No.Or you can walk through the grocery store or pharmacy without bumping into health labels. In the drinks section, you can find “prebiotic” soft drinks that are supposed to support “gut health.” In the beauty department, you’ll see “medical” serums, “probiotic” face creams, and “skin detox” treatments. In the supplement section, you’ll find promises of “immune support,” “hormonal balance,” and “energy boost.”
Retailers have used scientific-sounding buzzwords to sell products for centuries, but according to Timothy Caulfield, research professor of law and health policy at the University of Alberta in Canada, it’s becoming more common. Caulfield coined the term “operational science” to describe how brands borrow the language of new sciences to market products that have no proven benefits.
According to Caulfield, “exploitation of science” is appearing more than ever in search results, on social media, and in the headlines. influencers.
Consumers are often overwhelmed with confusing choices as more companies position themselves as healthy. According to Sienna Piccioni, analyst and head of beauty at WSGN, a trend forecasting company, consumers are prioritizing scientific data. But they can’t always separate fact from fiction: A 2021 study found that people who trust science are more likely to share false claims containing scientific references than those who don’t.
In December, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised its recommendations for health-related products, emphasizing that companies should back up health promises with “high-quality, randomized, controlled human clinical trials.”
But experts say the commission is unlikely to be able to keep a close eye on how companies sell their products unless they receive a significant increase in funding.
“Too many brands,” said Kevin Klatt, associate research scientist in the Division of Food Science and Toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley.
So for now, we are on our own. But you can prepare. Here are some marketing tactics to keep in mind.
Endless ingredient lists
Companies often try to cash in on fads like adaptogens and activated charcoal found in items like cookie jars and toothpaste. Even ingredients that are considered effective can be manipulated: for example, skincare and cosmetics brands can use 0.2% vitamin C in a moisturizer, although tests show that the amount must be higher to achieve any effect, explains Michel Wong. , a cosmetics chemist who blogs Lab Muffin Beauty Science and helped popularize the term “scientific wash” in beauty circles, which refers to the misleading use of science to market products.
That’s why it’s not always helpful to refer to a scientific-looking list of ingredients. Most say little about the quality or quantity of each ingredient, how it interacts with others, or its stability, all of which affect effectiveness.
Vague terms such as “power”
Manufacturers use words without clear or specific definitions such as “helps”, “promotes”, “supports”, “stimulates”, “enhances” and “optimizes” with the intent to offer positive health outcomes. Jonathan Jarry, a scientist and science communicator at McGill University’s Office of Science and Society, said there is no quantifiable way to measure an ambiguous word like “support.”
Companies that sell supplements that they don’t have to prove effective to the Food and Drug Administration often use the above terms. But often they disclaim responsibility by stating on the bottle that the product “is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
“They want to communicate that the product works, but much less visible on the label itself is the fact that there is no evidence that it works,” said Josh Bloom, director of chemical and pharmaceutical sciences for the American Council on Science and Science. Health. However, people see a word like “support” and may assume that the product is treating their symptoms.
Other phrases such as “clinically proven,” “research-backed,” “doctor recommended,” and “based on evidence” pop up in the cosmetics or personal care department and often don’t have the necessary context to check, she says. . Seeing these terms, the question arises: what were the test results? What was the quality of the study? Who conducted? Was the researcher or endorser a legitimate authority in the field?
Some health product brands include links to research on their websites. But some of them are just a summary of emerging data without any mention of the product in question. Many companies include research unrelated to the promise of a product. The evidence provided by one company “may be a poorly designed study,” said Nick Tiller, principal investigator of exercise physiology at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. “It could be a selective election,” he added.
“What we want to see is the results of really rigorous product research that shows it works,” Jarry said. “But that almost never happens,” he concluded.
If you want to get an idea of a product’s legitimacy, the FTC recommends that you search the Internet for the product’s name, as well as the words “recall”, “complaint”, or “scam”.
Experts also advise checking what professional associations and respected public health organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say about a particular product, protocol, or ingredient.
For example, if an herbal supplement claims to treat high blood pressure, you might want to look at the American Heart Association or the American College of Cardiology, as those organizations often have articles, positional statements, and meta-analyses on the subject, she recommended. Belardo, cardiologist, podcast host Wellness: Fact vs. Fiction”.
And keep in mind that no single ingredient can change your health overnight. Klatt said that if there was a product that really cured everyone, every medical organization would rush to approve it. “Anything that sounds too good to be true is probably too good to be true,” he added.