"Toxins: Purging the Myths by Detoxing the Scam"... Paula Begoun ( article

topic posted Fri, November 28, 2008 - 1:39 PM by  ~Sasha~
I received this in my weekly e-mail from Paula Begoun of and Paula's Choice fame. I thought you might find it interesting.


Toxins: Purging the Myths by Detoxing the Scam

A reporter from US News and World Report called me for an interview about toxins and how or if skin-care products could purge them from skin. I appreciated how this reporter framed her question; she asked if it was possible. Many reporters have bought into myths just like anyone else and start asking a question assuming something is true when it isn't, not even a little. I was more than happy to have another opportunity to set the record straight on this overused, bogus term.

Much like any myth, if you hear or read about it often enough it becomes fact in the mind of many consumers. Once that happens they are eager to seek out the benefits of what amounts to little more than snake oil. Purging toxins from the body and skin is equal to the perceived need to drink lots of water (and often too much water) to keep skin hydrated. Neither is based on fact. And this isn't a conspiracy of the medical world. Just like the medical world discourages people from smoking and over-eating, or it encourages exercise and other beneficial behavior in the most direct campaigning possible (with solid research and studies of why you should follow their advice), so it’s no surprise the medical field hasn’t jumped with agreement on the “let’s purge toxins” bandwagon. If purging toxins from your body could help then physicians would be at the forefront of getting the information out to you (as soon as it was shown to be true). But truth doesn’t always sell products. Oftentimes you’ll get more people’s attention and dollars by promoting fiction-based fear instead.

When it comes to fiction, snake oil salespeople are supreme at quick fixes and euphoria. I love the drink more water example, because if your water intake is greater then what your body needs all you do is go to the bathroom more. Nothing in your body changes, it doesn't change the status of "toxins" in your body or how dry your skin is. Kids who don't drink enough water don't have dry skin because of it. Dry skin for most adults is the result of sun damage, genetics, health issues, certain medications, and their environment, not water intake. Believe me, I wish alleviating dry skin was as easy as increasing water intake!

In terms of skin and the purging of toxins we move into the absurd. At least with routine (not excessive) water intake it helps to stay hydrated and not be thirsty. When it comes to purging toxins from the skin there isn't a shred of evidence it is even possible, let alone helpful. Yet somehow sucking toxins out of your pores or between skin cells has become a basic part of many women’s attempt to achieve flawless skin. As a result of this flawed belief, detoxifying skin as sold by the cosmetics industry or earnest spa attendants and estheticians and the vitamin/herbal supplement world has become a sizable business.

And exactly what is a toxin? Consult the dictionary and toxin is defined as any poison. So what poison is lurking in your skin needing removal? Again, there is no answer from anyone in any corner of the alternative cosmetic or herbal world. What you may hear are more general, vague terms such as bacteria, airborne pollutant particulates from cars and city life, bad fats (this is a big lie in cellulite treatments), faulty lymph systems that build up who knows what, even fast food and secondhand smoke requires purging in this part of the cosmetic industry. Listening to all of this is enough to make some people want to live in a sterilized, airtight bubble for the sake of whole body purity, but there’s no need to take such a drastic step.

What isn't ever explained is exactly what is being eliminated when so-called toxins are being purged? No one has measured how much of whatever stuff is supposedly being removed during the process of cleansing. The reason that no one is doing such testing is because consumers don’t need facts to make decisions about their skin, so we end up with a big myth that is good for business but not you.

Without ever doing even basic testing, the people selling these detoxifying skin-care products or treatments leave it up to their imagination and they are adept at creating imaginary, unspecified toxins that are causing wrinkles, open pores, oily skin—you name the skin care complaint—and purging the skin is supposed to help. That expensive spa treatment wrapping your body in herbs, salts, fragrant oils, clay, or minerals might feel good and for a short time make your skin feel smooth, but in reality no skin condition has changed: your wrinkles haven’t gone away, your cellulite is still there, your pores haven’t changed, yet your pocketbook is lighter (now that’s what I call purging).

Many of these products claiming to detox the system, at least as far as the cosmetics industry and spa world is concerned, are fairly benign and do little, if any, harm. Overheating the body with saunas, Jacuzzis, and facial steaming can cause more problems than they help by damaging the skin’s ability to hold moisture, causing capillaries to surface, and increasing oil production. Putting fragranced salts into your bath can irritate the vaginal skin lining. Not good news but not terrible. Mostly it is just a waste of money and following myths isn’t a recipe for good skin care.

What has me concerned is some research I saw on really dangerous snake oil treatments as reported on a blog/podcast site at, which had several posts written by Brian Dunning, a computer scientist who debunks pseudoscience reports as a hobby (I confirmed that the content is accurate and all quoted material below is from the author’s blog)

Mucoid plaque is supposedly a toxin naturopaths and herbal charlatans say everyone has growing inside their bowels; in fact they are created by the pill sold to purge them. In other words, the supposed cure is causing the problem making people assume the malady is real.

What you get to cure mucoid plaque is “…a bowel cleansing pill, said to be herbal, which causes your intestines to produce long, rubbery, hideous looking snakes of bowel movements, which they call mucoid plaque. There are lots of pictures of these on the Internet, and sites that sell these pills are a great place to find them. Look at,, and, just for a start.”

“Imagine how terrifying it would be to actually see one of those come out of your body. If you did, it would sure seem to confirm everything these web sites have warned about toxins building up in your intestines. But there's more to it. As it turns out, any professional con artist would be thoroughly impressed to learn the secrets of mucoid plaque (and, incidentally, the term mucoid plaque was invented by these sellers; there is no such actual medical condition). These pills consist mainly of bentonite, an absorbent, expanding clay similar to what composes many types of kitty litter. Combined with psyllium, used in the production of mucilage polymer, bentonite forms a rubbery cast of your intestines when taken internally, mixed of course with whatever else your body is excreting. Surprise, a giant rubbery snake of toxins in your toilet.”

“It's important to note that the only recorded instances of these "mucoid plaque" snakes in all of medical history come from the toilets of the victims of these cleansing pills. No gastroenterologist has ever encountered one in tens of millions of endoscopies, and no pathologist has ever found one during an autopsy. They do not exist until you take such a pill to form them. The pill creates the very condition that it claims to cure. And the results are so graphic and impressive that no victim would ever think to argue with the claim.”

Another detoxing gimmick I came across is from the electrical foot bath products on the market. “The idea is that you stick your feet in the bath of salt water, usually with some herbal or homeopathic additive, plug it in and switch it on, and soak your feet. After a while the water turns a sickly brown, and this is claimed to be the toxins that have been drawn out of your body through your feet. One tester found that his water turned brown even when he did not put his feet in. The reason is that electrodes in the water corrode via electrolysis, putting enough oxidized iron into the water to turn it brown. When reporter Ben Goldacre published these results in the Guardian Unlimited online news, some of the marketers of these products actually changed their messaging to admit this was happening — but again, staying one step ahead — now claim that their product is not about detoxification, it's about balancing the body's energy fields: Another meaningless, untestable claim.”

“But detoxifying through the feet didn't end there. A newcomer to the detoxification market is Kinoki foot pads, available at and many drugstores. These are adhesive gauze patches that you stick to the sole of your foot at night, and they claim to ‘draw toxins’ from your body. They also claim that all Japanese people have perfect health, and the reason is that they use Kinoki foot pads to detoxify their bodies, a secret they've been jealously guarding from medical science for hundreds of years. A foolish claim like this is demonstrably false on every level, and should raise a huge red flag to any critical reader. Nowhere in any of their marketing materials do they say what these alleged toxins are, or what mechanism might cause them to move from your body into the adhesive pad.”

“Kinoki foot pads contain unpublished amounts of vinegar, tourmaline, chitin, and other unspecified ingredients. Tourmaline is a semi-precious gemstone that's inert and not biologically reactive, so it has no plausible function. Chitin is a type of polymer used in gauze bandages and medical sutures, so naturally it's part of any gauze product. They probably mention it because some alternative practitioners believe that chitin is a ‘fat attractor’, a pseudoscientific claim which has never been supported by any evidence or plausible hypothesis. I guess they hope that we will infer by extension that chitin also attracts ‘toxins’ out of the body. Basically the Kinoki foot pads are gauze bandages with vinegar. Vinegar has many folk-wisdom uses when applied topically, such as treating acne, sunburn, warts, dandruff, and as a folk antibiotic. But one should use caution: Vinegar can cause chemical burns on infants, and the American Dietetic Association has tracked cases of home vinegar applications to the foot causing deep skin ulcers after only two hours.”

“Since the Kinoki foot pads are self-adhesive, peeling them away removes the outermost layer of dead skin cells. And since they are moist, they loosen additional dead cells when left on for a while. So it's a given that the pads will look brown when peeled from your foot, exactly like any adhesive tape would; though this effect is much less dramatic than depicted on the TV commercials, depending on how dirty your feet are. And, as they predict, this color will diminish over subsequent applications, as fewer and fewer of your dead, dirty skin cells remain. There is no magic detoxification needed to explain this effect.”

What remains indisputably true is that the country of Japan is not selling these toxin-purging foot pads like hotcakes, everyone is not using them, and the Japanese have health problems like any population.

I’ll end this article by coming full circle back to skin care. Trying to eliminate wrinkles and other skin woes with false hopes that involve throwing your money down the toilet on products that can’t help doesn’t really make sense. When there are brilliant things you can do your skin, wasting money isn’t the way to go. Purging yourself of the myths the industry loves instigating and perpetuating and learning what you really should do instead is the best way to take care of your skin.
posted by:
  • While I believe that things like those foot pads are just bogus one really needs to filter through alot of what Paula Begoun says. She claims to be an expert when in actuallity is just a journalist. I don't want to offend anyone by saying this because I know many people read her books.

    There is alot of evidence that water is good for many things including skin. While it alone isn't going to cure everything, it helps alot. We are after all 70% water. Yes, many external factors weigh into why people may have dryer skin, but I will say from my experience (I am an Esthetician) in seeing skin everyday, alot of people are truly dehydrated internally and externally. The info she mentions about estheticians selling bogus products and treatments for detoxing the skin is false. There are many posts in this tribe talking about essential oils and the such and the benefits they have for skin so I know you know that. Skin receives and releases and just like getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist it is important to get your skin cleaned as well.

    She claims that if doctors knew that the solution to many problems is detoxing they would tell you is really not true. Allopathic doctors are trained to target symptoms. Whereas naturopathic doctors go after the the root causes for the symptoms which may or may not include detoxing etc.

    Yes, there are numerous detoxifying products on the market out there and unfortunately there are alot of people out there selling snake oil. It's quite a shame actually. That includes skin care as well. But I would just be careful not to label everything out there that has any kind of heftier price tag as being bogus. I have found from her books and articles that she seems to put that "bogus" label on so many things but then markets her own products for people to buy.

    Again, I mean well with my comments and only seek to help not to offend.
    • pk!

      foot pads: always thought they were a scam

      water: it is important

      detox: depends on the choice. Definitely some products completely "make' that which leaves th eintestines. But, these products also combine with and help remove cucumber seeds(for example) and other leftover materials which simply 'clung' in there. I have often felt much better after a cleanse. I liked best those which I could buy from the Herbalist in Seattle. It is quite possible that half the final effect came from reducing food and limitting that which was takne in.

      overall health: vitamins, clear pure water, exercise with stretching components, peace and joy in life, freedom from stress, good sleep, meaning in life, personal connections, lots of vegetables and fruits-organic when possible, protein -complete- whether from meat or an amino acid mix, reduced o rminimal alcohol, coffee, smoke processed foods.
      • I read her Beauty Bible many years ago before she ever started her own skin care and makeup line. Her writings always made sense to me. Bottom line: Is there some scientific research to substantiate the claims that the beauty biz is spewing at us? Most of the time, no. She discusses which ingredients tend to be safe and non-irritating vs. having a high potential to cause irritation (and both synthetic and natural ingredients fall into BOTH of these categories). Plus, the pH and the packaging of a product DOES matter (in terms of the efficacy of an ingredient and the stability of it due to air exposure once the package is opened). Does she sell her own stuff? Yes. But she also recommends other items from other brands at every price point, therefore blasting the myth that you have to spend a bundle to buy an effective skin care product.

        From her website:

        About Paula Begoun

        Paula Begoun is the creator and innovative force behind Paula's Choice skin care and cosmetics. With more than 25 years of extensive experience in the beauty industry, combined with in-depth research and study of skin and cosmetic ingredients, Paula has the knowledge and expertise to develop truly extraordinary, state-of-the-art formulations for her own line.

        Paula guarantees that her products meet her exact criteria for excellent skin care, and she won't make any exaggerated claims about them. Her goal is to help women obtain and maintain the skin they've always dreamed of having.
        Paula Begoun is the author and publisher of seven best-selling books on the beauty industry, including Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me 7th Edition, Blue Eyeshadow Should Be Illegal, The Beauty Bible 2nd Edition, and Don't Go Shopping for Hair-Care Products Without Me. She has sold more than 2.5 million copies of her books and is also a syndicated columnist, with her “Dear Paula” column appearing in papers throughout North America. Her work as a nationally-recognized consumer expert for the cosmetics industry has led to repeat appearances on CNN, as well as programs such as Oprah, The Today Show, 20/20, Dateline NBC, The View, and Primetime.

        Well-known for her extensive knowledge of the cosmetics industry, she is a respected resource amongst professionals in a variety of fields impacting the world of skin care. Over the years Paula has been and remains a consultant for dermatologists, plastic surgeons, major cosmetics companies, and industry insiders. How Paula does her reviews...

        Paula's Story
        At first, my quest was personal. I had suffered with acne for many years. I visited countless dermatologists, tried hundreds of skin-care products in all price ranges, and still I had acne. How could that be? Sometimes one product worked a little, but not as well as I hoped and never for very long. And there were always side effects. Most products made my skin so red and irritated I thought it was going to fall off.

        Slowly but surely, I worked my way through the confusion and began to recognize some fundamental problems with the cosmetics industry and prescription skin-care products. I realized that the cosmetics industry's information was little more than marketing mumbo jumbo. In the area of prescription skin-care products, there was little if any research or information about how irritation or even sun damage affected skin.

        For years I earned my living as a makeup artist. Occasionally, I would work at department-store makeup counters. But each new job for a cosmetics line resulted in problems. Inevitably, the line representative would want me to tell a customer that a toner could close pores or a moisturizer could get rid of wrinkles. I knew that wasn't true. (If a toner could close pores, everyone who used toners would have poreless skin, and if moisturizers could get rid of wrinkles, no one would have wrinkles.)

        My view on the cosmetics industry and my refusal to perpetuate falsities resulted in regular appearances on KIRO-TV, a local TV station in Seattle. I also received some national and international TV and print exposure. I left KIRO in 1986 after finishing my first book, Blue Eyeshadow Should Be Illegal. This was an exposé of the cosmetics industry revealing everything they didn't (and still don't) want you to know.

        After I wrote Blue Eyeshadow, I received thousands of letters from women asking, now that they knew how crazy the cosmetics industry was, what should they buy or what did I think of this product or that? An overview of the cosmetics industry was helpful but they wanted me to name names and be specific. That's when I wrote the first edition of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me. Since then, the demand to know what works and what doesn't has grown, mostly because there are always new products on the market.

        The Here and Now
        I didn't know it at the time, but between department store lines, infomercials, multilevel direct marketing lines, home shopping network lines, drugstore cosmetics companies, and the endless parade of new product launches, my job was only beginning. Today, to keep up with the industry, I continually review new products in my newsletter,, and there have now been seven editions of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me; the most recent is over 1,400 pages. Combating the endless parade of useless and bizarre information can be maddening. But it's my job and, thankfully, it has been far more rewarding than I ever expected.

        A Note to the Industry
        Although I complain about the way cosmetics companies twist the truth, and the fact that some won't send me information, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the companies that actually do provide me with research and interviews. I may not agree with everything they send my way, but these resources are always welcomed and appreciated more than I can say. It is my intent to provide the best information possible, and whenever I can see the cosmetics industry's point of view it makes my reporting that much more accurate. There are wonderful, exquisite products out there. I tend to harp on the negative and crazy claims, prices, and poor quality, but the major reason I do what I do is because the cosmetics world does have so many amazing products to choose from.

        I am hardly anti-makeup or anti-skin care. I am in awe of how well most cosmetics work. Where would we be without the brilliant work of the cosmetic chemists who make the exquisite products we use? It is because of their astonishing skill that we have moisturizers that take care of dry skin, mascaras that build thick, lush lashes without flaking or smearing, foundations that smooth out skin tone, sunscreens that protect skin from sunburn as well as wrinkles and skin cancer, lipsticks that add elegant color and definition to the mouth, blushes that softly accent cheekbones, and on and on and on.

        So thank you to all cosmetic chemists everywhere who strive to produce better products and who continue to make the beauty industry more beautiful. Please, do the best you can to combat the insane marketing departments you have to work with. Your work is rooted in science, not hyperbole.

  • This was very very educational - and it all makes sense to me.

    what is your guys' take on cellulite and its reduction?
    There are a million products out there (ranging from inexpensive to very expensive) - I never tried any of them, because when everyone says their product is the best and only working, it's obviously not true. (then everyone would be using them).
    And I find it hard to believe that a simple drugstore lotion would make it go away.

    The advice that always made sense was the usual: good diet, exercise, lots of water, go to saunas, reduce "toxins" such as caffeine, alcohol, etc. I don't consider caffeine a toxin, but that's because I addicted !

    but is there really anything out there, naturally that helps reduce cellulite, or all women kind is doomed forever?
    • I believe that the only thing that has any clinical proof to back it up is something called endermologie. It's a "kneading machine" of sorts. I haven't had it done, but I believe you put on some sort of a body stocking and the technician rolls this gizmo over the cellulite-stricken areas of your body (usually hips, thighs, booty). I think the intense, super-deep massaging action does something to either loosen or break up some fibers that cause the puckering at the skin. Try googling endermologie and see what you find.
  • Unsu...
    Thought folks might also be interested in this recent NPR spot on the effects of short-term fasting (good for mice, apparently) versus long-term fasting (aka starvation) and how it effects the body:

    I eat fairly healthful food, don't smoke, drink less than a beer a month on average, work out, and use as many natural/simple body products as possible. I tried a two-week detox earlier this year (mainly out of scientific curiosity), and while it did help me kick my coffee addiction I noticed absolutely no different in my skin, body waste, body scent, hair, etc. I'm of the opinion that one should take care of one's body in the long-term, not bombard it with sudden shifts in an attempt to "purge" bad stuff from it. If you don't want bad stuff in your body, make an effort to keep it out to begin with. I think there's a lot of body-guilt at work behind many of these detox plans. Most of the people I know who do them are already insanely "clean" - raw foodist vegan yoginis. I wonder what is still left in there that they're trying to get out. I think a detox diet would make a lot more sense for someone who ate McDonald's four nights a week and smoked. The problem is that it can't be some quick fix. It's a lifestyle change. You can't load yourself up with crap, "clean" it out, and then go right back to the crap again.

    I find this short-term fast info really interesting, though. As an anthropology student, I find it makes a lot of sense - most animals, and most human ancestors, do not have reliable access to food. It seems fairly logical that the body would respond well to this kind of sporadic eating, even though long-term fasting is detrimental (note the part of the article where they say muscle breakdown releases toxins into the body). I'm hypoglycemic, so I don't see myself doing any 24-hour water fasts in the near future, but I find the research fascinating.

    In the end: All things in moderation, dudes and dudettes.
    • Don't want to add kerosene to the fire...seems there are a lot of differing opinions on this...I'll just add my nickel's worth....
      Disclaimer***This is only MY experience and MY opinion...Tribe does not endorse, sponsor, or finance in any way the following opinion***
      Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar.
      2 tbs 3 times a day.
      I feel better, had body odor the first few has subsided since. Use it as a diluted rinse on my hair...shiny. "Digestive Movements"...regular. Used it on my hyperallergic Pekingese...he feels better. All I know is that the UNFILTERED ACV works wonders for me. (added bonus, lost 5 lbs, probably from losing my appetite after drinking the vinegar**giggle** but, I'll take it!) I'm not trying to get anyone all worked up...just my nickel's worth...well...penny's worth...we ARE in a recession after all. Or would that make it a dime's worth. I digress.
      • This makes sense, because apple cider vinager can act like hydrochloric acid, aiding in the digestion of foods, especially protein foods...the vast majority of people in this day and age are deficient to varying degrees in hydrochloric acid...when we are digesting our food, it makes sense that we would be less toxic as we are able to process the food we take into our bodies. People with ulcers should neither take apple cider vinegar or hcl.

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