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Fake News and Money-Making Schemes

The news these days is all about “fake news.” For U.S. President Donald Trump, it seems any news he doesn’t like is “fake.” For me, “fake news” is information that seems authentic, but is just fabricated to further some agenda or support a money-making scheme.

The news these days is all about “fake news.” For U.S. President Donald Trump, it seems any news he doesn’t like is “fake.” For me, “fake news” is information that seems authentic, but is just fabricated to further some agenda or support a money-making scheme. Case in point is a widely circulating Internet article with the headline: “Miracle Facial Rejuvenation Cream Nets Biggest Deal in Shark Tank History. Is it Too Good To Be True? Cosmopolitan Magazine Will Investigate.”

Below the headline of the version I saw is a picture of “Angela and Yoojin Kim,” as they supposedly appeared on Shark Tank, the “reality” show where aspiring entrepreneurs endeavour to get the “sharks” to invest in their business dreams. The picture caption read, “the Korean sisters netted the biggest deal in Shark Tank history as all five sharks teamed up to buy 25 per cent of the company for a staggering $2.5 million. After a complete re-brand and re-packaging, the sisters are now ready to launch the RejuvaEssence Instant Wrinkle Eraser in the United States, with the help of Cosmopolitan Magazine.”

The only part of this that is true is that two Korean women did appear on Shark Tank and did get some funding for their company from one of the investors. But they have nothing to do with RejuvaEssence.

The article I saw was on a legitimate looking web page that might have appeared to originate from Cosmopolitan magazine, but didn’t. And the content of that page seems to change somewhat from day to day, as other purveyors of skin creams seem to come along and add pitches for their own products. Viewed Tuesday, the product being pitched was something called Vividermix.

The page features the requisite “before” and “after” pictures, in this case of “53 year old Melissa Wright who jumped at the chance to test the product” (though which product, exactly, seems to depend on when you viewed the page). A search for Melissa Wright comes up empty. It seems she doesn’t exist.

Cosmopolitan magazine has nothing to do with this scheme that, when I originally viewed it, was designed to get people to sign up for a free trial of the “wrinkle eraser.” Of course, the free trial requires signing up with a credit card for a small “shipping fee.” You had to strain your eyes to read the small print in very light script that said: “by placing an order you will be enrolled in our refill membership program. This program will charge $88.49 for your trial of RejuvaEssence every month.” 

Why be suspicious of RejuvaEssence? There is blather about “younger looking skin, reducing wrinkles and increasing collagen with 100% natural ingredients,” but precious little indication of what these ingredients are.

Some of the other products that appear on the fake Cosmopolitan page attempt to introduce science by talking about ingredients, for example, “Acetyl Hexapeptide-8 Complex” and “Alucia Peptide Formula.” Here it seems someone has plowed through the literature to find ingredients that have some evidence in boosting collagen formation, though there is no evidence these are in the product.

“Acetyl Hexapeptide-8 Complex” is also known as “argireline” and actually has some significant research behind it. Ads promote it as “Botox in a jar,” which is somewhat over-exuberant, but the chemical does have some relation to the famous bacterial toxin that is injected to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Botox is a peptide, basically a chain of amino acids that interferes with the transmission of neurotransmitters that signal muscles to contract. It is the excessive contraction of facial muscles that can lead to wrinkles. (Tip: reduce scowling.) Argireline is the product of research aimed to reduce muscle contraction by synthesizing a peptide that incorporates part of the amino acid sequence found in Botox. It works, sort of. Nothing like Botox because argireline does not penetrate deep into the skin, but it will have a minor effect on “frown lines.”

And it seems that Angela and Yoojin Kim are fake. The picture on the fake page actually shows Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, the two women who really did appear on Shark Tank to ask for funding for “Glow Recipe,” a “natural Korean Beauty company.” The two women suggest that Korea is the epicentre of beauty and that they have a range of products to introduce to the American public ranging from mascara made with snail slime to various face masks.  The particular product they were hyping was “Tundra Chaga Pressed Serum,” which is made from the Chaga mushroom.

The marketing of Chaga follows a popular formula. An obscure natural substance that virtually nobody has heard about is touted as a non-toxic answer to our health and appearance problems. Laboratory studies have shown that Chaga, like any other plant material, contains an array of triterpenes, sterols, beta glucans, flavonoids, melanins, polyphenols, saponins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre.  

“Tundra Chaga Pressed Serum” is described as “a serum and moisturizer combined in a ‘pressed serum’ format that is packed with 60 per cent Chaga mushroom extract harvested from the tundras. It is cooled instead of heat-processed to preserve the original nutrition, is combined with a blend of fermented, lightweight oils including olive and argan oils. This easy-to-use serum-and-moisturizer-in-one treats, nourishes and brightens skin without heaviness.” An impressive string of obfuscation. There is no evidence this serum does anything besides moisturizing the skin, which virtually any cream on the market will do.

However, Chaga, whatever its merits, has nothing to do with the creams that are promoted with fake news on a fake website with fake pictures and fake evidence — and sold for real money.

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