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Sense about Science have just produced a rather good pamphlet that exposes, yet again. the meaningless marketing slogan “detox”.  You can download the pamphlet from their web site.

The pamphlet goes through the claims of eleven products.  Needless to say, the claims are either meaningless, or simply untrue.

  • Garnier Clean Detox Anti-Dullness Foaming Gel
    “Detoxifies by cleansing the skin’s surface”
  • MG Detox Shampoo Trevor Sorbie
    “Deep cleansing and clarifying shampoo”
  • Boots Detox Body Brush
    “Ritualistic body brushing helps expel toxins through the skin”
  • Innocent Natural Detox Smoothie
    “Helps neutralise nasty free radicals which can cause damage to your body’s cells”
  • Vitabiotics Detoxil 15 day support
    “Helps the body cleanse itself of toxins and pollutants caused by the excesses of a busy life”
  • V-Water Detox
    “Cleanse your system and whisk away the polluting nasties”
  • 4321 Shape Up and Detox
    “To drain off water and toxins” and “purify the body”
  • Boots Detox 5 Day Plan
    Works “in harmony with your body to flush away toxins”
  • Farmacia Spa Therapy Detox range
    To “rid your body of these damaging toxins”
  • Crystal Spring Detox patches
    “I’m the easy way to detox, just put me on one foot at night and take me off in the morning”
  • Fushi Holistic and Health Solutions Total Detox Patch
    “it acts as a toxin sink and absorbs impurities through your feet”

One nice thing about the pamphlet is that each item is written by a young scientist (including my close neighbour, Daniella Muallem). They are all people at an early stage in their career, but they care enough to spend time dissecting the rubbish spread by companies in order to part you from your money.

Garnier, it’s true, is a cosmetics company, so one expects nothing but lies   You won’t be disappointed on that score.

That least ethical of pharmaceutical companies, Boots, appears twice  The Boots Detox Body Brush is reviewed by a young chemist, Tom Wells.  It turns out (there’s a surprise) to be nothing more than an ordinary stiff brush.  It seems that Boots’ definition of “detox”, for this purpose, is “removing dead skin cells” A totally shameless con, in other words.

The Boots Detox 5 day plan consists if 5 phials of apple or strawberry flavoured goo containing two vitamins and one mineral, mixed with glycerol. In this case the young investigator, Evelyn Harvey, elicited a quite remarkable response from Boots.

Well, have you tested the effects of that diet, with or without the detox product? Does the ‘goo’ stuff [the drink which forms part of the plan] add anything extra?

Well, it’s meant to kick start it.

But has is been tested like that?


Ok, I’m thinking I’ll just try a healthy diet for a week, a bit more exercise, and not bother with buying the detox.

Yes, that sounds like a better idea, to be honest I’d never do this myself.

The media coverage

The Radio 4 Today programme interviewed Ben Goldacre and the managing director of yet another product “Detox in a box” (following their usual policy of equal time for the Flat Earth Society). Listen to the mp3.   When Ben Goldacre asked the MD for evidence for the claim made on the web site of Detox in a box, that their diet could remove cadmium from the body, it was denied explicitly that any such claim had been made.

Not so.

But by 10.02 the site had already changed

So no apology for the mistake. Just a sneaky removal of a few words.

That seems to be the only change though.  All the rest of the nutribollocks is still there.  For example

There isn’t the slightest reason to believe that it will “improve our immune function”.

There isn’t the slightest reason to think that scavenging free radicals would do you any good, even if it happened.

There isn’t the slightest reason to think it will strengthen body’s fight against cancer cells (that looks like a breach of the Cancer Act to me).

“Cleansing mucous” doesn’t mean much, but whatever it is there isn’t any reason to think its true.

“Purify our blood”. Total meaningless bollocks. The words mean nothing at all.  I’ve been here before.

Ben Goldacre’s own account is here “The barefaced cheek of these characters will never cease to amaze and delight me.”

The BBC web site does a good job too.

The Guardian gives an excellent account (James Randerson).

The Daily Mail writes “Detox diets to kick-start the New Year are a ‘total waste of money’ “.

Medical News Today write “Debunking The Detox Myth“.

The Daily Telegraph disgraces itself by not only failing to carry a decent account of the item, but it does run an article on “Detox holidays: New year, new you“. Mega-expensive holidays for the mega-stupid (not to mention the capital letter after the colon).

The Daily Mash provides a bit of cognate fun with “BRITAIN SIGNS UP FOR VORDERMAN’S 28-DAY PISS-DRINK DETOX“. That alludes to “Carol Vorderman’s 28-Day Detox Diet”. A woman who got an enormous salary for playing a parlour game on TV, and has done some good for maths education, is reduced to promoting nonsense for yet more money.

As Clive James pointed out, it’s a but like watching George Clooney advertising coffee for, of all unethical companies, Nestlé. They really look very silly.


Evening Standard 6th January. Nick Cohen writes “Give up detox – it’s bad for your health

“Giving up on detox should not be painful, however. On the contrary, it should e a life-enhancing pleasure.”

The Times. rather later (January 18th) had a lovely one, “Detox
“, by the inimitable Ben Goldacre, His account of /detox; as a quasi-religious ‘cleansing ritual’, is spot on.

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15 Responses to “Detox”: nonsense for the gullible

  • Dr Aust says:

    Boots Detox Body Brush:
    “Ritualistic body brushing helps expel toxins through the skin”

    That is a truly priceless piece of world-class bollocks. In fact, “world-class” is simply not praise enough for such a marvellously creative piece of tosh. “Solar-system-class bollocks”?

    Actually, there is a lot of potential for this concept. I am already look forward to the time Boots start selling small whips:

    “Boots Detox Body Flail:

    Ritualistic flogging helps expel toxins through the skin”

    – or perhaps “eco-detox brush-flails” made up of a bundle of organic birch twigs.

    ..the possibilities are endless.

  • badly shaved monkey says:


    “Following Nas Amir-Ahmadi’s appearance with Dr Ben Goldacre on this morning’s Today programme, the company would like to make the following statement:

    “We acknowledge that Dr Ben Goldacre was correct at the time of interview that the Detox in a Box website did contain the words ‘”One of the most complex detoxification functions is against heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadminium, nickel, arsenic, and aluminum” and apologise for not confirming this at the time. The website has now been amended to avoid any further confusion.””

    We should thank her for correcting the confusion, but sadly she seems still to be incapable of apologising for the original flagrant falsehood.

  • Sili says:

    Next up: enemas!

    Or whatever the fancy detoxificatory name for them are.

    Hmmm – I wonder if their popularity is for similar reasons as the famous Victorian vaginal massages to cure ‘hysteria’?

  • The Inorganic Gardener says:

    I’m so glad all of this twoddle has been publicly debunked. “We” (the scientists) have known for years that a multivitamin isn’t going to remove Hg++ from the blood but alas it does seem sometimes that Jo/e Public will believe anything.

    Methinks detox products are a perfect example of the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. The sooner these products are off the shelves and off of the internet, the better.

    Once again I laud the work of the likes of Ben Goldacre, DC and Sense About Science. We need more scientists like these people!


  • andrew says:

    Ben Goldacre did very well on the Today programme. It must be very difficult to keep your nerve, provide logical and coherent argument and avoid being distracted with two million listeners to a live radio show.
    If I am a typical listener then the majority of the two million will have been persuaded by Ben’s case, rather than Nas Amir-Ahmadi’s.

    Overall, the media coverage of the Sense About Science leaflet was objective and therefore against Detox which is quite refreshing.

  • Nash_ says:


    Have you seen the Activa adverts with Nell McAndrew?
    They don’t use the word Detox, but they are close.

  • andrew says:

    The detox products are claiming to be of medical benefit – ie the detox in a box product claims to improve the immune system, to help your body fight cancer and to purify your blood. Activa is a yoghurt, the suggestion is that its good for you, but Activa aren’t claiming its medical, as far as I can see.

  • Andrew. You are dead right about the Today programme, You get a very short time, It’s made harder by the interpretation of “fair and balanced” that gives equal time to all views, however nuts. This matters less in politics because the presenters know a lot about it and ask sharp questions. It’s not so good for science,

    The most frustrating thing, though, is that there is usually no direct debate with the other side, Normally it all goes through the presenter.

    One of the most impressive things about Ben G’s performance this morning was that he managed to get in some direct questions to his opponent. She couldn’t answer them.

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  • Beermonkey says:

    I had some hand in the thing, and there was an almost overwhelming temptation to really go for some of the products and give them a proper kicking. Still, the systematic destruction that the things deserved wouldn’t have made such good copy, and wiser heads than mine prevailed. Fun, though.

    My favourite were the hair straighteners that detoxed with ‘nano-silver’. You could reasonably get away with ‘anti-bacterial’, but then again they operate at 230 degrees C.

  • andrew says:

    Andrew Marr said Ben Goldacre (hero of the above BBC Radio 4 Today programme), would appear on next weeks BBC radio 4 Start The Week, talking about scepticism and science. I expect he may also talk about the biography of Paul Dirac the physicist.

    BBC RAdio 4 Start The Week, 9.00am repeated 21.30 19/1/2009.

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