As we have seen in numerous posts on The Cow, pseudoscience veritably thrives in all those places where complex processes have subjective outcomes. It does especially well if those outcomes promise big rewards of money, fame or health. One outcome that is primed for exploitation is vanity, and although we’ve covered quite a few areas of jiggery pokery, one that hasn’t made an appearance up till now is the multi billion dollar cosmetics industry. Since it deals with highly subjective issues of appearance, youth and beauty, you can bet your lash-lengthening mascara that we don’t have to look very far in this field before we stumble across hogwash.

A couple of nights ago on tv I saw an ad for a skincare product by Estée Lauder called ‘Advanced Night Repair – Synchronized Recovery Complex’1 that boasted that its wonderful skin revitalizing technology was ‘inspired by DNA research’. Hahahaha! ‘Inspired’ by DNA research! It was such a piece of waffle that it even had Violet Towne, Vermilion and Viridian hooting with derision.2 The crux here of course is that ‘inspiration’ means absolutely toss-all as a credential. I could claim that Tetherd Cow Ahead is ‘inspired’ by Shakespeare but that doesn’t mean that it’s:

•As good as Shakespeare
•Similar in content to Shakespeare or, in fact,
•That it has anything to do with Shakespeare whatsoever.

It could simply mean that I read some Shakespeare and thought: ‘That old Shakespeare was a clever geezer, wasn’t he? You know what? That’s inspired me to start up a blog!’ You could never prove one way or another that this wasn’t the case. The trick is that the makers of this product can happily tell you that they were ‘inspired’ by DNA research (which sounds like it could be impressive) while simultaneously telling you nothing at all.

With that in mind, I did a search for beauty products ‘inspired by DNA research’ and came upon a treasure trove of nonsense. The first stop was a product called PerfectSkin™. Of course the first thing I did was visit the PerfectSkin™ science page, because, as we all know, the science pages of people who are trying to sell you fantastical promises are always good value. I suggest you go to the Perfect Science Labs™ page now and take it in. There will be a quiz when you get back.

OK. Did the pictures of serious (but attractive) women in lab coats and masks convince you? No? How about the blurb:

Perfect Science Labs worked with world renowned chemist and skincare scientist Dr. Ron DiSalvo to incorporate the most recent groundbreaking discoveries in skincare, including patented ingredients to create PerfectSkin’s miracle breakthrough 3D BioRepair Complex. This revolutionary complex inspired by DNA research contains a blast of powerful vitamins, antioxidants, and a patented newly discovered exotic plant enzyme, OGG-1 (8-oxo-guanine DNA glycosylase), that kill harmful free radicals, which attack and damage your healthy skin.3

Jeepers creepers! That sounds like it’s the answer to all of humankinds’ most pressing problems, don’t it!

It appears that when you’ve run out of words like ‘quantum’, ‘magnetic’, ‘energy’ and ‘vibration’ to describe your new dubious product, the newest, hippest, most phantasmagorical epithet you can now add is that it’s ‘3D’. Just excuse me while I fall on my corkscrew. Could there be any more meaningless a grab for credibility? Well, yes, I guess the quickly following ‘inspired by DNA research’ shows us that there can. And if you’re looking for enlightenment in the next bit where ‘OGG1 kills harmful free radicals’, well, let me save you the effort – there ain’t any.

OGG1 is an enzyme implicit in cell repair but evidence for its efficacy as a topical agent is dubious at best. It certainly doesn’t ‘kill’ free radicals. Being about as chemically simple as you can get, free radicals are not actually alive under any interpretation of the concept.4 And anyway, there is much debate about the role of free radicals in respect to human health. The evidence that they cause the kind of aging damage that was once suspected is currently being challenged.

Elsewhere on the PerfectSkin™ site we find the ubiquitous testimonials page. As we have seen with other purveyors of pseudoscience like Shoo!TAG, testimonials are absolutely indispensable when you don’t have actual science on your side. I’d like to reproduce one of the ‘Before & After’ comparisons here for you, but intellectual property issues cause me to err on the side of not getting sued. Go there now and look at any one of the testimonials before reading on.

Without exception, every one of these ‘Before & After’ examples is deceitful.

•Before: Ambivalent expression; bad lighting; shiny face; no makeup.
•After: Happy expression; flattering lighting; professional makeup job; in some cases, digital retouching.

My personal feeling is that if someone is prepared to lie to me quite so badly that I can detect it in seconds, why would I trust anything else they have to say, especially when it invokes technical concepts that are complicated and leave acres of wiggle room?

This kind of deception is not only common in the cosmetic industry, it almost seems de rigueur. Searching further on our term ‘inspired by DNA research’ brings up all manner of doublespeak and flim flam. There is so much of it that I could probably start up a blog completely dedicated to the subject. You can venture on for yourself if you so desire. But before we finish, I’ll leave you with one more colourful example:

This is Morrocco Method Simply Pure Sea Essence Shampoo.

This synergistic blend of enlivened, charged botanicals and hand-picked herbs are mixed, blended, and bottled according to the moon cycles used by ancient farmers.

For the Morrocco Method Sea Essence Shampoo we go to the sea waters off the coast of Brittany, said to be among the cleanest waters on earth. We combine ocean water with living sea plants: algae, kelp and seaweed. Ocean water is practically identical to human blood plasma. Sea vegetables have a uniquely high level of DNA, RNA, and nucleic factors, the building blocks of life itself. As well, this shampoo is chock full of silicon which promotes healthy growth.

Bwahahahaha! What fun. Let’s deconstruct that, shall we:

‘This synergistic blend of enlivened, charged botanicals…’

What the fuck does that even mean?

‘…bottled according to the moon cycles used by ancient farmers.’

And that is efficacious… how?

•’…the sea waters off the coast of Brittany, said to be among the cleanest waters on earth’

‘Said’ by whom? Your mum?

‘Ocean water is practically identical to human blood plasma.’

Well, yeah, depending on your definition of ‘practically identical’. As in ‘Tetherd Cow Ahead is practically identical to the combined works of Shakespeare.’

•’Sea vegetables have a uniquely high level of DNA, RNA, and nucleic factors, the building blocks of life itself.’

I don’t think they have a clue what they’re talking about here: ‘a uniquely high level of DNA’? What does that even mean? And anyway, by inference, WHAT, exactly?

‘As well, this shampoo is chock full of silicon…’

If it was ‘chock full’ of silicon it would be a bottle of sand (and anyway – isn’t it already chock full of DNA?).5

‘…which promotes healthy growth.’

Silicon promotes healthy growth? Why? There’s no silicon in your hair! We’re carbon-based lifeforms you idiot.

Yes folks, no matter how many flavours of silliness you want, the cosmetics industry has them all!

  1. You can almost feel the copywriters hammering that one out… []
  2. It has to be said that I’ve taught them well. []
  3. All emphases in the original []
  4. The terms ‘free radicals’ and ‘antioxidants’ have become buzzwords. If you ask most people about those things they will almost certainly have the view that they are things that are not good for you. But if you ask them why they think that, you’ll find without any shadow of a doubt that they have inherited the notion from the advertising of cosmetic and ‘health’ related products. Try it. You’ll see how right I am! []
  5. I have a suggestion for the makers of Morrocco Method – why not consider homeopathy? Then the product doesn’t have to be chock full of anything. In fact, the less chock full it is, the better! []