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Drinkable Sunscreen Snakeoil

Avoid-sunburn-sunscreen-cartoon-suntan

In May, prompted by an uncritical article in the Daily Mail, the internet was buzzing about a company that was offering drinkable sunscreen. This is one of those game-changer health products that immediately garners a great deal of attention.

At first the claim seems extraordinary, but it is not impossible. It is theoretically possible to drink a substance that becomes deposited in the skin and absorbs or reflects UV radiation providing protection. However, upon reading the details it becomes immediately apparent that the product in question is pure snake oil.

The product is Harmonized Water by Osmosis Skin Care. In fact, UV protection is just one claim among many for the harmonized water line of products. The website claims:

  • Remarkable technology that imprints frequencies (as standing waves) onto water molecules.
  • Advances in the ability to “stack” thousands of frequencies onto one molecule.
  • Revolutionary formula allows us to reverse engineer the frequencies of substances found in nature and/or the human body.
  • Newly identified frequencies that have beneficial effects on the body.

The website does include the “quack Miranda warning:”

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The product list also includes this further disclaimer: “Recommended for (but not meant to replace effective medications):”

And is then followed by a long list of harmonized water products with the conditions they are “recommended for,” including arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, asthma, depression, and many others.

Despite the aggressive disclaimers, I do believe that mentioning specific diseases by name violates FDA regulations. I did file a complaint with the FDA but never heard back.

This is a common snake-oil scam – selling “magic” water for one thing or another. The basic idea is that you can give special properties to ordinary water, and that somehow the water will retain these properties. Homeopathy, of course, is the grandfather of all such water woo. Ionized water, imprinted water, and energized water are all variations on this common theme.

The harmonized water is also playing off another common snake oil theme – reference to “vibrations.” There are multiple layers of nonsense in this particular claim. The first is that “standing waves” of specific frequencies can be imprinted onto water molecules. This is nonsense. Waves are just a form of energy, and energy has a way of being conducted away or dissipating as heat. If you did vibrate water molecules that would just heat the water, and then of course that heat would equilibrate with the environment according to the laws of thermodynamics.

The very basis of these claims, therefore, does not make any sense in terms of physics or chemistry.

But then they go on to claim that specific frequencies have been linked to specific medical conditions. So, asthma can be treated, they claim, by drinking water allegedly imprinted with one or more frequencies. This is incoherent nonsense with no basis in physiology or medicine. What is the “frequency” of asthma?

If the claims being made by this company were true, then the “founder and formulator” Dr. Ben Johnson would be up for several Nobel Prizes, in physics, chemistry, and medicine. It’s a huge red flag when a company claims to have made a remarkable breakthrough, especially when their claims require several remarkable breakthroughs simultaneously.

Another red flag is when such breakthrough claims are made in the complete absence of a scientific paper trail. Where are all the published research papers establishing the fundamental claims of this new stunning medical technology?

There is a tab for “research” on the Osmosis website. There you will find this:

Please note, customers must first complete the registration form and be approved. This is a necessary precaution taken in order to protect our customers. Once approved, you will have access to purchase and view professional only content. Approval generally takes 1-2 business days. You will receive an email once your account has been approved.

So I have to register and possibly pay for the privilege of looking at published scientific research? Why not just provide references I can look up myself? Apparently they are just protecting me from something. I wonder what that could be.

Conclusion

The Daily Mail completely failed in its reporting of this item. They missed the real story – the peddling of blatant snake oil with unsubstantiated claims. The UV protection is also just the tip of the iceberg, just one of many unsubstantiated medical claims.

I think the media could be educating the public to recognize the red flags of dubious products:

  • Make claims that sound too good to be true
  • Claim multiple simultaneous scientific breakthroughs
  • Lack of documented scientific research establishing basic principles
  • Use of technobabble that does not make it clear what is actually happening
  • Disclaimers that essentially say the claims are not evaluated and you shouldn’t actually rely on the product to do what it says
  • Long lists of many different conditions the product can treat

Those are just the ones relevant to this particular product. There are others, such as claims of a conspiracy to suppress their product or service, reference to ancient wisdom, and claims that the treatments are “all natural.”

A fellow skeptic in New Zealand reported the New Zealand distributor of this product to their Advertising Standards Authority, and the complaint was upheld, resulting in the removal of the drinkable sunscreen from their website. Unfortunately my complaint to the FDA went nowhere and the company is still free to claim that their magic water is “recommended for” a variety of specific conditions and diseases.

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements

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60 thoughts on “Drinkable Sunscreen Snakeoil

  1. Mark O'Leary says:

    Isn’t the claim to be able to imprint a ‘standing wave’ vibration essentially the same as saying they can heat water up in a way that it never cools down? And if they could do that, wouldn’t they be better exploiting infinite energy generation from temperature gradients than selling sun cream?

    1. EBMOD says:

      A standing wave, for those of us who prefer reality, is when for example a sound frequency is played into length of pipe that corresponds to that frequency. You can end up with a ‘standing wave’ where the node points don’t move. A good example of this is those PVC pipes with small holes emitting natural gas, which are then lit on fire. If you play a speaker into one end of the pipe, you will see how the nodes affect the flow of NG out of the holes and a sinusoidal pattern is seen in the outline of the flame profiles…

      1. EBMOD says:

        Figured I should throw a link of what I am talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AIu32p2OOs

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Holy crap.

          I have zero practical skills and virtually no understanding of physics. How bad an idea is it to try to replicate this in my living room?

          1. Andrey Pavlov says:

            Ruben’s tubes are awesome. I certainly want to build one.

            But WLU, if you are going to make a Ruben’s tube I say go big or go home. And play some dubstep.

          2. EBMOD says:

            I see absolutely no reason why building one could possibly be a bad idea. Do it.

    2. Calli Arcale says:

      Indeed! It’s amazing, with all the claims made for stuff like homeopathy and reiki and the like that nobody ever seems to find a way to make some *real* money off it and use it for power generation or data storage or stuff like that. Seriously, this stuff would all imply completely new physics. It should be as revolutionary as the harnessing of electricity was. Yet, after all this time . . . nothing. It never seems to work in less, shall we say, *subjective* contexts.

    3. Frederick says:

      That or they invented a BAD ASS thermos! Your drinks never cools down or warms up lol.

  2. Mark Hanna says:

    Thanks for mentioning my complaint, Steve. It was submitted under a newly formed sceptical advocacy group, the Society for Science Based Healthcare, which shares many values with the Society for Science Based Medicine.

    There’s another write up of this particular complaint and a couple of others that were released at the same time on the society’s website: http://sbh.org.nz/news/drinkable-sunscreen-hard-to-swallow

  3. thetentman says:

    Thanks for the post. I have hated them on facetrash and left unfavorable comments on Amazon which should also be chastised for allowing this claptrap on their site.

    1. Windriven says:

      “Amazon which should also be chastised for allowing this claptrap on their site.”

      Chastise away, tentman. Amazon could give a sh!t. Just keep buying from them because you’re* too lazy to shop elsewhere or too cool to buy a real paper book from a local bookseller. Amazon started with a great idea and it executed it well. Now it is just another mega-business. With huge sales and huge profits (which it is investing in becoming an even bigger business) comes enormous clout. You are now Amazon’s b!tch and you’ll be happier if you just shut your mouth and start shopping for Christmas, ’cause like its never too early.

      Keep buying so the Obamas have someone to invite to the White House for meaningful discussions about the future of retailing.

      *the ‘you’ is not aimed at you, tentman. It is aimed at all of us including this humble commenter.

  4. Alcharisi says:

    Isn’t drinkable sunscreen normally marketed under the trade name “Malibu Coconut Rum”?

  5. Windriven says:

    “I did file a complaint with the FDA but never heard back.”

    I wonder if FTC might be a better fit as they are making claims (standing waves, etc.) that are demonstrably false and therefore constitute false and misleading advertising.

    “What is the “frequency” of asthma?”
    88.9MHz.

    1. EBMOD says:

      Where I live I think that is NPR. Hm. (Disclaimer: I love NPR)

      1. Windriven says:

        It is where I live too. It was the first frequency that popped into my mind.

    2. tmac57 says:

      No,no no! You’ve gotten it all wrong. Here’s what you do:

      1.Determine the frequency that a disease occurs in a population,say 1 in a thousand for example.
      2.Next you use an oscillator to induce that frequency into a container of purified water.
      3.Then you flash freeze the water,thus trapping the frequency in ice.
      4.Place the container in an hermetically sealed freezer,where the water slowly sublimates,leaving only the pure freeze dried frequency,which is now shelf stable.
      5.Using a special vacuum cleaner with a quantum nano filter,you suck up the freeze dried frequency,
      6.Finally you empty the contents of the vacuum into more purified water,and then drink it within a prescribed time based upon the frequency of the disease.
      This is just simple science guys! Even a fifth grader can see that!

      1. Bruce says:

        “Finally you empty the contents of the vacuum”

        Love it.

        1. tmac57 says:

          Finally! Someone who appreciates my paradigm shifting genius ! ;)

        2. EBMOD says:

          Only possible if its a quantum vacuum.

          1. Bruce says:

            If you have one molecule left in there is that called a Quantum of Solace?

            1. tmac57 says:

              That is of minimum comfort…

  6. TomJL says:

    “The Daily Mail completely failed in its reporting…”. You can just copy and paste this when discussing any article from the Mail, it’s the default mode.

    1. EBMOD says:

      Indeed. To put it in terms for us in the USA, Daily Mail is effectively the bastard child of Foxnews and The Enquirer…

  7. Earthman says:

    Do not ever believe anything published in the Daily Mail. They see an opportunity to show a cute lady in a bikini – they think no further than that. Utter rubbish from cover to cover.

  8. simba says:

    The Daily Mail succeeded in their reporting. They got a ‘story’ out of it. It is completely irrelevant to them whether or not it is true- from their point of view if you’ll believe their story you probably shouldn’t be given use of a credit card anyway.

    If the makers of this product were making perfectly sensible claims about what it is and what it did, then it would be the reporter’s job to make them say something crazy to get a better story out of it.

  9. MTDoc says:

    An excellent link on water scams is http://www.chem1.com. The blog is written by Steve Lower, a real biochemist, and in the true tradition of science. From the home page go to aquascams, and you will find all the ammo you need to debunk all the magic water claims. Of course, it won’t change the minds of most people that believe this stuff.

    My neighbor, a nice lady (and a reflexologist) kindly offered to get me a magic water machine wholesale. It was really hard to keep a straight face, but there was nothing to be gained by trying to educate her, so I just took the literature and said thank you. Same thing I do when offered a copy of the “watch tower”.

    1. Windriven says:

      I am less generous than you, MTDoc. The Watch Tower is like a red cape to a bull!

      1. Serge says:

        If I see them coming up the path I open the front door stark naked and say: “You’ll have to hurry, I’m in the middle of sacrificing a goat.”

      2. n brownlee says:

        Just your common-or-garden non-Trinitarian chiliastic Christian sect… no threat to anything except rational thought.

      3. MTDoc says:

        Somehow I became the “preferred provider” for many of the local JW. This included OB and surgery, which meant I had to deal with the blood thing. When called to a head on crash one night, there was “my patient” with, among other things, a ruptured spleen and lacerated liver. We got him through surgery without blood somehow, but he was mighty pale. For adults it was a decision they would have to make. For children, I had the district judges home number, which I fortunately never had to use for this purpose.

      4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        I keep waiting for some JWs to show up, so I can say to them, “Have you considered atheism? You wouldn’t have to spend your Saturdays doing this.”

        Sadly they just drop off their toilet paper and walk away. I must admit I’m a little disappointed.

        I did talk to some many years back, and the level of thought was just soooooo shallow. Nice people, not deep thinkers.

        1. n brownlee says:

          “I did talk to some many years back, and the level of thought was just soooooo shallow. Nice people, not deep thinkers.”

          Yes. I grew up there- not just my immediate family but both of my parents’ families. Most of my cousins and one of my siblings are still active in the religion. I spent some little part of my early adulthood bitterly resentful – I’m pretty bright but was actively discouraged and even prevented from any education beyond early high school. (I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDAH!)

          Like all sects, cults, and some rock and roll, it’s not just a religion. It’s your faith, but it’s also your family, your friends, often your job (many JWs work in the same types of jobs and actively network for employment) As you might imagine, they are KILLER salesmen). It’s almost every bit of information you get- it’s filtered through the organization. And you really don’t want to buck the organization- ostracization is swift and comprehensive, and you lose the aforementioned family, friends, etc.; the whole network of your life. It’s not Scientology- they don’t murder people- but, they don’t need to.

          1. Thor says:

            Never would have thunk. You’ve obviously come a looong way. Whew…
            Interesting touch including (some) rock and roll. I see your point—black metal, punk and glam come immediately to mind.
            Hey n, we seem to be off topic again (I can’t resist when it comes to rock), but it’s always enjoyable, and a bit of mental relief amongst the mainly academic rigor of the site. No worries—we’re not the only ones, lol. I, for one, usually enjoy all the comments. So much mental acuity and creativity is on display. Restores a bit of faith in humanity.

            1. n brownlee says:

              Oh- I’ve been away from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society for a long time! More than fifty years, in fact. I was never baptized into the faith- they didn’t, in my youth, usually baptize very young children, and I just wouldn’t be baptized, as a teen- so I was never “disfellowshipped”; that is, formally shunned and forcibly ejected. I still see my family, including the JWs.

              But you know, when you grew up in a sausage factory, it makes you very, very careful about what you swallow. :)

  10. Chris Hickie says:

    A standing wave is what these quacks do as they take their marks’ money and disappear into the sunset.

  11. drongo says:

    Coincidentally, today’s news has reports on the Surgeon General calling for action to reduce melanoma. E.g. from the NY Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/30/science/surgeon-general-calls-for-action-to-reduce-skin-cancer-rate.html
    “Nearly five million Americans are treated for skin cancer every year, at an average annual cost of $8.1 billion, according to the report. Over the last three decades, the number of people with skin cancer has grown higher than that of all other cancers combined, according to the report. Each year, about 9,000 people die from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. …”
    (Incidentally, the comments from the Indoor Tanning Association in that article sound a lot like the tobacco industry. )

    1. simba says:

      I do not understand why people can’t just use fake tan. Yes, it often smells awful, but it’s really popular in some places. Or, y’know, wear sunscreen and put up with your godawful, healthy, normal-looking cancer-free skin. Monstrous normal-looking freak as you are.

      As Leo Varadkar says, ‘Pale is beautiful’ (the Irish Health Minister).

      1. Spectator says:

        How about moderate sun exposure, leading to a moderate tan, slowly.

        White skin is probably pale so as to admit more sun, which one needs up to a point. Wait a while, and lack of sun will be found to be a contributor to various disorders. Dramatic departures from the habits humanity has lived with for 50,000 years rarely turn out to be good.

        At one time, the clever folks believed exercise to be a bad thing, over-stressing the heart and such. They ignored that we now call exercise was the normal state of life when water had to be carried; extraordinary is sitting at a desk. Same goes for total exclusion of all UV on your skin. Burning or tan addiction is bad news, no doubt.

        1. simba says:

          Eh, if you’re as pale as I am, there is probably no level of ‘deliberate’ sun exposure which is moderate. I would imagine it depends heavily on your skin type.

          Orange is the popular skin colour for a lot of people I know though- and that involves lots of lying in the sun without sunscreen or with baby oil on.

        2. simba says:

          There are some groups who suffer from not enough sun exposure: the classic one is black people in Britain, or women of middle-eastern descent who adhere to exposure-limiting cultural dress while in more northern countries, or people in institutions. Those people need vitamin D supplementation. I wonder if agorophobics could fall under those categories?

          1. Missmolly says:

            Doctors in training – I got down to a Vit D of 12nmol/l after 2.5 years of working what felt like perpetual night shifts and weekends. Only found out coz I did an endocrinology term and got curious. Gosh I felt better after a 150,000iu stoss dose- although in my N=1 study that feeling may well represent placebo effect :)

            1. KayMarie says:

              You see similar things with “graduate student palor” Especially once you get your classes done and no longer are forced to walk between buildings a couple of times a day.

              I did a stint in a fluorescent microscopy lab for one project (lights off all day long) during the winter. I had to start taking 15 minute sunshine breaks 3X a day as it really started messing with my sense of wellbeing to drive to work in the dark, drive home in the dark, and spend all day in the dark.

        3. Calli Arcale says:

          “Wait a while, and lack of sun will be found to be a contributor to various disorders. Dramatic departures from the habits humanity has lived with for 50,000 years rarely turn out to be good. ”

          Well, there’s an easy one: rickets. It’s been known about since antiquity, actually; some of our “dramatic departures” are actually not within the past century but the past five thousand or so years. Building cities, making clothing, moving into more northerly climates, ritual taboos on bare skin or nursing mothers*, etc.

          *A fair number of cultures require that women from the end of the pregnancy through weaning must remain indoors, and some add superstitions about sunlight being harmful and will even close all the window shutters. This is, of course, tragically opposite to the truth, and rickets is more common in these societies as a result.

      2. Bruce says:

        You haven’t seen pale until you have lived in the north of Scotland for a year or two…

  12. Frederick says:

    Like a always say, ” le Soleil c’est agréable a L’ombre” . ( I won’t translate it, work your french a little). This woo is dangerous, because people can get severe sun burn and risk of cancer. I do think that most people won’t buy into it, it is so over the top.

    My Wife is a type 1 skin, I think, Like super sensitive to the sun and at high risk of skin cancer. So she does not expose herself. When she do, she use high FPS sunscreen. Seriously, She can’t really tan, Only her feet can tan. Her skin is this beautiful, milky white ( she’s 35 and her skin is super soft and smooth like a 20 years old), and become red with bad sun burn if she does not protect herself, like in 10 min.

    Me on the other hand, I can tan a lot, I even look a little Mediterranean when I’m tanned, despite the fact that I’m totally Quebecois ( well i think i have a little Irish from my grand grand mother). But Since I’m with her ( 12 years this year) I do take more care of my sun exposition, I wear a hat ( And I have a cool hat now! ), use 60 fps sunscreen when going to the beach/pool.
    In 2006 we went to Thailand a month, and 2009 we went to Egypt a month too. I had my a hat all the times, sunscreen and even a long sleeve Uv blocking shirt some time ( like walking for 3 hours on the pyramid site). But in both of those country we saw tourists barely protected against the sun, EVEN KIDS! I remember, in the island of Ko tao in Thailand seeing that pregnant women, with her little blond fair skin sun son wearing short clothing and NO HAT! what the hell lady?

    I also remember couple of years a go, hearing on our NPR a pro-nudist guy talking about how the sun is natural and that you sweat protect you from the sun. Yeah buddy, UV light is you friend!

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      le Soleil c’est agréable a L’ombre

      “Always fight an umber hulk in full sun”? I think you’re confusing them with vampires.

      UV light is like so many things, both good and bad. Helps you generate vitamin D, gives you skin cancer, kills bacteria, makes you go blind. Simplistic narratives that try to make anything just good or bad is a pretty strong signal that you’re dealing with ideology, not facts.

      1. Frederick says:

        The meaning is “the sun is enjoyable in the shade”, sounds better to me in french, But I like your expression. Of course it help you with Vitamins D, and it is always the excuse for “pro-tan” people, but you need what? couple of minute per day maximum? Adn the funny think about tan, a lot of people who care about their appearance and their look, will go get Tan, and then complain about aging. They are better off with spray tan, which make them looks like a roasted Chicken.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Spray tans are hilarious, so obviously fake looking. I don’t understand why people bother.*

          You only need a couple minutes per day to meet the RDI; the RDI itself is set to be adequate for the vast majority of people i.e. it’s artificially high. What you specifically need is unique to you.

          *With the same caveat as the joke “I can always spot a toupee”.

          1. simba says:

            It’s like vitamins- people hear ‘some is good’ and think ‘more is better’. Sun is good for you, sunburns mean your skin is starting to recover from your pasty indoor lifestyle, sunscreen causes cancer and is a product of the conspiracy.

            WLU- I’ve heard that it’s about 5-15 minutes a day of sunlight you need. I would imagine that would need to be fairly strong sunlight to get any kind of a tan.

  13. Entropydave says:

    It’s the Daily Mail, what do you expect? Probably the worst newspaper in the entire world – and that’s probably understating it.

  14. Michael LeGower says:

    You should definitely file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. I can’t opine on the merits of this particular case, but it certainly seems like the substantiation of the claims is worth looking in to.

  15. Daniel says:

    Carotenoids, taken in large enough amounts, are a partial sunscreen. If you take enough per day, regularly (for months) it would be like SPF 15 or so.

    I don’t know that this has been studied, but if you drink enough carrot juice you can see the carotene in your palms. It’s not just there, it’s in your skin everywhere.

    So you can drink your sunscreen, if your drink is carrot juice.

    1. n brownlee says:

      And you believe that carotene in your skin protects you from the sun… how? How does it shield you from UV radiation? Or anything else?

      1. Chris says:

        “Carotenoids, taken in large enough amounts, are a partial sunscreen. If you take enough per day, regularly (for months) it would be like SPF 15 or so.”

        Citation needed. Seriously. Really. You have just made an extraordinary claim, so you need provide some real evidence.

        1. KayMarie says:

          http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/3/795.full

          Um SPF is more like 2.5-3.

          Not sure if you were eating enough carrots to actually turn your skin orange.

          1. Chris says:

            When I was a teenager in the early 1970s I knew those who got the orange look quite quickly by applying a lotion that was supposed to make one look like they were tan. I think it was something called “instant tan.” It worked as well as the peroxide bleaches that turned brown hair orange or the other hair rinses that turned gray hair blue.

            Since I don’t tan, my skin just gets more freckles with a background of red burned skin, I stuck to sun block. I was an early adopter of sun screen. As a person with freckles and light red hair who grew up in the tropics, I am always on the lookout for skin cancer as I approach my sixth decade.

            1. n brownlee says:

              Yeah- Fake’N'Bake is still around, but it looks a little better these days. At fifteen (1963), I was seduced by one of the earliest of those products because I thought the name was so clever- Tanfastic. I was orange for weeks.

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