Homeopathy at Urban Outfitters

Good news, wealthy hipsters who are very impressed with fancy packaging regardless of the contents – Urban Outfitters now sells Sprayology homeopathic products! According to their Twitter bio:

“Spray in your mouth – Sprayology is a safe and effective natural line of homeopathic and vitamin oral sprays that speak to the concerns of men, women, & teens.”

Finally! A $23/ounce tube of water that speaks to my concerns as a woman or a man or a teen.

As you may recall from Amy’s excellent, patient explanation yesterday, homeopathy is utter bunk. Summary: it’s usually just water. Maybe with some sugar.

Of course, that never got in the way of consumerism! Here’s what Sprayology’s line at Urban claims:

Stress Relief (restores calm)

Party Relief (Prevents + relieves alcohol-related discomfort)

Diet Power (Supports weight loss)

There are a lot more “remedies” on Sprayology’s website, and even a handy list of symptoms you can cure that includes “the blues,” presumably because “depression” is too likely to get them sued or scolded by the FDA. Speaking of the FDA, each of their product pages announces that they are “FDA-Regulated,” which they explain thusly:

Homeopathic drugs in the United States are subject to well-defined regulatory processes that more closely resemble those that apply to allopathic medications than to dietary supplements.

Homeopathic products are under similar regulations as allopathic drugs. Homeopathic products are considered by the FDA as over-the-counter drugs with legal status and can be sold without a doctor’s prescription. Homeopathic medicines are prepared and marketed in accordance with FDA Compliance Policy Guide No. 7132.15. Manufacturers of homeopathic medicines are registered with the FDA and licensed by state regulatory agencies. Homeopathic products can legally tell you the benefits and indications of such products.

Remedies are required to meet certain legal standards for strength, quality, purity, and packaging. In 1988, the FDA required that all homeopathic remedies list the indications for their use (i.e., the medical problems to be treated) on the label. The FDA also requires the label to list ingredients, dilutions, and instructions for safe use.

The guidelines for homeopathic remedies are found in an official guide, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, which is authored by a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization of industry representatives and homeopathic experts.

Conveniently for me, Jann Belamy has just written on this very topic over on Science-Based Medicine:

All those problems and we haven’t even scratched the surface of federal law yet.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is charged with regulating dietary supplements, a 2009 Government Accountability Office report found

“surveys and experts indicate that consumers are not well-informed about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements and have difficulty interpreting labels on these products. Without a clear understanding of the safety, efficacy, and labeling of dietary supplements, consumers may be exposed to greater health risks associated with the uninformed use of these products.”

And pity the poor consumer lulled into complacency by the knowledge that the FDA has regulatory authority over homeopathic products. As a federal district court recently concluded:

“Unlike non-homeopathic OTC drugs, homeopathic OTC drugs . . . are not evaluated by the FDA at all.”
“The Court is unaware of what standards, if any, exists to ensure that homeopathic OTC drugs are safe and effective.”
“[T]he FDA has largely abdicated any role it might have had in creating standards for homeopathic OTC drugs, and has instead attempted to delegate this authority to the non-governmental . . . .”
“[T]he FDA explicitly states that it makes no guarantee about the safety or efficacy of homeopathic OTC drugs . . . .”

Sure enough, here are the ingredients for Sprayology’s Diet Power:

Apis mel 6X, Boldo 3X, Fucus 3X, Galium 3X, Gambogia 3X, Hamamelis 3X, Hepar 12X, Histaminum hydrochloricum 200C, Pancreas 12X, Thuja occ 6X.

Inactive Ingredients: Glycerin 10% v/v, Organic Alcohol 9% v/v, Purified Water.

Those “6X” and “200C” designations tell you how diluted the substance is. The higher the number (X=1 in 10, C=1 in 100), the more dilute the substance. Here’s a pretty good breakdown. Basically, anything above 12C or 24X (1 part in 10^24) has no molecules of the substance left in it. It’s just water.

But as you can see, in this case the substances are highly diluted but not necessarily enough to remove all traces of every ingredient. Apis mel (1 part in 10,000,000) is short for apis mellifica, the Latin name for a honey bee. Supposedly it’s active ingredient is bee venom but apparently when written the way it is here, it’s a homeopathic dilution of an entire bee (see this page, but not for too long or you’ll go blind). So please note, Urban hipsters: it’s not vegan!

Boldo is a Chilean leaf that contains ascaridole, a highly toxic and possibly carcinogenic compound that tastes terrible (not to be confused with aristolchic acid, another herbal ingredient that has recently been linked to cancer). Aren’t you glad it’s one of the least-dilute substances in the vial? And that the FDA does basically nothing to test the safety, strength, or efficacy of that substance?

As for the other ingredients, fucus is seaweed, galium is an entire genus of herbaceous plant (not the element), gambogia is from a tree in the Philippines that apparently gives you the poops (again, diluted to the point where there might still be some in your tiny vial!), hamamelis is witch-hazel (an astringent often used in aftershave), hepar is a mix of sulphur flower and oyster shell, pancreas is, well, I guess it’s someone’s organ, thuja occ[identalis] is a tree that contains thujone (a powerful neurotoxin that can also damage the liver and cause convulsions when taken at high doses) and it doesn’t actually matter what histaminum hydrochloricum is because there’s none actually in there.

So on the upside, there’s a slim chance that Sprayology’s line actually contains one or two molecules of some of the ingredients. On the downside, some of those ingredients could maim or kill you if taken in the wrong dose, and even US courts think the FDA isn’t paying much attention to those doses.

On the upside again, probably no one will die and it’ll just be a case of some wealthy hipsters throwing away their money on something that gives them a little placebo high. And on the downside again, they might take that as evidence that homeopathy works and be more inclined to try it on serious illnesses, like a really bad case of “the blues.”

One last upside: Urban Outfitters lets you leave ratings on their product pages.

Thanks to Hannah for the tip!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I absolutely cannot wait to buy a $23 bottle of sugar water to go along with my transphobic greeting cards and culturally appropriated Native American feather jewelry!!  Awesomesauce!!!

  2. So we can add this to the list, then? Along with-
    -Funnelling huge amounts of profits to Santorum's presidential bid
    – The "Eat Less" women's t-shirt (marketed on an impossibly thing model)
    – Ripping off independent artists without credit or pay
    – The disgustingly transphobic Jack and Jill card
    – Pulling the "I Support Same-Sex Marriage" t-shirt for no reason whatsoever
    – Manufacturing their clothing at slave wages
    – Long history of racial insensitivity and cultural appropriation

  3. Yep. Any flimsy regulation by the FDA of homeopathic products is pretty worthless. Two years ago when Zicam was implicated in destroying users' sense of smell, all the FDA could really do was put out a warning to consumers. Zicam is still there on the drugstore shelves, of course, with nothing on the label letting people know about its link to anosmia. 
    But I don't feel sorry for people throwing money at a company that is horrible for all the reasons Natalie mentioned. Mostly I feel sorry for the bees whose entire bodies might have been diluted. Poor little bugs.   

  4. I've got your "party relief" right here! *grabs crotch*
    … I don't know what that means either. 
    If you have $23 for a little spray bottle of water, you're probably not doing shots of Pepe Lopez or guzzling Milwaukee's Best Ice Light and then hitting the Waffle House at 4AM. People who shop at Urban Outfitters don't know hung over, so maybe placebo can make them feel better over egg white omelet and organic tomato juice brunches. 

  5. Well, I wrote a review, but they say it will take 48 hrs for it to be published.  There's only one glowing review on the site, which 0 of 38 people find helpful.  Let's all undertake to write reviews, and see if Urban Outfitters is scrubbing them!!
    It does seem a little odd that 38 people would disagree with a review and not one of them would be motivated to write a counter review…

    1. I wrote a review shortly after Rebecca posted the link on Twitter. At that time only 6 people had found that one review unhelpful. I reckon all 32 of the others are as a result of people getting linked from here. Let's see if any negative reviews get posted any time.

  6. I'm currently weighing the pros and cons of registering to leave a comment on their site. I'm thinking maybe one of those sarcasticly gushing Amazon-type reviews would be pretty good. But cutting and pasting Rebecca's list o' ingredients might be fun too. Choices, choices…

      1. What do you "even" mean? Sock puppet of what from whom? Are you suggesting I'm somehow hiding my identity "mrmisconception"?

        1. Bro shmo. Just an observation: sockpuppetry is a banning offence and has been obvious for a long time now.
          @Rebecca: Boss, may I suggest, not fair to others if you don't ban this troll for clear violation of stated commenting policies?

          1. He didn't create a new account; he just changed his name. Sneaky but allowed. If I were to ban him, it would be for being a complete shitlord.

          2. Wait, I really don't get this at all. Yes, I changed my name a while ago because it was a mouthful and no longer relevant, but not because there was any 'problem' with it. I'm not trying to avoid anything or do anything "sneaky" as Rebecca says.
            It crossed my mind that most of this article was in fact other people's articles. Sorry for dissing the pope! And Mrmisconception posts a link to a blog that hasn't seen any life since 2009 (if ever) and you act like you've solved something!
            Strange behaviour. As is this:
            "Yeah, it's the same idiot. I'm not really sure why I keep him here, really. I think because it's fun to watch other commenters bat him around."

          3. @sixto

            When you changed your name you also changed your avatar, that and the fact that your older posts stayed under your old name while others who have changed their names’ old posts updated to their new username made me think that you had done this on purpose.

            Having said that, you do like to take potshots for no good reason (i.e. the snide pope remark) as well as trying to assign nefarious motives to Rebecca’s posts. (remarks about controversy being good for traffic, descent not being allowed, etc.)
            You are welcome to say what you like as long as you aren’t an ass about it of course, but don’t expect nobody to express a contrary opinion.

            Oh, and I didn’t link to that blog; I simple copy/pasted your old username and the hyperlink must have come along for the ride.

          4. @Jack Nothing.
            "descent not being allowed" – ensuring a 'high' level of conversation one presumes. It also means that there is no chance of a climb 'down'.
            "don’t expect nobody to express a contrary opinion" – is this a reference to Odysseus and the Cyclops? Well done!

  7. As for the hipsters that love this shit, there is a simple way to get them to stop buying. Tell them that suburban moms love the stuff and they won't go anywhere near it.

  8. I checked the ingredients for "Party Relief" and "Stress Relief",  the pattern that seemed to emerge was that most of 200C diluted ingredients were things that are generally not good for humans to ingest, such as arsenic trioxide, radium bromide, various plants which are toxic, "Lapis", which translates from Latin into "stone", "Carbo an", which is charcoal made from bone, strychnine, etc.
    Good stuff.

    1. Something I found amusing: the scientific notation expression of 200C is 1e400; if you ask a computer which can handle floating point arithmetic what 1e400 is, the result you get back is "Infinity".  So even computers agree, "200C" is "infinite dilution".

  9. Darn, I was hoping "diet power" would just be diluted bacon fat.  I mean, isn't homeopathy supposed to be a dilution of something that brings on the symptoms you are trying to cure?  I have heard a lot of strange claims about things that make you fat (or not), but never bees.
    Also, at what dilution does bacon fat stop being delicious?  

      1. Your science has no place in my awesome homeopathic remedies.  
        Besides you just have to introduce the water and the bacon and then dilute it so there is no longer any bacon fat floating around inside of it, because water has memory, if I recall my homeopathy correctly.  If would almost definitely not taste bacon-y though :(

      2. If your homeopathic ingredients aren't water soluble, grain alcohol can be used instead.  If they are neither water nor alcohol solubale, you can just grind them up really fine (or smoosh them into water) and use that instead.  After you dilute them enough times, it doesn't really matter.

    1. Diet power won't work but as a cure for hangovers its not too bad. Water (increase hydration) sugar and just a nip o' the hair. However, it's also not anything a $2 bottle of gatorade and a shot of vodka couldn't buy you.

  10. But what about the "inactive ingredients." I'm not sure what "v/v" means…volume per volume?…but if it's 10% glycerin (sweetner) and 9% alcohol, then basically you've got a little nip. Perhaps the ATF should be involved. And for $23 you can buy a pretty nice sipping whiskey.

  11. I admit it's tangential but it's something that I've been wondering about:
    See, when a homeopathic "remedy" is a sugar pill, it suddenly does contain an undiluted active substance: Sugar. Sugar does something and if it's a sugar pill there's actually some of it in there. Admittedly not enough to have any appreciable effect as understood by people who aren't homeopaths. But by homeopathing reasoning, surely there isn't quite enough to be certain it won't do anything (since less is more and the more of a substance there isn't in your remedy, the more powerful it is). So, shouldn't a conscientious homeopath, if they actually believe in homeopath, only give out sugar pills if they're the size of basketballs so as to make sure that there's far too much sugar for it to have any effect?
    Further, on a tangent from my original tangent, surely a small vaccuum should be the most powerful concoction imaginable being, essentially, the entire universe diluted into nothingness (and consequently highly concentrated).

  12. OT, sorta: Recently something about Urban Outfitters came up as a topic on a website I occasionally cheat on Skepchick with. Will pass this along in case anyone else besides me was not following Miley Cyrus on Twitter last year, Urban Outfitters CEO/co-founder Richard Haynes was a Santorum supporter to the tune of donating $13000 to his Senatorial PAC, and has also donated substantial bucks to anti-gay marriage groups. He was the reason pro-gay marriage t-shirts were yanked from UO stores. The chain Haynes controls includes UO, Anthropologie, and Free People.
    So this is not the first time UO has shilled for something inane.


  13. As chemists, we use molar dilutions of various reagents. From millimole (10^-3), micromo;e (10^-6), nanomole (10^-9) to attomole (10^-18), zeptomole (10^-21), and of course, guacamole (10^-24). Maybe we should adopt the 24X or 12C notation.

  14. Bloody FDA are a waste of space sometimes aren't they?
    We have the same problem with our TGA in Australia.
    Yet they are about to make life well nigh impossible for labs with their regulation of so called "therapeutic devices" i.e. diagnostic tests.
    This is complicated and difficult to explain, but every "in house" diagnostic test has to be registered and approved in the same way as commercial devices such as orthotics (which is way inappropriate for a start).
    TGA make such a meal of even the straightforward stuff, that they will be swamped when they get to the more exotic tests.
    Vast amounts of time and money will be wasted for no good purpose.

  15. I love that you noted that it’s not vegan. Neither, of course, is oscillococcinum, the homeopathic flu “cure”, which requires duck organ bits to be diluted to non-existence. Yet I expect there is significant overlap in the Venn diagram of homeopathy users and vegans. Honestly, it’s worse than not vegan, it’s basically a sacrificial ritual. Since they kill the animal, perform a ritual, and give you a product with no animal in it, why not just kill a chicken and wave it over the bottles of sugar pills before shipping them?

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