Consumers are bombarded daily with the latest, "greatest" and newest techniques or products out there -- all meant to make you become younger and "more beautiful." The reality is that many of these products do not live up to the hype. In fact, their claims can be misleading, overstated and dangerous. (See the definition for snake oil salesman!)
Common examples of what I believe are phony "pitches" include:
-Fat-busting drugs and supplements that melt fat away without diet or exercise;
-Facial creams that erase all wrinkles and turn back the clock 20 years;
-Creams that eliminate cellulite or stretch marks;
-The new magical cosmetic surgical procedure that is minimally invasive and instantly transforms you into a younger, better looking individual with no downtime, no complications and no scars!
So my mantra when it comes to cosmetic products and procedures is: show me the science! And I am not talking about fake testimonials or anecdotal experiences. I want to know if the product or procedure works, how well it works and if it can cause harm.
Clinical trials are objective scientific studies performed by doctors or scientists to prove that a procedure or product works. Preferably, investigators have no financial stake in what they are testing and are completely unbiased. Are there legitimate, published, non-biased scientific studies that clearly demonstrate the outcomes and risks of these products or procedures?
Fat-busting pills deliver only if combined with diet and exercise! Miracle creams that are supposed to completely erase wrinkles, cellulite or stretch marks work minimally or not at all. Glitzy advertising campaigns utilizing famous, beautiful models or actors create the illusion that everyone can look younger and better by using the products that these idols claim to use. Magazine advertisements often use photographs enhanced by Photoshop to drive home their point.
We should be especially aware of "trendy" cosmetic surgery procedures. These operations are often hyped-up by the media who understand that the general population is always looking for something new when it comes to cosmetic surgery. These procedures easily garner instant attention. The problem is that very often these "new procedures" have not been examined or evaluated by peer review groups that test their safety, efficacy and duration.
Take the "vampire facelift" for example; the latest "hot" cosmetic procedure which has been enjoying a lot of press. Practitioners draw blood from a patient, spin it in a centrifuge to separate the platelets and then inject the platelets into the face. They hope to stimulate new collagen production and provide a "natural facelift" using the patient's own ingredients, called platelet-rich fibrin matrix (P.R.E.M.). Supporters of the procedure claim that it is an effective filler used to augment hallowed cheeks and wrinkles, lasting up to two years.
The problem, I believe, is that I'm not aware of any scientific proof that the vampire facelift even works! "There simply isn't any objective data out there supporting the claim of two years," Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel, a board certified plastic surgeon and spokesman for Physicians Coalition for Injectable Safety, told The New York Times. Some doctors who tout the procedure as a modern medical miracle are paid consultants working for the company who backs the procedure. In fact, the FDA has not approved or cleared the system to be marketed for facial rejuvenation.
Similarly, a new liposuction device involves "laser technology." (Laser liposuction -- very sexy?) Several manufacturers now market the machine as safer and more effective than traditional liposuction. However, there simply are no medical studies that exist to back up this claim.
Another company promoting a quick and easy facelift boasted a long list of satisfied customers on websites who were thrilled with their results. However in 2009, the company was forced to remove the ads and pay a $300,000 fine after being investigated by then New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "The company had ordered employees to pretend they were satisfied customers and write glowing reviews of its facelift procedure on websites," according to The New York Times.
My best advice? Use common sense and do your homework! If a product or procedure sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't rely on testimonials from strangers. And remember -- you not only run the risk of losing a lot of money if you try a potentially unsafe product or procedure -- you put yourself in harm's way.
Longevity is a good thing. Many hot, new, exciting procedures or products fizzle out fast when it is apparent that they don't work or cause harm. I prefer to wait for clinical trials or tests to be performed by professionals with no monetary stake in the results. I tell my patients not to be guinea pigs.
Don't be naïve -- look for the science!
"There's a sucker born every minute" -- P.T. Barnum
Follow Robert Tornambe, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertMTornambe