How fake science and catchy buzzwords are used to market an…



Companies often try to cash in on fads like adaptogens and activated charcoal, which you can find listed on items including cookie packaging and toothpaste tubes. Even ingredients that are known to be effective can be manipulated: Beauty and skin care brands, for instance, might use 0.2 per cent of Vitamin C in a moisturiser even though evidence shows the amount would need to be higher to have any effect, said Michelle Wong, a cosmetic chemist who runs the blog Lab Muffin Beauty Science and helped popularise the term “science washing” in beauty circles.

This is why it isn’t necessarily helpful to scour a scientific-looking list of ingredients, she said. Most don’t say much about the quality or quantity of each ingredient, nor how it interacts with other ingredients or its stability – all of which affects efficacy.


Manufacturers use words without clear and specific definitions, like “aids”, “promotes”, “supports”, “stimulates”, “boosts” and “optimises” to suggest positive health outcomes. There’s no quantifiable way to measure an ambiguous word like “support”, said Jonathan Jarry, a scientist and science communicator with McGill University’s Office for Science and Society.

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