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This the third column in a series that examines the quality of cosmetic science based on Michael Shermer's "Baloney Detection Kit." As explained in Part I and Part II of this series, Shermer is a regular columnist for Scientific American, and his "kit" utilizes 10 probing questions to identify real science, borderline science or non-science (a.k.a. nonsense).
The first three questions were answered in previous columns that concluded cosmetic science is perhaps just below average. Responding to these columns, some readers found this author to be "too mild" on cosmetic science. For example, one reader commented, “There is good cosmetic science but in our field there is too much very bad science published. For me, this makes cosmetic science as a whole score lower than average.”
This comment came from a personal friend and a talented cosmetic scientist but that is not why it hurt. Rather, it hurt because he felt the need to say it. In response, I told him not to worry, with the promise of being "less mild" this time as I tackle the fourth, fifth and sixth questions of Shermer's kit in relation to cosmetic science.
The fourth question of the kit is: Does the claim fit with what we know about how the world works? An extraordinary claim must be placed into a larger context to see how it fits. If a cosmetic manufacturer claims that a consumer will look 20 years old again with the daily application of its 'wonder cream,' chances are high that the consumer will not believe them. As an example, it is interesting to see the group of aging women who were used in Unilever's Dove Pro-Age advertisements. Changing the features of these women in minutes is possible but requires Adobe Photoshop manipulation skills, and this is what consumers perceive to be the real world. No wonder consumers' perception of beauty is distorted, as shown in this promotional video.
Many cosmetic claims do not fit with how the world works, leading the general public to not take cosmetic science seriously. Although many industries do not excel at matching their claims with the real world, the impact of this greatly affects the cosmetic industry, as most individuals care about how they look. Conversely, only a fraction of the world population is interested in cars, wines, travels, etc., making the impact of beauty advertisements great. This point is illustrated in another video on a character named Amy.