Anti-aging scams can be costly and dangerous
Trying to buy the fountain of youth is like throwing money into a dry wishing well. The money is gone and you’re left with nothing but empty jars of unfilled promises. And the boomer generation is the exact market that manufacturers of anti-aging products—some legit, many not—target.
It isn’t just the lotions and potions offered these days. Men and women of all ages can be victims of useless supplements and dangerous concoctions, such as purported hormone-replacement therapies being sold by unethical and unregulated sources.
So, before you buy any anti-aging product making big promises, know the warning signs of a scam and know the right questions
If a supplement or personal-care product makes a claim, ask for the scientific proof to back it up. Make sure that an unbiased lab or third party did the supporting studies, not the manufacturer’s team or any company invested in profits. Ask questions such as whether the trials were done on participants in your age group and your ethnicity.
Check with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission to make sure no claims have been filed against the manufacturer. Make sure your money is fully refundable should you have any reactions to the product, and be sure you to get that promise in writing.
Don’t rely on Internet reviews. While some retailers and independent review sites offer unbiased customer reviews, many search-engine results will deliver reviews created by and/or paid for by those promoting the product.
Advertisements squawk about a “secret formula,” or a “breakthrough,” but never define those terms or offer evidence. Other catchphrases to beware of are “scientific breakthrough,” “exclusive product,” “secret ingredient” or “active remedy.”
And a celebrity endorsement isn’t concrete evidence. Most celebrities are compensated to endorse a product. And be aware of personal testimonials that are misleading.
Any claim that says it is unnecessary to consult a doctor is a red flag. Before starting any diet, nutritional supplement or new health regime, you should check with your doctor.
And keep in mind when taking supplements that there may be a serious risk of interaction with prescription medications. Regardless of packaging or ad claims, products you ingest or put on your skin or otherwise consume can potentially have serious side effects.
The FBI warns that consumers should also be leery of any claims that a manufacturer’s or creator’s work or message is being suppressed by the scientific establishment. Scammers often claim the establishment is persecuting them but in the end they will be vindicated.
And don’t fall for the white lab coat. Many times manufacturers will try to convey credibility by having the spokesperson wear a white lab coat and even a stethoscope, giving the appearance they are a medical professional, or using words such as “institutes” or “academies” to bolster credibility.
Every day, many of us do simple and safe things to improve our health and appearance, such as use sunscreen or cover the gray with haircolor. While there are many safe ways to fight the appearance of aging, experts warn consumers against buying into the idea that it’s easy to reverse the aging process.
Some anti-aging products or procedures claims that the key is as easy as manipulating a single hormone, or that their products is an off-label use as an “alternative” to traditional and FDA-approved uses of the drug.
Arlene Weintraub is the author of “Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease Out of Getting Old—And Made Billions.”
Weintraub said she believes consumers aren’t well educated about the remedies being pitched to them. “I found many patients were paying tens of thousands of dollars a year—mostly out of pocket—for treatments that were unproven and could be dangerous,” Weintraub said.
Weintraub’s book focuses on anti-aging treatments using prescription hormones and steroids, such as estrogen, progesterone, human growth hormone, and testosterone. “I was particularly disturbed by the role of the compounding pharmacy industry, which has grown tremendously lately in response to the demand for anti-aging hormones. Compounding pharmacies can make their own drugs in their own facilities and sell them directly to consumers, yet they are not held to the same standards of quality manufacturing, clear labeling, safe practices, etc. that traditional drug manufacturers are,” Weintraub said.
“These pharmacies have been in the news lately due to the deadly meningitis outbreak that was linked to a compounded pain medication last year. But what many people don’t know is that compounding pharmacies manufacture and sell many products for anti-aging use—and they do so with limited oversight from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Therefore there are many more consumers who could be buying products from these pharmacies.”
When free isn’t free at all
To add insult to injury, many consumers get a “free trial” of a product, only to discover their checking account or credit card is being repeatedly charged for a subscription or “auto-refill” plan.
The FTC’s website offers a warning for those free trials saying, “Typically, if you don’t want to buy what you’ve tried, you need to cancel or take some other action before the trial is up. If you don’t, you may be agreeing to buy more products.”
Many times you may be coerced into giving your credit card or checking account info for this “free trial,” typically to cover shipping and handling charges. What you don’t know is the company may be putting you on an automatic refill and delivery program, thus charging your account even if you had no intention of continuing to order the product. These arrangements are difficult to get out of or to reverse, and if you get caught up in it, it can take hours online or on the phone to fix the problem.
When you do order a new product, research the company and ask specific questions about the terms and conditions of that particular offer. When ordering online, watch for those tiny pre-checked boxes that signal your agreement to terms. It might be as simple as accepting email promotions and offers, or it might be an acceptance of an auto-refill agreement. Be sure to mark your calendar for a few days before the trial period is up so that you can make sure no future orders will be shipped.
There are good, legitimate products available to make you look and feel better. I have drawers filled with some. But the anti-aging scam industry is more than a good moisturizer, toothpaste or quality vitamin. It’s manufacturers that make promises that can’t be filled or which end up being dangerous or costly. And as many qualified health pros will tell you, there is a fountain of youth. It includes a good night’s sleep, a healthy diet and regular exercise.