At the start of the year, I introduced a new category to the blog, Apothecary. I was keen to share how you could use home-grown plants in your skincare, wellness and household.
But soon, I hit a snag.
Sure, many herbs and plants have historical, therapeutic use. It is much more difficult to source reliable, independent, scientific research that supports the traditional reputation.
So, I dumped more than a few posts I had planned to share. The therapeutic benefit I thought was there, couldn’t be independently substantiated.
In many cases, there was evidence of cautions, contradictions, and risk factors which would detrimentally affect some users.
Then, I got a little grumpy.
It was clear that there are practitioners that are promoting treatments that have no basis in science or fact. And while it may seem harmless to recommend, for example, a fresh comfrey poultice as a treatment for nappy rash, further research cautions that comfrey contains compounds that can cause irritation to broken skin and cause liver damage.
It is fair to say, I quickly became obsessed and discovered many a wellness con, feeding us flimsy cures. I have succumbed to the ideas or products of some of these wellness gurus!
Before long, I noticed a few recurring red flags that I wanted to share with you here today! I hope to help you decide whether you are investing in wellness win or a wellness con.
Wellness Con Red Flags
Spruiking Exotic Ingredients
“The nocturnal excretions of the Antartic horned rainbow slug has properties that eliminate all wrinkles from your skin”
It is true that many of our modern medicines like aspirin were sourced from animals and botanicals that have a traditional therapeutic history. But that doesn’t mean that all natural exotic ingredients have the same value.
The properties of many exotic skincare ingredients like snake venom, nightingale crap, ginseng, placenta, caviar, beestings and royal jelly are completely unproven. Such ingredients are also highly perishable, meaning they need powerful preservatives to ensure they don’t spoil your skincare.
Ingredients like some essential oils and absolutes, have a narrow margin of toxicity. This means that the difference between a safe dose and a poisonous one is tiny.
Exotic ingredients almost always ensure a high price tag. Such exotic ingredients are expensive to source, extract and supply, so you don’t usually find them at the top of the ingredients label. A token amount is usually listed last, on the product label, and may account for less than 1% of the total formulation.
Plus, with such a profit to be made, the risk of “counterfeit” ingredients is high. I couldn’t tell the difference between nightingale and pigeon poop, could you?
Promoting Silver-Bullet Cures
“Just a tablespoon of worm oil a day will make your hair shine, rid your body of inflammation, improve your lucid dreaming and you’ll gain 50 IQ points!”
One product to cure them all! I have seen multiple healing properties attributed to coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, honey, essential oils and celery juice to name just a few!
How wonderful if I could drink, eat and act as I like, with one product to absolve me of all my rubbish life choices! And that’s the hook! As appealing as they are, silver-bullet cures rarely pass the quickest of Google searches. And your Grandma was right, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Attribution of Ancient Wisdom
“According to the ancient wisdom of the Atlanteans, placing a moon-beam charged quartz up your nose for at least 4 hours will strengthen your nostril muscles and deliver peak mental clarity”
While a sporting lunar-loaded-rock up your nose might not appear to cause too much harm, you could be introducing bacteria and risking infection. Besides, it’s a completely unnecessary purchase and action. Your otherwise healthy nostril works just fine without too much intervention aside from an occasional nose-blow.
Let’s also remember that throughout history, people have believed all kinds of crazy stuff, long since debunked by modern science.
Claimed Divinity or Supernatural Powers
“I channelled the spirit of Hippocrates who declared that eating 10 dandelion flowers a day is the universal cure to all your health problems.”
Sometimes, it is hard to argue with people because they just don’t play to the same rules of logic and reason as you do. And this is where we land here. Since I lack the ability to personally speak to the spirit of Hippocrates, how can I possibly prove he didn’t actually say that?
So while many of these healers may have scores of raving fans and followers (usually a book deal too!), it is worth remembering that the placebo effect is a real, extensively studied phenomena too.
Demanding Absolute Trust and Faith Upfront
“You must not doubt, and introduce negative frequencies that will disrupt and sabotage healing powers”
Ah yes, good old faith healing. Not just confined to traditional religions, faith healing is spun in new age circles, under the guise of the power of positive thinking. Not-so-subtly implying that if you haven’t yet experienced a wellness miracle, it’s your own damned, negative-Nancy fault.
One of my favourite quotes is from Richard Dawkins,
“By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.”
Remember the Emperor with no clothes? You don’t want to be that guy.
Pressured with Limited Time Availabilities and Exclusive Offers
“Buy now as we only have 20 jars of our exclusive lip-plumping serum this offer won’t last.”
This is likely the least dangerous kind of con on this list, mostly because manufactured scarcity is a well-worn marketing strategy that plays on our lizard-brain fear of missing out. But the pressure to buy is the point, and for that reason, it is a little grubby in my book.
If a product or service is that good, that popular and that effective, trust me, the supplier will walk over hot coals to deliver it to you, and make more profit in the process.
Referencing Evil Conspiracies
“The medical establishment has so much money invested in toxic medicine, they don’t want to you know you can heal yourself with lavender.”
Grrrrr. This one drives me nuts. Because it is insidiously dangerous and targets already very vulnerable people. Modern medicine may be far from perfect. Mistakes get made. Some treatments have terrible side effects. Sometimes, difficult choices have to be made between patient and doctor to determine if the therapy is worth the cure.
Yet rubbishing all conventional medical treatments throws the baby out with the bathwater. It implies doctors as a profession, are unfeeling, uncaring people, which is untrue.
“I’m an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar-winning actress/supermodel/Nobel Prize winner and I owe it all to this amazing weight loss mist!”
Kim Kardashian was trim way before she started endorsing those weightloss-appetite suppressing-lollipops. I bet she works out like a demon and has people on staff (chefs, personal trainers, makeup artists, nannies and housekeepers) to ensure she stays focused on being fit and slim.
There’s a reason why she can charge a small fortune social media posts! Kim Kardashian’s influence stuffs sales and profit into the pockets of the people who pay her to represent their products. It’s really that simple.
Thankfully, social media platforms like Instagram are already cracking down on such endorsements, restricting posts about diets and cosmetic surgery. But a little common sense would go a long way here.
Why do smart people fall for wellness cons?
We desperately want to believe
Confidence artists appeal to our sense of wanting to belong and wanting to be nice, trusting, good people. Rejecting them, or their product can feel mean-spirited or nasty, even when it is done politely and gently.
Sometimes, what’s on offer seems so good, we can wholeheartedly want it to be true. We will try and make our wellness con work! Especially if we have sunk time, money and mental space into the product or service.
It is reported that only about 25% of all frauds get reported to authorities in Australia. Which means a whopping 75% of people are too embarrassed to report the con, or may still be unaware of the extent of the deception.
The person sincerely believes they are offering value
This is where it gets tricky. Not all cons are people with the intention to score money or prestige.
People are complicated and they may honestly believe they are helping you. I have had people with sincerity and authority tell me glaring mistruths, ones that are easily disproved with a quick Google search! When we deeply believe something to be true, it messes with our cognitive processes when confronted with evidence to the contrary. Of course, that works both ways! We can easily dismiss something because it doesn’t align with our established beliefs.
So How Do We Avoid a Wellness Con?
Keep an eye out for those red flags! A celebrity endorsement or time-sensitive offer might muster a pass if the rest of the product or service is good, but take a moment to recognise it for what it is. If you tally 8 red flags, run!
More importantly, examine why a product or service appeals to you. Know yourself and be honest about your vulnerabilities. If you are unsure, think about it and get a second opinion from a trusted source before you commit.
Have you ever encountered a wellness con? How did you handle it? I would love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.