Ladies’ Pages

June 7th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, cosmetics | 3 Comments »

Laura Barton quotes me, very kindly.

As if by magic

So, there’s an instant potion for lean, toned thighs? Hmm, says Laura Barton

Monday June 7, 2004
The Guardian

As the season of swimsuits beckons, our thoughts naturally turn to Slimfast, Atkins and half-arsed intentions of taking the stairs – last-ditch efforts, of course, to acquire the thighs of Halle Berry before we take ourselves off to the beach. But for those of us who cannot haul ourselves off the chaise longue and detach ourselves from the custard creams, come an exciting array of firming lotions and potions. These require only five minutes of our time spent inelegantly posed in the bathroom, dolloping herbal gloop on our thighs in the hope that it will “firm”, “tone” and “reduce” those lumpen bits of our anatomy.

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The notion that ladling cream on to one’s curvier bits might help us to lose several inches does, in saner moments, appear ludicrous. What is this cream going to do with the squadgy inches of podge? Eat it? Evaporate it? Feed it to the ducks? Nevertheless, in this isle alone, the “slimming creams” market is worth £30 million a year, and the shelves are heaving with impossibly-named products – Clarins Body Lift Contour Control, Shiseido Advanced Essential Energy Body Firming Cream, Christian Dior Bikini Anti-Cellulite.

“Skincare companies are really, really, really good at making pseudo-scientific claims,” explains Ben Goldacre, author of the Guardian’s Bad Science column. “They’ll say ‘Vitamin E and collagen are essential for the cross-molecular structure of whatever,’ in technical grand terms, without making any claim that the specific ingredient will have any effect on your skin. They blind you with cell-biology-level rhetoric and then they say ‘and our cream will moisturise your skin!’ Which even Vaseline will do. And they say things like, ‘you’ll absorb the nutrients through your skin,’ when you absorb nutrients through your gut. Your skin is very thick and dead and designed to be impervious, not letting things in or out. Otherwise you’d leak.”

But so lucrative is the market that, as summer arrives, one can barely move without seeing a lady’s naked bottom plastered across billboards and buses and squashed between segments of Coronation Street. And what a peachy derriere it is – unsagging, uncellulited and without stretch marks. Dove was the first this season, with its ad showing “real women” in sensible undergarments. They were curvy and fulsome, but my, they were firm. Now the skincare giants appear to have moved beyond touting their products’ firming properties and on to shouting about the actual slimming effects. The latest Roc ad, for example, shows a lady tugging at the gaping waistband of her jeans – beneath claims of dropping a dress size.

But at up to £20 a pop, do they work? Last month, a study by the French Consumer Association announced that two creams, L’Oréal PerfectSlim and Elancyl Chrono Actif, could actually reduce a lady’s (or, one presumes, a gentleman’s) thighs by two centimetres in two weeks. Two centimetres is not to be sniffed at, but the nagging question remains: is cream a long-term solution?

“It’s tempting to think you can buy thin thighs out of a bottle,” concedes Susie Whalley, co-author of Running Made Easy and features editor at Zest magazine. “But you shouldn’t rely on lotions and potions. You might lose a couple of centimetres off your thighs if you’re lucky, but you’re never going to shed half a stone. Exercise gives you lots of other health benefits that you won’t get in a squeezy tube. It improves heart health, boosts self-confidence, makes you feel more energised and gives you improved circulation, which helps with cellulite, and your skin facially will improve – that healthy flush tends to last.”

Yes, yes, Susie, but what about the thighs? “I would say you would really notice a difference after running for three weeks,” she says. “If you’ve altered your eating habits a little you might have lost 3-4lbs and you’ll feel slimmer all over. You might feel your thighs are toning and tightening up.”

The problem is that exercise involves some degree of public humiliation, sweat and physical exertion. And “altering your eating habits” requires, well, not having seconds and laying off the sauce. We want these slimming and firming creams because they’re easy and we’re lazy. But the hard truth is there is no magical fix. You want slimmer thighs? Eat fewer cream horns, honey. Do some exercise. It ain’t rocket science.


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3 Responses



  1. Mina said,

    October 14, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    How could one doubt something like the Vitamine Institute in Switzerland? They ought to know what they are doing…
    Not exactly cosmetics, but connected to the whole looking good-topic: there’s a myth that women should exercise in a certain way to gain lean muscles, not bulky ones. So you see all these gals with pink dumbbells (2 pounds) taking one set-5 reps….sure they’re getting lean muscles. No muscle growth at all.

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  3. No Items Found « Tangerine and Cinnamon said,

    March 11, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    [...] An even more preposterous post lists the ‘junk foods’ which are supposed to make readers lose weight. They suggest, wrongly, that the calcium in ice cream, milkshakes, and cheese will curb appetites and help to ‘break down fat’. And since when were popcorn and potatoes ‘junk food’? The long list of foods which, apparently, fight cellulite – from apples and celery to oats and popcorn (wait, wasn’t that supposed to be junk food?) – are all part of a healthy diet, but won’t specifically reduce one’s cellulite. There is no miracle cure for cellulite. [...]

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