While researching my blog post on sunscreen, I did a Google search on “sunscreen ingredients”. Try it now, if you like. Hits four, five and six (and most of the following followed suit) were titled as follows:
- 6 Scary Ingredients in Sunscreen (And 6 Safe SPF Products) (1)
- Why (Most) Sunscreen is Harmful (2)
- The Sunscreen Ingredients You Really Want to Avoid (3)
Of the few articles I read, I found this quote to be particularly delightful:
We lather up with chemical sunscreens that have the potential to greatly increase skin cancer risk and reduce Vitamin D production in the name of avoiding skin cancer, and increase our risk of more widespread diseases related to Vitamin D deficiency. (Wellness Mama, 2017)
No citations, no further explanations and ungrammatical to boot. So why is this the fifth, yes, fifth Google hit? Why is this article (and others like it) so wildly popular? Why do people take the word of the Wellness Mama over such prestigious and well-funded organizations such as the FDA, the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society?
These are not frivolous questions. Following the Wellness Mama’s advice could kill you. It’s vitally important that we learn to make a distinction between tenacious rumors and the results of properly conducted scientific studies. But how?
Most of the ingredients listed on cosmetic products are incomprehensible – yes, even to chemists. Personally, I tend to make choices based on packaging, the attractiveness of the model and advertising. If the label says “Anti-Aging”, “Striking”, “Luxurious”, “Sexy” or “Long-Lasting”, I’m in. As a result, I now own a giant container full of crappy cosmetics whose total value is roughly the same as a down payment on a car.
In the absence of truly understanding how such products actually work, we also tend to rely on rumor and innuendo. Based almost entirely on word-of-mouth, millions of people believe that products that promote health are bad for you (vaccines, gluten and sunscreen spring to mind) and that products like keratin, Retinol and coconut oil can erase wrinkles or repair hair, both of which are impossible to achieve. (Sorry.)
That is exactly why this blog exists. We need a trusted source for the facts about the chemicals in cosmetics, how they’re metabolized by the body and what effects they are expected to have according to the most recent valid scientific studies. “She Blinded Me With Science” takes the guesswork out of choosing products, saving you time, money and giving you the results you want. (Within reason.)
Please also refer to “What SBMWS Is (and Isn’t)” for more on this topic. Also, if you have a question about a product or how to achieve a certain look, please Ask A Question!
Okay! Now that we’ve covered the basics of internet folklore, next up we have a short, fun quiz on some of the world’s most popular scientific urban legends. Let me know how you do!
As always, thank you SO much for reading – I hope you found it interesting and enjoyable. Air kisses! I’ll see you next week.
Okay, so back to our question: Why does it seem that so many people are ready, even eager to accept shocking information from unknown sources? Is it fear? Is it the thrill of knowing something that no one else does? Does it make for stimulating party conversation? Or are we just trusting at heart and tend to believe what we’re told?
Let’s see if we can find out.
After a lot of research, here’s what I came up with:
- When people read that a product is dangerous, they want to protect their friends and family, so they’ll warn people at any given opportunity. (4)
- In today’s world, people put a lot of trust into things they know nothing about. (4) Cosmetics are a good example, as almost no one understands what the various ingredients of cosmetics are or how they work. The fear that some products could be dangerous plus the mysterious nature of the ingredients help spread rumors that certain products are dangerous.
- If many people are afraid of something, such as cancer, rumors about products said to cause cancer tend to spread quickly. (4)
- The phenomenon of the internet has led to the rapid spreading of urban legends. (4) Emails, websites and social media are rife with photos, which may endow the reader with a false sense of personal connection to the (supposed) author of the information.
- People spread and believe rumors when the information is relevant to them. Obviously, health concerns are relevant to everyone, hence the bounty of misinformation about the side effects of certain ingredients on the web. (5)
- People spread rumors when they think it will increase their social standing or help their self-image. (5) Everyone wants to be helpful to others, and everyone wants to be the person people come to for help.
- Rumors are more tenacious when they fit the things we already believe. (6) For example, many people eschew certain products because they contain “chemicals”, a word that many people associate with danger.
- Rumors spread more easily when they’re about things that are already on people’s minds. (6) Health is always on our minds.
- Rumors that stick are easy to remember. They tend to be short and to create a memorable image in the mind. (6) Such as, you can see The Great Wall of China from space or that people put razor blades in apples on Halloween (both false).
- Rumors that are difficult to disprove tend to be successful. (6) Few of us have working laboratories where we can personally test the ingredients of sunscreen (or anything else, for that matter).
My personal theory? That is backed up by absolutely nothing? I think that it’s a tough world and everyone strives for any advantage they can get. If I found, for example, the definitive and little-known lose-10-pounds-a-week diet then yeah, I’d get a lot of personal satisfaction from knowing about it. And from keeping it secret from my enemies.
What do you think of all this? I’d love to know, so please share your comments (and heck, share my blog while you’re at it).
Next up: Why SBMWS Part II: A quiz on some of the world’s most popular facts and factoids. I’m dying to know if there are any surprises on there. I was wrong on more than I’d care to admit.
Enjoy the quiz, and I’ll see you next week. I think I’m going to blog on sunscreen, but hair damage and anti-aging products are up there as well. Let me know if there’s anything you’re curious about and I’ll put it on the top of my list.
Air kisses! And thank you SO much for reading!