims from
manufacturers -- especially when the products they're shilling
promise to improve our health and well-being.
So before you drop another dollar on that "doctor-approved" cure for what ails you, make sure it's not on display in the suitcase of snake oil that follows.
For generations, a panacea for the common cold had stumped professionals in the medical and scientific communities. But in the late 1990s, hope came from the unlikeliest of places: a Spreckels, California, elementary school. In between cursive handwriting lessons, second-grade teacher Victoria Knight-McDowell claimed to have cracked the code with a holistic formula and we all shrugged, "Sure."
Without proof to substantiate its immune-boosting and germ-killing claims (but with a lot of help from Oprah et al. ), Airborne started flying off the shelves at major retailers like CVS ( CVS ), Walgreens ( WAG ), Target ( TGT ), and Wal-Mart ( WMT ). And, despite getting smacked with a $22.3 million class action lawsuit and an FTC fine for false advertising in 2008, this "overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill" is still on the market -- only accompanied by a disclaimer.
It's basic physics: Instability plus motion equals rock-hard glutes. Right?
If the "secret" behind toning shoes lies in an elevated and tottering base of support that pushes the lower body out of equilibrium and thereby forces it to work harder to stay balanced, high heels would have already done the trick.
Each shoemaker's version of the body-shaping footwear varies slightly -- from the "rocker sole" to the "air-filled pod" -- but all have the same pseudoscience in common. Thankfully they've all also been duly debunked (and, in some cases, even considered dangerous ) by fitness and medical experts. Too bad it wasn't until hundreds of millions had been shelled out by consumers envious of Kim Kardashian's, er, glutes.
At least for those duped into buying the Skechers ( SKX ), Reebok, and New Balance brands of toning shoes, class action lawsuits are offering financial restitution.
Sometimes products intended to relieve specific ailments perpetuate the problem at best and, at worst, actually turn out to be their very cause. Such is the case with the insidiously addictive ChapStick (PFE), which has left us with a self-fulfilling malady on our lips.
Read the label. If the active ingredients are camphor, phenol, menthol, or alcohol, all you're doing is making that pucker drier and more cracked, leaving you to reapply and exacerbate the problem. "It's a vicious cycle of trying to keep up," says Gary Slaughter, a dermatologist with Charlotte Dermatology in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Of course, there are all-natural balms on the market without these parching chemicals, but one of the best and cheapest chapped lip remedies is the tried-and-true yellow and blue. Vaseline (UN) puts a healthy moisture lock -- not just on lips, but on (gasp!) faces, too.
Anti-Aging Creams With AHA
Now that we're on the subject...
Though I'll refrain from hijacking this article into a forum espousing the virtues of petrolatum (incidentally, Marilyn Monroe's personal beauty secret), I will use it to expose the quackery that is wrinkle cream.
That youthful glow you're getting from your skincare regimen may actually be a sunburn. Though women enlist anti-aging creams in their fight against time, those containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can instead act as molecular double agents.
With the worst offenders being chemical peels, the dermatological community largely agrees that lotions containing a greater than 10% concentration of AHAs increase UV sensitivity in skin, resulting in sunburn, changes in pigmentation, and cellular damage. AHAs have also been found to worsen skin conditions in those with sensitive skin by causing irritation and removal of the top layer of skin cells.
In 2005, the FDA began recommending that sunburn alerts be applied to the labels of AHA products and advised using sunscreen for up to a week after using the product.
Now that we're on the subject...
Just make sure it's not Coppertone (MRK), Banana Boat (ENR), or Neutrogena (JNJ) because, according to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), these leading brands are among the least effective in blocking sun and the most hazardous to our health .
Of the nearly 1,000 name-brand sunscreens investigated by the EWG in "a detailed review of hundreds of scientific studies, industry models of sunscreen efficacy, and toxicity and regulatory information housed in nearly 60 government, academic, and industry databases," a staggering 80% aren't doing their job. This means that most products protect skin against UVA radiation, but also contain potentially toxic chemicals that cause harmful sunlight interactions, hormone balance disruptions, and, when in spray form, lung absorption.
As the result of a class action lawsuit this past March, Merck is no longer allowed to label or market its Coppertone products with the terms "sunblock," "waterproof," "sweatproof," "all day," and/or "all day protection." On the bright side, it looks like Coppertone is still free and clear to call itself "lotion."
There's a reason idiot teenagers are raiding their parents' medicine cabinets and pounding Listerine . At 54-proof, its alcohol content nearly triples that of a Budweiser (BUD). And if adults need another reason to start tossing their alcohol-based mouthwashes, it's not doing their breath any favors, either.
Manufacturers may present their own studies with findings to the contrary, but many medical experts insist that rinses containing alcohol inhibit the flow of saliva and parch out the mouth. Since dry salivary glands can't wash away germs, the mouth becomes a breeding ground for new bacteria and chronic halitosis.
While alcohol-free mouthwashes like TheraBreath and SmartMouth have provided safe and effective alternatives for years, the major brands have finally started hitching their wagon to the health movement. Colgate (CL) offers an Optic White alcohol-free mouthwash, Crest has a Pro-Health line, and Listerine introduced Listerine Zero -- it has managed to prevent any collateral damage to its flagship product by cleverly marketing this new one as merely having a "less intense taste."