What’s In a Name? Bad Science, That’s What

One of the most interesting and thought-provoking books I have ever read is called ‘Bad Science’ and it’s by Ben Goldacre, an Oxford and London-trained doctor who also dedicates much of his time to writing and broadcasting. In his book, he takes a look at many different products and technologies that have more than just blithely sailed under the radar of good science: they’ve gone on to make their manufacturers billions upon billions of dollars in profits.

Ben Goldacre Bad Science
A must-read for anyone and everyone. Dr. Ben Goldacre revives the ailing enquiring mind by exposing the methodology of corporations using ‘science’ to sell. He runs an interesting blog too, which you can check out at http://www.badscience.net.

Any woman (or her husband) will know that when it comes to buying face cream, there are price discrepancies that could feed an impoverished third world country for a week. A 200ml tub of Nivea Crème, or cream if you had to drop the pretence, costs in the region of $3 and is readily available from Clicks, Boots or any other supermarket or pharmacy. I consider this a bargain. Chanel sells a face cream – ostentatiously named Precision Sublimage Serum Essential Regenerating Cream – that, at $375, is one hundred times more expensive. But Chanel is far from the costliest on the market. According to http://www.totalbeauty.com (at the time of writing)

Guerlain’s Orchidee Imperiale Cream Next Generation goes for *cough* $410-$420

Why? Because it contains special ‘molecular extract’ from orchids.

Orlane Crème Royale goes for *choke* $650

Why? Because it contains 24-carat gold and royal jelly (bee’s glandular secretion.)

Expensive face creams
Orlane Crème Royale goes for $650 a pot owing to its content of bee secretion and 24-carat bullshit, I mean, gold.

But the prize has to go to La Prairie Cellular Cream Platinum Rare, at *faint* $1,200, which is more than the standard income of a middle class South African.

Why, Larry, Why? Because its key ingredient is platinum, one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust, which not surprisingly goes for around $1,240 per fine ounce at the time of writing.

Against all Common Sense and Rationality, Platinum Will Make You Look Younger

Wow, impressive! No wonder it’s expensive. With ingredients that require the processing of thousands of acres of expensive and rare flowers, or thousands of tonnes of ore, it’s really no wonder that a tiny pot of cream is so damn expensive. MY question is what on EARTH is platinum going to do for my skin? Platinum is a totally stable and non-reactive metal that, even at high temperatures, is non-corrosive. So coating your face with it may prevent you from rusting IF you were the tin-man from The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve no doubt that the chemists, cellular biologists and other specialists these multi-billion dollar corporations have working for them could explain how vanilla extract might prevent the early signs of skin aging, or how 24-carat gold might make my face look more radiant. But I’m even more certain that there are abundant cheaper alternatives that do EXACTLY the same thing. Under a microscope, vitamin E oil from rare orchids that grow exclusively on the island of Madagascar looks exactly the same as vitamin E oil from something as commonplace as sunflowers.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

expensive face creams

Keeping your skin looking healthy and young is about keeping it hydrated, which also means staying out the sun and avoiding habits such as tobacco smoking. And Dr. Ben Goldacre explains this beautifully in Chapter 3 of his book Bad Science (seriously, give it a read!) If you look at the list of ingredients on the tubs of these various moisturizing creams, there is almost zero different between the $3 tub of Nivea and $300 tub of Chanel. The difference that can be found lies in the addition of super strange and exotic ingredients that are almost always impossibly hard to find. You’re also paying for the brand name, which I can assure you does sweet FA for your skin.

It’s the schism between science and society that enables these cosmetic companies (and many, many other big brand names) to charge you an obscene amount of money for products that are essentially the same as their inexpensive and unpretentious counterparts. Trust me. If it had to be shown in a number of controlled scientific trials that, for example, gibbon ejaculate could reduce the evidence of aging more effectively than your standard moisturizer’s ingredients, I’m sure it would be huge news, complete with captivating headlines…

“Monkey Comes to the Rescue of Your Aging Skin”

“The Fountain of Youth Discovered!”

Refuse those highly processed headlines and do the truth-seeking yourself. And the next time you consider spending more than $50 on face cream, ask yourself how many monkeys were touched inappropriately to bring this product to you.

angry funny gibbon monkey

Author: Thea Beckman

Domain Eukarya, kingdom Animalia (Metazoa), phylum Chordata, class Mammalia, order Primates, family Hominidae, genus Homo, species Homo sapiens, subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens... essentially. I have a Master's Degree in Atmospheric science, which doesn't entitle me to be generous with my opinion, but my sense of self importance does! I love writing, I love science, I love reading, but I'm not nuts about long walks on the beach. Short to medium walks are preferable. This is my blog and I have something important to say: https://whybecausescience.wordpress.com/

13 thoughts on “What’s In a Name? Bad Science, That’s What”

  1. People usually underestimate my age, and then ask me what I use on my skin. My answer: generic sunscreen. And a hat.

    I don’t smoke, I stay out of the sun, and I avoid all those “skin-care regimens” that wind up with you spending way too much time every day putting some combination of expensive cleansers and creams on your face. I wash my face every so often, but not every day. With soap. Some kind of bar soap from WalMart that smells nice will do just fine. Then a dab of generic lotion is fine, and you don’t need separate hand creams and face creams and foot creams. One bottle of something labeled “lotion” will suffice for everything.

    I remember years ago, as a young army wife, being invited to some cosmetic party that was hawking some kind of crazy-expensive royal jelly face cream. And another time I got roped into a MaryKay party, tried their face stuff, and broke out the next day with the worst zit I’ve ever had. I’m sticking with soap.

    1. I absolutely agree with you. I cringe to see how many people tan their faces… the sun has the most potent ageing effect upon your skin, so I stay well out of it as much as I can. Smoking is also terribly ageing. The take-home message is that the elasticity of your skin is maintained through moisturization and you don’t need excessively expensive face creams to do that. You could literally wear vaseline on your face and achieve the same results. I’m 30 and I look quite a bit younger than a lot of my friends – who are already developing deep laugh lines and the like – and I’ve never used anything more sophisticated than Nivea moisturising cream (with SPF) on my face. I should probably also mention that I come from fabulous genetic stock: my parents are both in their 70’s and they look at least 10 years younger than they are 🙂

  2. Well you made me laugh – to think that anyone would spend $1200 on a pot of “tin” cream!! More money than sense as my mother would say!

    1. I know… $1200. That could literally feed an orphanage for a month here in South Africa. I wish someone would reveal that fact to those idiots who spend that amount of money on face cream. Even if I was a billionaire, on principle alone, I’d refuse to spend that.

  3. ‘molecular extract’? Wow, I wonder which distant jungle they had to trek through for days on end before they reached the only known site where such a rare and curious skin-suppling substance could be harvested.

    Read this book a few years back. Couldn’t agree more on your suggestion. It’s an excellent book. I know people tend to overuse terms like “essential reading”, but there are a few that do seem to fit the bill. And Bad Science is one of them.

  4. Absolutely funny and great post, Thea! I ended up buying the book on my Kindle just after reading your post. I was like – ‘How did I miss this one,…I got to have this book!’ 😀

    Thanks for sharing.

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