Detox Supernova in 3D (Part 2)

In my last post I said that Dr. Haley Gomez, a researcher at Cardiff University, had been very busy recently. Not only has she been giving interviews about the 3D supernova remnant model she was involved with, but she has also been promoting another, completely different project: the science of detox (or lack thereof).

Many products in the shops use scientific language to promote their products. At this time of year, following a period of festive excess, many detox products are popular. Detoxing herbal teas, shampoos, facial washes, foot pads and more can be purchased at a premium in Boots, Superdrug and miscellany other shops and pharmacies. Do they work? Well no, not really. It turns out that many of the companies producing these products don’t even agree on exactly what detox means!

33 scientists involved with the Voice of Young Science (part of the Sense about Science charitable group) set out to investigate the idea of detox.

We all agreed that detox being used to sell everything from tea to hair straighteners was implausible and decided to dig deeper to find out what the product manufacturers meant by detox…

Some of the claims they set out to tackle included:

  • Garnier Clean Detox Anti-Dullness Foaming Gel, which “detoxifies by cleansing the skin’s surface”.
  • Innocent Natural Detox Smoothie that “helps neutralise nasty free radicals which can cause damage to your body’s cells”.
  • V-Water Detox, which can “cleanse your system and whisk away the polluting nasties”.
  • My favourite is the Fushi Holistic and Health Solutions Total Detox Patch that “acts as a toxin sink and absorbs impurities through your feet”.

In order to find out how these products worked, the researchers – who all hail from different areas of science – called representatives from the various companies and simply asked them to explain a bit of science behind their products. The approach is so simple that one can hardly argue with it. If the people that make a detox product do not know how it works, or if it works, then I would say the product is not worth buying!

An accompanying dossier includes several transscripts of the conversations with company reps. The one I enjoyed the most was a conversation between chemist Tom Wells and a Boots rep regarding the Boots Detox Body Brush (cost: £4.40).

Boots: Right, okay, the main thing that the detox brush actually does is it’s exfoliating the skin, so it brushes away all those impurities from the body. 

Wells: …Okay, when you say impurities from the skin, what do you mean by that? 

Boots: As in the dead skin cells. 

Wells: Okay, to me, I’m not an expert in this, but a dead skin cell doesn’t sound like an impurity, it sounds more like a part of the body that’s, you know, dead. 

Boots: It is a part of the body that’s wanting to come away so obviously with the detox brush it helps you move that away…

After establishing that Boots had no study or research to validate their claims about the brush, Wells asks if it is in fact any different to just using a flannel?

Wells: But using a relatively abrasive flannel or something like that could remove dead skin cells. 

Boots: Oh yes, certainly. Of course it could, yes. 

Wells: But I rarely see things called detoxing products when they’re just removing dead skin cells.  

Boots: Right, but it is still doing the same thing, it’s detoxing, it’s detoxing the skin. 

Wells: Right, so by detoxing you mean removing dead skin cells? 

Boots: That’s right. 

The conversation essentially ends with an agreement that there is nothing special about the brush at all. This makes charging a premium for it merely a marketing ploy to sell a fairly stiff-bristled brush, when  a simple flannel would do the job perfectly well, by Boots’ own admission.

I’d recommend reading the various conversations in the dossier (PDF link at the end). The ‘Debunking detox’ handout (also below) does outline a tried and medically tested method for detox after a heavily unhealthy period of time:

  1. Drink water to help rehydrate your body
  2. Eat a balanced diet
  3. Get a good night’s sleep

This method may take a little longer than some would like, but it definitely works and you don’t need to pay over the odds for it. I leave with the closing statement by the Voice of Young Science:

We concluded that ‘detox’ as used in product marketing is a myth. Many of the claims about how the body works were wrong and some were even dangerous.

[Full Dossier] [PDF of Handout]

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