May 19 2014

Drinkable Sunscreen

Recently the Daily Mail (some like to call it the “Daily Fail”) ran an article reporting, without any critical analysis, that a company is now offering drinkable sunscreen.

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 them 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 have a complaint filed with the FDA and will let you know what they say.

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, do 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.

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 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 list 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 treatment are “all natural.”

I will give an update once the FDA responds to my report.

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Drinkable Sunscreen”

  1. ccbowerson 19 May 2014 at 10:03 am

    The FDA posts pretty detailed guidance with regards to structure/function versus disease claims. Anyone familiar with this guidance realizes that many products on the market are not in compliance with this, but the drinkable sunscreen label is particularly egregious.

    A few relevant quotes from the FDA’s guidance document:

    (Criterion 1)
    “A statement is a disease claim if it mentions a specific disease or class of diseases. For example, a claim that a product is “protective against the development of cancer” or “reduces the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis” would be a disease claim.
    A statement also is a disease claim if it implies that it has an effect on a specific disease or class of diseases by using descriptions of the disease state…

    …No specific adjectives constitute a disease claim. Therefore, words such as “restore,” “support,” “maintain,” “raise,” “lower,” “promote,” “regulate,” or “stimulate” might create an implied disease claim if, in the context they are used, they imply an effect on disease. Similarly, words like “prevent,” “mitigate,” “diagnose,” “cure,” or “treat” would be disease claims if the context of their use implied an effect on a disease.”

    http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/DietarySupplements/ucm103340.htm

    So, even implied disease claims are not allowed (even if the diseases are not explicitly specified), and this label goes beyond that to specifically naming diseases (which is explicitly not allowed for non drugs). Of course, in practice many do get a way with implying disease claims because that is more difficult to evaluate and there are so many products that get close, and cross over that line.

    But in this case it is pretty clear; they mention several diseases explicitly, which is not allowed. Their use of ‘recommended for’ does not save them, as the FDA examples are pretty clear that ‘specific adjectives’ (sic) do not change the interpretation given the naming of specific diseases and given the clear context.

  2. Steven Novellaon 19 May 2014 at 10:28 am

    cc – I agree. That’s why it will be interesting to see the FDA response.

  3. GeoManon 19 May 2014 at 10:37 am

    This type of pseudoscience can potentially be harmful or even dangerous.
    As you said the website lists ‘arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, asthma, depression’, people with these diseases may turn to this garbage for their ‘cure’ instead of real evidence based medicine. Which could have dramatic impacts on individuals, and could even potentially cost lives (eg. Untreated Depression). Who will be responsible if that occurred? I think the FDA has a duty to act on this. This type of thing I think should be prosecutable.

  4. Mlemaon 19 May 2014 at 11:15 am

    Dr. N – thanks for filing that complaint.

  5. johncon 19 May 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Steve – do people really call it the Daily Fail? Regrettably, in light of the continual BS that the rag spews out, it’s actually a very successful product (the second best-selling tabloid and one of the world’s most popular sites). This side of the pond, where its influence is most baleful, it’s often known as the Daily Hate-mail. It’s also been called the Daily Vile and the Daily Hell. I like the Daily Hate.

  6. Gregor Samsaon 19 May 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Frequencies? They must sell Rife machines, too.

  7. bindeweedeon 19 May 2014 at 6:20 pm

    johnc, I am in the UK with a small forum, and we regularly refer to “The Daily Wail”. But your alternative terms are also very appropriate!

  8. Mark Hannaon 20 May 2014 at 8:50 pm

    A news report here in New Zealand has given them some free advertising as well. Thomas Lumley, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Auckland, has written about it on his blog StatsChat: http://www.statschat.org.nz/2014/05/21/revolutionary-new-advertising-success/

    Myself and, hopefully, several other local activists will be complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority about the strong yet unsubstantiated therapeutic claims about “harmonized water” products on their website. They also seem to have other bogus products like “Anti Pathogen” and a “mosquito deterrent”. Not just nonsense, but dangerous nonsense.

    Hopefully the results of these complaints will get similar coverage to what has already been given to the ludicrous claims.

  9. David Doranon 12 Aug 2014 at 9:00 am

    Nice request for evidence by the British Association of Dermatologists

    http://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/skin-cancer/drinkable-sunscreen

    The response contains a lot of nonsense (“This product is FDA exempt since it does not work by altering physiology, it vibrates above the skin”, “the skin is comprised of scalar waves”) but also some testable claims: “we can make water anti-bacterial and anti-fungal by adding scalar waves” and “The water is treated with scalar waves and becomes a pH of 9.5 without adding any substance/ingredient”.

    Perhaps there is a way that I’m unaware of to alter the pH of water without adding any substance, but I’m doubtful about that conferring antimicrobial properties, and am confident that drinking it would provide no UV protection at all.

  10. Mark Hannaon 12 Aug 2014 at 7:25 pm

    David, the pH of pure water actually depends on the temperature. However, that doesn’t mean the water is not neutral; a pH of 7 is only neutral at room temperature.

    http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Physical_Chemistry/Acids_and_Bases/Aqueous_Solutions/The_pH_Scale/Temperature_Dependent_of_the_pH_of_pure_Water

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