In May, prompted by an uncritical article in the Daily Mail, the internet was buzzing about a company that was offering drinkable sunscreen. This is one of those game-changer health products that immediately garners a great deal of attention.
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 then 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 did file a complaint with the FDA but never heard back.
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, does 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. What is the “frequency” of asthma?
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.
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 the 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 lists 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 treatments are “all natural.”
A fellow skeptic in New Zealand reported the New Zealand distributor of this product to their Advertising Standards Authority, and the complaint was upheld, resulting in the removal of the drinkable sunscreen from their website. Unfortunately my complaint to the FDA went nowhere and the company is still free to claim that their magic water is “recommended for” a variety of specific conditions and diseases.