Anti-ScienceSkepticism

Do You Smell That?

Let me begin by apologizing for my absence. I’ve been around on teh Intert00bz but I’ve been so distracted, between moving and my ever-disappearing brain thanks to the pregnancy, that I haven’t had the proper attention span to actually post anything. Well I’m back! I’m buckling down and getting into a frequent-post routine. So… yeah, I hope that’s happy news. I know it is for me.

Anyway!

As I’ve mentioned, oh… 50 times every day for the last few months, I’m expecting a baby in January. Jason and I found out recently that it’s a girl and we’re super excited for her to get here already and eventually make in-laws out of Elyse and me. Lately I’ve been experiencing some crazy anxiety and anxiety-related stress. Helloooooo panic attacks! I have diagnosed anxiety for which I took medicine, but had to stop them when I found out about the peanut, and I’d rather not start taking Lexapro or Paxil while pregnant even though my OB told me it’s a relatively common thing for women with anxiety. If they become uncontrollable or any more severe, I’ll take it into consideration.

Generally when I start having a panic attack I breathe deeply and focus on getting my heart rate back down – after freaking out and crying while hyperventilating. Still, I’m always looking for different ways to relax – for example, while I don’t believe that meditation actually heals anything, listening to a guided meditation relaxes the crap out of me. It’s the soothing voice of the narrator, I think. I don’t need to do visualizations or anything – just listen. That being said, I didn’t even think twice when I received an e-mail from the pregnancy website to which I subscribe, asking if I’d like to learn pregnancy relaxation techniques.

I went to the questionnaire, which was displayed on a survey-hosting site, and took the 20 minute “interview.” The interview asked for absolutely no personal information aside from age and race – so I guess I’m lumped in with mid-20’s white women everywhere regardless of environment? It did, however, ask the longest series ever of the same few questions worded differently each time. What are your most common stressors? Do you lead an active lifestyle? Do you maintain a healthy diet? Do you murder people in the face when you’re stressed out? Yes. Yes I do. Anyway I finished up, gave my e-mail address and was immediately sent my “personalized” stress-relieving system.

Then I looked at the website.

Snapshot 2009-09-16 15-32-58

It doesn’t look so horrible on the surface, but the topics change every day and in my introductory e-mail I was informed that we would be using techniques such as “self acupressure.” Holy red flag, Batman! Do you see the little “my products” tab? That’s for the aromatherapy lotion, body wash, facial cleanser, etc that they encourage you to buy throughout the calming process. Yeah. Here’s what the site had to say about that:

the science

The ScienceEverything in the UPLIV Stress Management Program was carefully and scientifically developed to contribute to the success of the program. This includes the three delightful Active Essences that you can choose for your UPLIV products: Ocean of Clarityâ„¢, Field of Happinessâ„¢, or Canopy of Tranquilityâ„¢. The UPLIV Active Essences were developed by a top international fragrance scientist who trained at a prestigious perfumery school in Grasse, France. Inspired by the unique, multi-disciplinary approach of AromaScience, the Active Essences were created specifically for the products in the UPLIV program to produce feelings of relaxation. These proprietary Active Essences distinguish themselves by their specially selected ingredients that deliver relaxing and uplifting benefits. Using visual mood profiling, a proven technique to measure emotional responses to scent, these Active Essences were proven to elicit relaxing and refreshing moods.

Don’t worry! It was carefully and scientifically developed! By a top international fragrance scientist who trained at a prestigious perfumery! You know, THAT one!

So I got my package of smelly stuff Friday. You didn’t really think I could not try this nonsense, did you? The first package they send you is free, so I was in. I’ll be calling to let them know I don’t wish to receive any more packages or incur bills.

photoHere are the contents of the monstrous shipping box (for what I thought were just samples). From left to right, there are two (2) Field of Happiness body wash, one Field of Happiness lotion, one Ocean of Clarity face wash, one Ocean of Clarity linen spray and one Canopy of Tranquility hand cream. [And yes, that’s my Darth Vader coffee mug in the background. He’s been turned into a sugar bowl.]

Ocean of Clarity Active Essence
Aqueous and pure, this refreshing fragrance captures the bliss and vitality of a soft ocean breeze.

Ocean of Clarityâ„¢ will soothe you with a gentle blend of white floral blossoms, then invigorate with an uplifting splash of citrus and ginger spice.

Field of Happiness Active Essence
Carefree and light-hearted, this sunny fragrance harnesses the radiance and freshness of a  dazzling countryside.

Field of Happinessâ„¢ will inspire with the light sweetness of blooming jasminejoined with the crisp freshness of watery green tea notes and botanical herbs.

Let Field of Happinessâ„¢ bring energizing vibrancy into your day.

Canopy of Tranquility Active Essence
Natural and serene, this fragrance creates a haven for peace and harmony.

Canopy of Tranquilityâ„¢ will comfort you through the caress of cotton-like softness infused with lemon blossoms, delicate rose petals and a warm blend of sandalwood and vanilla spices.

Let Canopy of Tranquilityâ„¢ provide the gentle relief found in a pure moment of stillness.

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. On Saturday I decided to try out the lotion. I had taken a shower and figured it was a chance to a) see how the scents worked on me and b) not let my legs dry out. The body lotion, as I mention above, is called “Field of Happiness,” frownand they describe it as a light and crisp scent. It smelled crisp, alright. It literally smelled as if someone put mousse in their hair and promptly lit their head on fire. I didn’t use much – just enough to cover the lower portion of each leg – but it permeated the room so quickly that Jason and I both ended up with headaches and the cat hid from me after cautiously approaching and sniffing my hand. I’m being entirely serious. The light scent of blossoms that they say it smells like is harsh, smelling of chemicals and perfume. I actually ended up angry within minutes of applying it and sitting in a cloud of funk. This led to another shower and scrubbing lotion off with a bar of plain Dial soap.

Years ago – I’m thinking mid 90s – Gap put out a series of weird perfumes. There was Heaven, Grass, Dream and So Pink. The reason I’m mentioning them is because when I smell the “Canopy of Tranquility” hand cream, I immediately picture the little bottle of Heaven perfume I had. Not in a good way. I picture using it as a makeshift flamethrower.

Now… does the idea of a personalized (based on what you click in the survey) system of skin care products sound familiar? Neutrogena has skiniD, which is used for acne. Both Neutrogena and Upliv are subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson, the brand we all know and love. They’re not new to aromatherapy – one of their other subsidiaries, Aveeno, has a line of aromatherapy lotions that you can buy in any pharmacy or grocery store. So why make another? Aveeno can be purchased at CVS/pharmacy for $11.49 per 18 oz bottle. The Upliv products, when they are available for purchase (this is basically a Beta), will be sent according to your “system,” which means that you won’t be able to just call and order 1 small bottle of lotion for X amount of dollars because that’s all you want. It will work the same way Neutrogena’s skiniD works: you take the survey, they decide what you need, they mail it to you and send you a bill for roughly $60/month (this is a guesstimation based on what it cost me to try 1 month of skiniD and order the bare minimum of what they say you “need.”). They’ll send you more next month, whether you need it or not, and they’ll send you additional bottles as you request them, but will maintain the normal amount per month – so it’ll cost more each month you run out of something early.

Essentially this Upliv shit is a marketing ploy directed at people (women mostly – they specifically say it’s made for women, though men “can” use it) who listen to the media when it comes to what they “need.”

It’s a shame, really. I look through the “tools” that they use in the programs and some of them are valid for feeling better overall. None of it necessarily relates directly to being more relaxed, but there are time management ideas, dietary tools, organizational tips, and promotion of venting your stresses. All of these things, when done properly, do lead to an overall sense of wellbeing. If you don’t sleep well, eat shit food, manage your time poorly and hold everything in, no fucking wonder you’re stressed out. The tips they give to correct these problems can work. But then they go into Self Acupressure. I wish I was kidding. UntitledThey want you to grab the part of your hand between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze until you feel “ow” and hold it until you feel “ahh.” This is not relaxing. It makes me want to say, “ow,” and let the fuck go of my own hand.

The only part of this exercise that would be at all relaxing is the follow-up of rubbing lotion onto your hands while taking deep breaths. But you could do that with any lotion! It doesn’t have to be burnt-hair-mousse scented to calm your nerves. It doesn’t have to smell like anything! The most relaxing part of my day is when I use a fragrance-free, oil based “belly balm” on my rapidly-growing midsection. It’s not because of any of the ingredients – it’s because I take a few minutes to think of nothing but gently applying this stuff to my own skin and it feels nice. It feels nice in the same way that rubbing your shoulders after spending time at your computer feels nice. No fragrance required.

All of these aromatherapy products don’t do anything but distract us for a split second. They’re directed at women because of our obsession with skin care combined with the busy lifestyle of the modern woman. It’s not a relaxation technique, it’s a whiff of bullshit. These companies won’t listen to letters or bitchy phonecalls. The only way to get our point across to them that we aren’t going to let them dictate what we need based on a biased generalization is to hit them where it hurts – in the wallet.

Chelsea

Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

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19 Comments

  1. The only way to get our point across to them that we aren’t going to let them dictate what we need based on a biased generalization is to hit them where it hurts – in the wallet.

    Yes, precisely.

    But, sadly, that will never happen.

    The world is drowning in the non-stop, invasive, insulting, killing virus of marketing and advertising. And it’s not going away anytime soon. There is simply far, far too much money to be made from the credulous masses.

  2. The only way to get our point across to them that we aren’t going to let them dictate what we need based on a biased generalization is to hit them where it hurts – in the wallet.

    Shipping all that goo and plastic and packaging all over the country hurts everyone. If you have no intention of using the products this is extremely wasteful. Also these products could actually be toxic. This is worth considering when you’re experimenting on two people.

  3. Advertisers, and especially purveyors of woo, love to find the chinks in the armor. Pregnant women, obese people, the chronically ill…I imagine the makers of all these useless products gleefully brainstorming such lists of potentially vulnerable people, and figuring out exactly how to exploit those vulnerabilities.

    This is why I advocate critical thinking for chronically ill people (well, everyone, of course, but this is my area of interest) because those advertisers aren’t wrong. These are groups with lots of vulnerable people who may be willing to try anything to feel better, lose weight, etc. I cynically agree with SicPreFix, though, that I don’t see these groups rising up en masse in skeptic solidarity any time soon.

  4. @davew: First, it comes from a company a few miles from here and I am planning to hand-deliver it back to them.

    Second, while I appreciate the thought that maybe I forgot I was pregnant and that what I do affects the baby, I didn’t. I checked every ingredient before using it and it all checked out. The problem with the products is in the odor, which I won’t be smelling again.

  5. @Chelsea: I checked every ingredient before using it and it all checked out.

    If the point of this entry is that their marketing is untrustworthy then why should we trust the label? Melamine was never listed as an ingredient in cat food, but it was there. Most western companies source their ingredients from China and other parts of the world with poor quality controls. Large companies such as Proctor and Gamble have much to lose and do a better job of vetting their sources and monitoring product quality. Fly-by-night woo peddlers don’t have so much to lose. I think the risk of using their products is low, but a much larger risk than mainstream products from recognizable companies.

  6. @davew: If it wasn’t a branch of Johnson & Johnson, who makes the baby lotion I’ll be using on the person growing in my guts and just about everything else I’ve ever used on my own skin, I wouldn’t have trusted the ingredients. The list of disclosed ingredients for each product matched perfectly with the list of ingredients for any other body lotion, shower gel, hand cream, etc. The difference is in the perfuming.

    And that’s where my problem with the marketing is – it’s just lotion with perfume in it, but they’re charging several times more for it because of that fact. And the reason they can do so is because they think the average American woman who buys this shit is dumb enough to think that that really does make all the difference and that it will change her life for the better.

    My suggestion for anyone considering checking it out is to use the exercises (planning, sleeping, deep breathing, etc) without the product – you’ll get the same effect and won’t have to purchase a thing.

  7. @Chelsea: If it wasn’t a branch of Johnson & Johnson…

    Oh, that’s cool then. My mistake to have assumed otherwise.

    And that’s where my problem with the marketing is – it’s just lotion with perfume in it, but they’re charging several times more for it because of that fact.

    On this point we are in 100% agreement.

  8. Since you’re looking for a way to combat anxiety/panic without medications (and without woo…), it would seem remiss not to mention that there are evidence based non-medicinal therapies out there for those conditions. Some of them are even available in self-help format. (Cognitive and behavioral therapies come to mind.) There is a fantastic workbook called “Mastery of Anxiety and Panic” by Barlow and Craske- often used with a therapist, but also helpful as a stand alone guide. Panic attacks stink- good luck overcoming them!

  9. I am curious to find out just who decided what scents were “relaxing” or “uplifting” or whatnot. Personally, I can’t stand the smell of lavender. I’m mildly allergic to chamomile. And yet, I have umpteen different varieties of marketing thrown at me, insisting that taking a bath in chamomile tea and then going to sleep with a lavender-scented pillow will somehow relax me. No, it’ll just piss me off, because I’ll be itchy and stinky. Oh, well, then, drink the chamomile tea and have this lavender lotion! Oh, good, now I stink AND my throat’s swollen up so I have trouble breathing. Seriously, folks, changing the method of application does not improve the woo.

    (Oh, the horror I experienced when I discovered that someone had started manufacturing lotion-infused toilet paper with “soothing” chamomile. Do not want!

  10. @BonnieBeth:
    Oh, the horror I experienced when I discovered that someone had started manufacturing lotion-infused toilet paper with “soothing” chamomile.

    I suppose it’s similarly painful to the way some people find out they’re allergic to latex …

    Luckily, that hasn’t happened to me (yet).

  11. @chelsea: I have only had one panic attack in my life and it was induced as a side effect of medication. It was one too many. I feel for you, believe me. I was a shivering wreck by the time it ended. {{chelsea}}

    ZenMonkey has it exactly right. Marketers are in the business of finding the weaknesses of various groups and exploiting them to their own financial benefit. Cynical? Maybe, but remember that G.B. Shaw said that “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those that have not got it.” My take on marketing is thus: “Marketing is the science of convincing people to buy things they don’t want or need with money that they don’t have.” As you may be able to tell, I despise marketing.

    You might also want to look into some psychological approaches involving self-talk, relaxation and calming techniques. A visit to a counselor might be in order. Your doctor should be able to recommend one.

  12. Meditation, breathing exercises and distraction are all techniques I use to deal with anxiety. As cheesy as it sounds, I find the Litany Against Fear from Dune to be effective. Since I’m very allergic to almost any perfumery, aromatherapy never even tempted me (though I suppose that constant sneezing and snot drippage might distract from an anxiety attack). Social anxiety is a bitch (especially when you go to Dragon*Con and can’t talk to the Skepchicks because of it).

  13. @BonnieBeth: It’s really a good question. Hell, a lot of people like the smell of gasoline – that doesn’t mean it should be a popularized “mood-lifter.” I am so very sorry about your scented TP experience. I can’t even imagine… *shudder*

    @QuestionAuthority: Thank you. I plan to look into possibly going to a counselor, but I need to do some major research on the locals.

    @Kaylia_Marie: *giggle* Thanks! :D

    @CyberLizard: Social anxiety is a bitch! If it makes you feel any better, if I’d been at D*C like the other Skepchicks, you and I could have stared at the floor in the corner together, haha.

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