In our hyperconnected world, just as anyone can become a social media star, anyone can be an expert. Among the reality TV stars and street style wannabes of Instagram, there are thousands of self-proclaimed “clean living” and “wellness” experts peddling their sponsors’ wares. Along with all the unattainable body and behavior standards already demanded of us by society, the health and wellness industry has created — and made a ton of money from — an increasingly outlandish list of health and spiritual issues that only their targeted, expert products can heal.
Have you checked in on the energy balance of your yoni (aka vagina) lately? Maybe you need to get a jade egg up in there, a practice endorsed by the high priestess of wellness herself, Gwyneth Paltrow. How about your bio-frequencies — have you got the right ones activated? If not, how about some vibrating stickers that will help correct your imbalances? Are you stressed, suffering creative blockages, or suffering from a disease? Perhaps you could do with a Himalayan salt lamp, which will fix all of these things.
What all of these things have in common is that they are, more often than not, solutions peddled by the same people who have “discovered” the problem in the first place. They are also incredibly light on legitimate, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence to back up their outlandish claims. Buckle up, because we’re about the blow some of these turmeric-scented, chi-laden scams wide open.
Don't Put Jade Eggs & Other Weird Things in Your Vagina
A disturbing number of wellness “experts” are obsessed with your vagina — its “feminine energy,” its muscle tone, its toxicity. The most famous proponent (and seller) of these remedies is Gwyneth Paltrow and her team of yoni sisters at Goop. One of her most notorious suggestions is the jade egg, which is allegedly filled with “energy” that you can you can recharge by “the full moon just the way you would a crystal” (we’ll get to crystals later).
Thank God science for blogger and actual qualified OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter, who has dedicated her spare time to busting myths about vaginal health trends that are at best placebos, and at worst, potentially causing serious damage. Among the bizarre trends she has busted are washing your lady parts with ground wasp nest, sticking a sachet of herbs up there, gassing it with ozone and steam, and something called a “Japanese vagina stick.”
On all of these trends, Dr Gunter is unequivocal: “do not under any circumstances put [weird alleged health product] in your vagina.” Despite their claims, all these devices, pastes and herbs are going to do is irritate your vagina’s lining, kill off the helpful bacteria that *actually* keep it healthy, and, if you leave them in there for more than 24 hours, increase your risk of toxic shock syndrome. Other “remedies,” like the Japanese vagina stick, are intended to dry out and tighten the vagina, presumably for male sexual pleasure — ignoring the fact that a healthy vagina should be naturally wet and stretchy.
So what should women do to ensure that everything is healthy and happy downstairs? Nothing, other than showering regularly. Your vagina is a finely tuned, self-cleaning machine, and it will let you know if something is off in several ways, like itchiness, dryness, or discharge. If you get to that stage, visit a doctor to get a proper medical diagnosis and prescription.
"Smart" Stickers Are Complete Bullshit
Got a sore back? Slap a magic sticker on it. This is pretty much the theory behind Body Vibes, “smart stickers” allegedly programmed with specific bio-frequencies that can target everything from pain ( a sticker that looks like the prayer emoji), skin conditions (a unicorn, because that makes sense), and mental focus (an Illuminati-style eye, perhaps pointing out that health gurus can have a sense of humor).
When worn for the prescribed 72-hour cycle, the stickers are meant to create a “corrective, balancing energy exchange” for your body. However, the website is also at pains to underline that “Body Vibes are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition,” so what exactly they do achieve is unclear.
Unsurprisingly, Body Vibes has also been endorsed by Goop, who claimed that Body Vibes stickers are made with “the same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut’s vitals during wear.” This was quickly shut down by NASA, who not only do not use any carbon material in their spacesuits, but called Body Vibes “a load of BS.” As ex NASA scientist Mark Shelhamer points out, “if they promote healing, why do they leave marks on the skin when they are removed?”
The company behind the Body Vibes “technology,” AlphaBioCentrix, also manufactures flea treatments for your pets based on their biomagnetic fields. AlphaBioCentrix’s founder, Richard Eaton, declined to release the research into the Body Vibes technology as “most of the research that has been collected is confidential and is held as company private information” - i.e. not available for scientific peer review or verification. We’re firmly with NASA on this one.
SugarBearHair "Vitamins" Look Cute, but It Doesn't Mean They Work
Among the Kardashian/Jenner clan’s many dubious product endorsements are SugarBearHair Vitamins. These little blue bears are packed with various vitamins and minerals that are meant to create shiny, strong, luscious locks for all. On the SugarBearHair website, written in an unsettling first-person narrative, the SugarBear itself claims that it “formulated a vitamin using clinically proven ingredients that have been shown to promote faster hair growth, increased hair shine and reduce hair breakage." It adds, "I also made the vitamins cute and sweet, like me.”
However, despite its numerous ingredients, these cute bears don’t include the building blocks of hair itself: protein and amino acids. According to nutritionist Lyndi Cohen, the vitamins do not include any iron either, which is an essential vitamin for hair growth. The vitamins may also actually hinder rather than support a healthy diet, as their main ingredient is glucose — straight up sugar. "It's kind of bizarre that it's being suggested as a health food," Cohen notes. "Mainly what it is is glucose syrup and a whole lot of other additives."
While The Trichological Society notes that a vitamin can help maximize your hair growth rate, that vitamin needs to include amino acids, none of which are found in SugarBearHair. They also point out that “hair in particular is slow to respond to any [dietary] stimulus,” and vitamin supplements have not been shown to noticeably change the rate of hair growth.
To achieve your best hair, the Trichological Society advises a healthy diet, containing protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and an appropriate amount of fat. They also point out that “the speed of hair growth varies based upon genetics, gender, age, hormones” — so if your genes dictate that it’s going to take you longer than it took Britney to regrow hair from your shaven head, there’s very little you can do about that.
Crystals Have Many Uses, but Healthcare Is Not One of Them
The premise that crystals and other semi-precious stones have protective and cleansing powers is a cornerstone of the wellness industry. Although it loves a bit of cultural appropriation, on the topic of crystals, your favorite health experts have really gone ham picking and choosing from a wide range of non-Western cultural beliefs. Not only is Gwyneth well into jade and quartz eggs, Goop believes that crystals are “critical in the pursuit of health, wellness, and deep spirituality.”
AlphaBioCentrix, the geniuses behind Body Vibes, also sell “health pendants” featuring a variety of crystals to suit your health requirements. A-list stars such as Adele, Katy Perry & Miranda Kerr swear by crystals for their healing energy and general good vibes.
Scientific evidence, however, indicates that crystals have no healing powers beyond a placebo effect. A 2001 study conducted by serial mythbuster Dr. Christopher French revealed that people felt the same effects from a fake glass crystal as they did from the real thing. French and fellow scientist Lynne Williams ran a study on 80 volunteers, half of whom handled a real crystal and half of whom handled an exact recreation in glass.
The volunteers were also given a booklet to read prior to handling the “crystal,” explaining various experiences they might have as a result. Only six of the 80 participants did not report feeling at least some sensations, and there was no difference between sensations experienced by participants who held a real crystal, and those who held the glass replica.
The study concluded that the sensations reported by participants were more likely to have been caused by the power of suggestion, rather than "subtle energies unknown to science." While holding on to crystals won’t harm you, they’re unlikely to work beyond creating a placebo effect.
Salt Is for Seasoning, Let's Keep It That Way
Another kind of crystal, the Himalayan salt lamp, has been touted to“oxygenate the brain, reduce symptoms of such mood disorders as seasonal affective disorder and even improve the immune system.” Hollowed out so they can be lit from within by a highly mystical light source (i.e. a 15-watt bulb from your average supermarket), the lamps allegedly draw toxins and pollutants in the air to their surface, and release negative ions into the air.
However, the way that salt crystals are chemically constructed means that the only way to get the crystals to produce these ions would be heat them to 816℃. Given that level of heat would most likely burn down your house, you are unlikely to experience health benefits from generating ions that way. Even if you managed to create negative ions without destroying your home, the numerous scientific studies conducted on the effects of negative ions on health are inconclusive.
Scientists don’t only have bad things to say about Himalayan salt lamps, however. Retired chemist John Malin, formerly of the American Chemical Society, did note that “they're pretty," and "would be an attractive thing to have on your mantle or your bedside."
Not everyone who endorses, partakes or believes in any of the above “remedies” is a snake oil merchant. We firmly believe in each individual’s right to make the choices that are right for their own physical and mental health, and to believe what they want to believe. If wearing stickers that look like part of a My First Music Festival kit or carrying a sack of rocks around genuinely makes you feel better, then more power to you.
The dangerous and irresponsible element of alternative remedies is the way they happily ignore scientific evidence, peddling products that could genuinely cause — rather than heal — a serious health issue. When it comes to the latest health trend, look for the verification from genuine, qualified scientists and health practitioners. Trust the experts, not the “certified shamanic energy medicine practitioners.”
Now, meet the photographer telling the stories behind people’s scars on Instagram.