Food Babe Wants This Made Illegal For Children, So She Sells It To Them

food babe christmas treat banner

One of Vani (the “Food Babe”) Hari’s most hypocritical posts ever just hit Facebook.1  I literally spewed a soft drink across my computer screen when I saw this post:

food babe children artificial color

Food Babe maligns the sale of artificial colors to children while she does the very same thing.(click/enlarge)

For many years now, Hari has sold artificial colors made from petroleum derivatives  to children, in the form of Piggy Paint nail polish, as detailed here.2

Piggy Paint, pushed by Food Babe via her affiliate marketing program,3 contains an abundance of artificial “coal tar dye” colors (her language, not mine), including Orange 5, Yellow 10, Red 22, Red 34, and Violet 2.4

piggy paints with artificial colors, sold by food babe

Piggy Paint nail polish for children, complete with artificial colors,  as sold by Food Babe (click/enlarge)

For those in the #FoodBabeArmy who might cry foul, saying Vani’s only campaigning against so-called toxic chemicals in food products, let me again remind you, she rants against the very same ingredients in beauty products.5

Vani, it’s time to start reading your own product labels.


(1) Food Babe Artificial Color Post (Facebook)
Retrieved 27 Dec 2017

(2) Food Babe Selling Pesticide, Coal Tar Dyes to Children
Bad Science Debunked, 15 Nov 2015
Retrieved 27 Dec 2017

(3) Food Babe: New Products That Make Me Scream In Excitement
(Food Babe Marketing Post)
Retrieved 27 Dec 2017

(4) Piggy Paint Ingredients
Retrieved 27 Dec 2017

(5) So Fresh And So Clean–Skin Care Tips
Warning: Not a scholarly link
Retrieved 27 Dec 2017

Image Credits
Piggy Paint and Food Babe screen snapshots and product image captures are used in strict compliance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Science Moms (Movie Review)

Science Moms Banner

On a hot summer day in the not-too-distant past, I made a small contribution to a Kickstarter project for a film known as “Science Moms.”  As time went by, the pressures of daily life pushed the movie to the back of mind, along with that promise to my wife to mow the lawn, and something about an engagement party we were supposed to attend on Saturday.  Regarding the film at least, my memory was jogged last weekend, when directors Natalie Newell and Brian Newell saw to it that a copy showed up in the inboxes of the documentary’s supporters.  I was delighted.

Science Moms1 is thirty minutes of entertainment and science wrapped around a hard hitting message: celebrity-driven misinformation on issues such as vaccines and GMOs is making life miserable for parents, who don’t know where to turn for advice–and often end up making costly decisions.

image of baby in sink. Babies are precious to their parents

Children are obviously precious to their parents, who will go to great lengths to protect them. Good advice is critical. It won’t be found in the fear-driven Facebook posts of celebrities. (Photo: © 2017 Miranda Lynn White.)

Five mothers who just happen to be three professional scientists or science writers/communicators were inspired, in part, to make the film after one of their heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar, made an ill-advised and scientifically inaccurate video on GMOs.  (Yes, scientists love Buffy too!)

The movie is loaded with witty animations, facts that hit home but don’t overwhelm, and, my favorite, touching personal stories from each mother.  The most poignant moment for me was the story of a neuroscientist who reflected that views of the polio vaccine are so different now than they were in her own mother’s time.  This echoes my own mother’s recollections of losing grade school friends to the dreaded disease, and her nightly prayers that she wouldn’t end up in an iron lung herself.  The polio vaccine was/is a Godsend, yet we live in an age where parents are frightened away from safe vaccines by Hollywood stars whose science education is, to be kind, lacking.  Such are the lessons of this wonderful documentary.

I doubt that Science Moms will change the minds of any of the virulent anti-vaccine, anti-GMO, anti-science crowd, but I don’t believe that’s the film’s target audience.  The Science Moms are speaking to other mothers out there who are just as confused and frightened by misinformation as they once were.  I’ve always likened good science communication to vaccines: once someone like Gary Ruskin or Carey Gilam (USRTK) has been infected by anti-GMO propaganda, or Andrew Wakefield’s shameful vaccine lies, there’s probably no chance of saving them.

But there are countless parents who have yet to be infected by the diseased words of the Sarah Michelle Gellars, the Jenny McCarthys, and the Gwyneth Paltrows of this world.  Science Moms is the ideal vaccine for these parents.  To be forewarned is to be forearmed.  Information antibodies introduced into the brain by this $4.99 (downloadable) film could be just the thing to save a confused mother (or father) who comes up against the dangerous, pseudoscientific nonsense of a Vani Hari or David Avocado Wolfe sales pitch.

Curious?  You can learn more about Science Moms at


Disclosures:  I donated to the Kickstarter fund that helped make this movie possible, but I have no financial interest in it whatsoever, including compensation of any type from sales, promotion, etc.  I speak favorably of the film because I believe in it.  I once played hooky from physics class and went fishing. Now you know. [End of disclosure]


Image Credits
Science Moms logo copyright (c) 2017 Natalie Newell and Brian Newell/ScienceMoms. Used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law,” distributed without profit, for the purpose of review, education, and increasing public knowledge.

Baby in sink copyright © 2017 Miranda Lynn White, all rights reserved.  Used with permission.

Remote control image by Santeri Viinamäki, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

(1) Science Moms
Retrieved 17 Nov 2017

Eclipse Blinds Pets! (And Other Bad Science)

pool closed due to eclipse

The road to Science Hell is paved with good intentions.

As I anxiously await my ninth total eclipse of the sun here in Western Kentucky, I was shocked to see that the swimming pool would be closed during the event in the interest of public safety. Is our resort afraid people will lose their way in the darkness and fall in & drown, or has a viral Internet rumor been spreading that looking at an eclipse while immersed in water will cause blindness?


Bad science abounds around eclipse time.  From people locking children indoors for “protection”, to religious leaders predicting the end of the world is nigh, something about losing the sun for a few minutes brings out the daft among us.

Knowing that I’m an eclipse buff, some well-meaning coworkers at the office passed along the following semi-viral internet meme, warning of the dire consequences of not locking your pets inside during the “Great American Eclipse” of August 21:

eclipse will not cause pet blindness

Bad eclipse science runs rampant on social media (click/enlarge)

Pets going blind because of the eclipse?  No.  Just no.

If you aren’t in the path of totality, staring at the partially eclipsed sun is going to be just as painful and counterintuitive for your cat/dog/guppy as it would be for you. Even with 99% of the sun blocked by the moon, as it will be near my home town of Lexington, KY, the sun will be far too bright to look at with the naked eye. So why, pray tell, would Whiskers and Fido suddenly feel the urge to stare intently at the sun and fry their retinas like bacon?

Answer: they won’t. The only odd behavior you might notice from a pet during this eclipse would be if you happen to own a critter that routinely feeds or beds down at sunset. Animals sometimes get tricked into thinking that the eclipse signals nightfall. Bessie the Cow might head for the trough, Trigger the Horse might head for the barn, but if you plan on putting either in the house to protect them from the eclipse, you’re wasting your time (and risking severe carpet damage).

The only animals who need to worry about protecting their eyes during this eclipse are humans. We know something special is happening, so we tend to do something unnatural and stare at the sun. Proper eye protection is de rigeur in this case during the partial phases of the eclipse.

Fido and the other pets will have no clue what’s going on, and will happily go about their business–unless some Facebook addict ruins their day by locking them in the house.

Your Worst Day Ever: David Wolfe’s Earthing and Zapping Debunked, Part 1

David Wolfe Earthing

Earthers mistakenly believe that the Earth protects them from EMF via a mystical force field seeping into their bodies through their feet.  Somebody’s been watching too much Star Trek.


Part One:  Unnatural Frequencies
Have you heard the joke about the guy who plugs himself into an electrical outlet in his home for protection against disease-causing high frequency electromagnetic fields, then paradoxically zaps himself with an electrical device to kill pathogens?

Unfortunately, it’s not a joke.  This is for real.  The man’s name is David Avocado Wolfe.  And he’s not just practicing this silly electrical voodoo on himself, he’s selling products that cost hundreds of dollars to innocent, scientifically illiterate followers, with the promise of similar protection.  Sadly, it’s all a scam, and there’s the very real chance that seriously ill people are eschewing real medical treatment in favor of quack remedies like earthing and zapping.

In this multi-part series, I’ll be exposing Wolfe’s deception.  In part one, we’ll look at the myth that’s the very foundation of “earthing” nonsense: the claim that high frequency radio waves–those in the gigahertz range–are “unnatural”, dirty, or inherently dangerous.1

This can be debunked in one sentence:  there is no such thing as an unnatural radio frequency.  All radio frequencies are natural. 

There, we’re done.

Oh, you want a demonstration?  Well, fair enough.  This is a science blog, after all. Here’s some food for thought:  David Avocado is an advocate of “sun gazing”–staring at the sun to absorb mystical healing energy.2   The problem for Avocado and his earthing buddies: the sun emits the very same high frequency radio waves that he’s selling protection from.

This is easy to prove.  A simple twelve gigahertz radio receiver can be built using a discarded home satellite dish and less than $10 in parts from eBay or a local electronics store.  Twelve gigahertz and below are right in the “Wolfe Danger Zone” for consumer electronic devices.  But if we point our receiver’s dish at the sun– as natural a source as you can possibly find–we’ll quickly see how full of [expletive deleted] earthers are… we’ll pick up these very frequencies!  Here’s a quick YouTube video of me doing this demonstration.  If you don’t like video, scroll down for some captioned screen snapshots outlining the experiment.


[VIDEO]  The sun emits the same radio frequencies that David Wolfe calls “unnatural’.   I’ve put together a simple YouTube video demonstrating this. (Running time: Less than  3 minutes).

For those of you who prefer pictures over video, here’s a simple photos essay of what’s happening in the video above.  You can click any photo to enlarge.


Step 1:  A discarded satellite dish with a 12 gigahertz LNB can be used in a simple radio receiving system.


Step 2:  A $7 signal strength meter takes the down-converted signal from the dish.  Here, obviously, we have no signal (a reading of zero).


Step 3:  Point the antenna at the sun, which no earther can dispute is “unnatural”.


Step 4: When the antenna is pointed at the sun, we’ve got a very strong 12 gigahertz signal.  So much for unnatural high frequency radio sources.


The take-home message of this demonstration is that you cannot take a radio frequency out of context and label is safe or dangerous, dirty or clean, natural or unnatural.  (Well, OK, all radio frequencies are natural, so Wolfe is just completely wrong on that one.)    How strong is the electromagnetic field?  How close are you to the source?  Are we talking about ionizing radiation?  There are a lot of factors to consider.  The bottom line:  neither the radio waves from the sun received in this experiment, Wi-Fi routers, or cell phones are harmful, just because they are measured in gigahertz.  And this is David Avocado’s claim: high-frequency radio waves are unnatural and therefore bad for us.

Yes, there is harmful electromagnetic radiation (gamma rays come to mind), but Wolfe doesn’t begin to approach the subject honestly.  The World Health Organization has a wonderful online resource on this subject.  If you’d like research from experts who have studied this, you can get started here.3

What I’m here to shoot down is Wolfe’s claim that frequencies of billions of hertz–gigahertz–are unnatural and, by extension, somehow inherently dangerous to us.  As you can see in the graph below, the sun does output more energy in the visible part of the spectrum than the radio, but it the radio waves are there, and they’re certainly natural.

solar spectrum (smoothed)

The sun emits electromagnetic energy across a broad spectrum, including the entire range of radio waves that earthers like David Wolfe try to avoid.  There is no such thing as “unnatural” radio frequencies.  Image courtesy the Window to the Universe Project/NCAR/Comet Program/High Altitude Observatory.  Used with permission.  (click/enlarge)


Why Are Wolfe et al Frightening People?
So, their apparent lack of understanding of basic physics aside, why would David Wolfe and other earthers want to frighten you away from frequencies above 1Ghz?  Let’s take a peek at the offerings from Wolfe’s online store, Longevity Warehouse, and see if we can divine an answer:

David Wolfe earthing products

Earthing products don’t come cheap from David Wolfe’s online store.  And they don’t offer a single proven health benefit either. (click/enlarge)

Wake the kids and phone the neighbors!

  • “Grounded” pillow cases for $129.98.
  • Matching wired sheets for $179.99.
  • Step out of your grounded bed every morning and exercise on a $99 earthing yoga mat.

I think I’m seeing a pattern here.  Do you, dear reader?

Ladies and and gentlemen, David Wolfe and his bank account thank you.


In the next installment of this series, we’ll show just how confused earthers are about electrical potential and the flow of electricity, batteries, and we’ll even delve into pH woo.  In subsequent episodes, we’ll ask why these folks fret about voltages developing on their skin due to EMF, yet they outlay hundreds of dollars on devices that shock themselves (when the same devices can be built for pennies on the dollar).

From there, we’ll move on to the strange practice of plugging your body into the ground outlet of your home’s electrical socket, and how this might actually kill you.

If you think the world is a strange place, stay tuned.  Pardon my poor grammar, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.


David Wolfe sun gazing

In his sun-gazing video, David Wolfe spends four minutes staring at a broad spectrum high frequency radio source (which he says is dangerous), and never realizes it. #Irony #DontCryWolfe

Image Credits
David Wolfe screen, product, and video captures used under Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Smoothed Solar Spectral Irradiance graph used with the kind permission of the Window to the Universe Project, derived from the NCAR Comet Program/High Altitude Observatory project.  Use of the image does not imply that these organizations endorse or agree with the viewpoints presented in this article.

(1) Mind Blowing Experiment With David Wolfe

(2) David Wolfe Sungazing

(3) World Health Organization: What is EMF?

Food Babe Selling Pesticide, Coal Tar Dyes To Children

Piggy Paint from food babe

Piggy Paint, sold by Food Babe. (click/enlarge)

Friday is payday here at Bad Science Debunked.  As I’m wont to do when I’m flush with cash, I thought a trip to for a little online shopping might be fun.  As always, we’ll  be wearing our Food Babe Investigator HatsTM as we browse, which means that when evaluating the safety of product ingredients, we use Vani Hari’s rules.  In addition, as a special treat, we also need to don Food Babe Lab Coats (patent pending) and Vani Hari Safety Goggles,SM because we’ll be going into our kitchen laboratory to do an actual chemistry experiment.

I can barely stand the excitement, and I already know what explodes!  Ready to go?  Put on those safety goggles.  Today’s Food Babe product is:  “Piggy Paint”.

Piggy paint?

Yes, Piggy Paint
I bought Food Babe’s Piggy Paint nail polish for children from after reading her article “New Products That Make Me Scream In Excitement”. I screamed too, because I saw an elementary school science project being deceptively used to sell fingernail polish:

food babe piggy paint nail polish

This cheap grade school science fair project fooled Food Babe.  I’ll recreate it later in the article, explain it, and show how her nail polish is just as “bad”. (click/enlarge)

If you’ve studied chemistry, even at the grade school level, you already know the secret of the “melted” styrofoam plate that makes Food Babe’s competition look so dangerous.  At the end of this article we’ll do a simple experiment to shed light on this.  But, for now, let’s just highlight the encoded affiliate link that allows us put vital cash in Vani Hari’s pocket each and every time we buy Piggy Paint from her:

food babe encrypted affiliate link

Food Babe’s encoded  affiliate ID.

I’m fairly certain Hari donates a portion of each purchase toward the rehabilitation of GMO-injured penguins at the North Pole.  Such is the extent of her scientific outreach.  My dreams are sweeter each night knowing I’m helping fund her vital work.

Without further ado, let’s take a peek at the ingredients in this nail polish:2

Ingredients in Piggy Paint nail polish.

The first highlighted ingredient, neem oil, is a well known pesticide used in organic farming.3,4,5,6  (You did know that organic farmers use pesticides, didn’t you?)

Oh dear.  Vani Hari is selling a pesticide to children?

Why yes, she is.  At least it’s organic!  But crude oil is also 100% natural and organic, so we can’t defend her actions using an appeal to nature.  Vani is a skilled researcher, so this must be a mistake… can we just say neem oil isn’t toxic and move on?

“Twelve children were admitted with convulsions and altered sensorium following ingestion of locally obtained neem oil.  Ten died within 24 hours.”–Indian Journal of Pediatrics 7

Ten dead children?  So much for non-toxic!  But that’s just one report, right?

“This report highlights the toxicity associated with neem oil poisoning in an elderly male. […]  In the emergency department, the patient developed generalized convulsions with loss of consciousness. “–Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine 8

As it turns out, there are many reports of neem oil poisoning, especially in children (the target audience of Vani’s nail polish).  The Indian Journal of Pediatrics paper says that refining can remove toxic components, but Food Babe is against refined and processed products.  Honestly, I’m not sure how to defend Hari, my champion of science…  if I say that this is a cosmetic and all the poisonings were from drinking neem oil, her critics  will point out that she says applying toxins to your skin is dangerous as well .9,10

If I mention that neem oil is also sometimes used as a traditional folk medicine and not just a pesticide, detractors of the Babe will point out the Subway bread debacle:  It didn’t matter to Food Babe that azodicarbonamide was used safely in one area (food)–since it was used in another setting (the manufacturer of yoga mats), it was dangerous everywhere.

Maybe we’d better treat Vani’s pesticide just as she would: ignore it completely and move on to something else.

Neem oil, found in Piggy Paint, is an organic pesticide (insect killer).  (click/enlarge)


Ooh, The Pretty Colors
Here are the Piggy Paint ingredients again. Let’s apply our Food Babe research methods to those interesting color/number combinations:

Ingredients in Piggy Paint nail polish.

Ingredients in Piggy Paint nail polish. (click/enlarge)

“Orange 5″… “red 22″…  these seem to be the FDA-approved “short names” 13 for “D&C Orange Number 5” and “D&C Red Number 22”.  Why, they are!13  You know the D&C dyes, right?  Educate the masses, Vani:


In “Be A Drug Store Beauty Drop Out”, Vani Hari warns ominously that D&C “Coal Tar Dyes” can cause cancer and may be toxic to the brain. 9 (click/enlarge)


All of those “natural” colors Vani is selling to your kids and giving away to her friend’s little girls?  They’re all the same “toxic coal tar dyes” she warned would cause cancer and brain toxicity.


According to Food Babe’s own “research”, she’s selling a toxic rainbow:

  • “Red 28” is D&C Red 28 (CI 48410)
  • “Yellow 10” is D&C Yellow 10 (CI 47005)
  • “Violet 2” is D&C Violet 2 (CI 60725)
  • “Red 22” is D&C Red 22 (CI 45380)

I’m disappointed in Food Babe for not catching this faux pas.  She didn’t have to go to the FDA, who regulates the dyes.  No, she has her own higher authority:  the  Environmental Working Group:11

“In the end – If you want to know if your makeup is safe and not toxic – check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, they have thousands of your favorite brands listed with their safety ratings for you to investigate yourself…”–Vani Hari11

What does Vani’s beloved EWG say about the Orange 5 she’s selling?

“D&C Orange 5 is a synthetic dye produced from petroleum or coal tar sources”–EWG Skin Deep Database  12

With full disclosure that I’m a co-author and this could be considered an affiliate link, Marc Draco and Kavin Senapathy point out in our book, The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House, that “coal tar dye” is a misleading term.  These dyes are commonly derived from petroleum now, not coal tar, but once “derived”, they’re no longer petroleum. The good folks at Piggy Paints reaffirmed this in an email to me, and correctly point out that the dyes are tested under the authority of, and approved by, the FDA. But since Food Babe says they’re dangerous, isn’t it curious that she’s selling them?

Looking at the big picture, Piggy Paint nail polish appears to be just as safe for its intended use as conventional nail polish. I hope the company won’t be punished because a hypocritical “activist” is selling this polish while simultaneously (falsely) linking the ingredients to myriad diseases. If not for their deceptive advertising, I’d be happy to buy Piggy Paint nail polish for my young nieces. I just wouldn’t buy it from Food Babe.

Speaking of that deceptive advertising, you’re welcome to join me in the kitchen for a quick experiment that exposes the “melting” Styrofoam plate used by Piggy Paint and Food Babe to scare people away from conventional nail polish…


How Piggy Paints and Vani Hoax Their Customers With That “Melting Plate” Demonstration
A skeptical mind would well ask why Vani and the Piggy Paint promoters selected a Styrofoam plate as the “substrate” (the target for their nail polishes) in the product demo that kicked off this article.  It’s almost as if they knew that the Piggy Paint wouldn’t eat through the plate while the competing nail polishes would, and chose styrofoam for that reason alone. In fact, that’s exactly what happened.

Conventional nail polishes contain a component known as a solvent that helps keep the polish in the form of liquid until it’s time to apply it.  Once on the nails, the solvent quickly evaporates, leaving behind a solid film of color bound to the nail.  Organic solvents used in nail polish include acetone, ethyl acetate, and butyl acetate.

Revlon Hot For Chocolate Ingredients

Conventional nail polishes use organic solvents such as acetone, ethyl acetate, or butyl acetate. This brand, Revlon “Hot For Chocolate” purports to use all three!14 (click/enlarge)

Styrofoam is made up mostly of air and a small amount of a polymer named polystyrene.  The long polystyrene polymers in Styrofoam intertwine during manufacturing, trapping copious amounts of air.  95% or more of that styrofoam plate is actually just air.  (A kind reader pointed that “Styrofoam” is a trademark that covers a specific manufacturing process for polystyrene and that the manufacturer of Styrofoam doesn’t actually make cups and plates. Please note I used “Styrofoam” in the generic sense in this article.)

Polystyrene is soluble in acetone and other organic solvents used in nail polish and nail polish removers.  The solvents dissolve the polystyrene strands, allowing the air to escape. That’s all that happens.  What looks like “melting” certainly isn’t an indicator of what’s going to happen to your nails, which–in case you haven’t noticed–aren’t made of styrofoam. Knowing the composition of your product and your competitor’s product, it’s easy to pull off a deceptive marketing trick like “melting” a plate.


Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better
But wait!  Two can play this game.

What if, using the very same rules laid down by Vani Hari and Piggy Paint, I can accomplish the opposite of what they’ve done with their Styrofoam test?  That is, would it be possible for me to make the Piggy Paints looks like the “Dirty Dissolvers” while the conventional nail polishes come out looking clean as fresh-fallen snow, not leaving a mark on the surface where they’re applied?

Let’s find out.

Here’s a reminder of the rules:  I have to use both Piggy Paint and conventional nail polishes.  Just as Team Piggy/Vani got to pick a Styrofoam plate, I get to pick my own substrate.  Whatever I choose, Piggy Paint must damage it.  Conversely, the conventional polishes can’t do it any harm.

OK.  I choose hard white discs with a circumference roughly equal to an American half dollar, made primarily of solidified sodium bicarbonate and citric acid.  The discs I’ve obtained are far more rigid than Team Piggy’s foam plates, and at least five times thicker:

vani hari piggy paint solvent demonstration

I chose hard discs of sodium bicarbonate and citric acid instead of paper plates… (click/enlarge)

With any experiment, we need a control group.  Here is mine:  swatches of three conventional nail polishes spread on a styrofoam plate, alongside a similar spread of Piggy Paint polishes.  Note that the conventional polishes have bubbled and warped the plate just like with Team Piggy’s experiment, while the Piggy Paint leaves the plate unscathed. The control we’re using here affirms that we’re using the same type of nail polishes used in Vani Hari’s demo.

food babe piggy paint

On the top: Piggy Paint. On the bottom: conventional nail polish, which seems to have “melted” the styrofoam plate. (click/enlarge)


Let’s pour some conventional nail polish on three of the discs, and Piggy Paint onto another three:

food babe piggy paint demo

Foreground: Piggy Paint reacts violently with the three discs. Background: conventional nail polish has no effect on the discs. (click/enlarge)

Zut alors!  Piggy Paint reacts violently with the discs, while the conventional nail polishes have no effect whatsoever.  Look Ma… I just conclusively demonstrated that conventional nail polish is safe and Piggy Paints are dangerous.  Or not.

So what happened?

When I studied organic chemistry, we spent a huge amount of lab time learning to pick a solvent that would affect one substance while leaving another substance untouched.  This is really important when, for example, you want to separate two compounds.

So, knowing the solvent used in Piggy Paints (water), I picked Alka Seltzer discs.  The solid sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, for you Food Babe fans) and citric acid dissolved in the water.  The chemical reaction between base and acid released carbon dioxide, causing the Piggy Paint nail polish to bubble violently.  Alka Seltzer isn’t as soluble in acetone and other organic solvents as water, so before the discs could dissolve, the solvent evaporated, leaving the discs untouched by the conventional nail polish.

Did I cheat?  Well, only as much as Vani Hari and the Piggy Paint vendors did when they made that styrofoam plate appear to “melt” away.  The moral of the story: armed with a modest chemistry education, it’s easy lead the casual observer into believing something is “safe” or “dangerous” with nothing more than a cheap science fair project.  And that’s exactly what Food Babe and Piggy Paints have done.


Edit History
Noted polystyrene solubility in acetone, other solvents used in nail polish (ethyl acetate and butyl acetate are more common than acetone), sodium bicarbonate = baking soda, “Styrofoam” trademark, word “encoded” more accurately used than “encrypted” in describing Vani’s affiliate link. (13 Nov 2015).  Added Revlon “Hot For Chocolate” ingredients as an example of a nail polish that used all organic solvents mentioned in this article.

Image Credits
Piggy Paint and Food Babe screen snapshots and product image captures are used in strict compliance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Kitchen chemistry shots by the author. Freely distributable for educational purposes, photo credit to “Mark Aaron Alsip/Bad Science Debunked” appreciated.

(1) New Products That Make Me Scream In Excitement

(2) Piggy Paint Ingredients

(3) Natria Neem Oil Pesticide (Lowes)

(4) Garden Safe Neem Extract (Lowes)

(5) Bonide Neem Oil (

(6) Safer Brand 1 Galllon Neem Oil Insecticide

(7) The Indian Journal of Pediatrics
May 1982, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 357-359
N. Sundaravalli, B. Bhaskar Raju M.D., K. A. Krishnamoorthy M.D. (1)

(8) Neem oil poisoning: Case report of an adult with toxic encephalopathy
Indian J Crit Care Med. 2013 Sep-Oct; 17(5): 321–322.
Ajay Mishra and Nikhil Dave

(9) Be A Drug Store Beauty Dropout

(10) Holistic Hair Care

(11) How To Find The Best Natural Mascara That Actually Works

(12) EWG Skin Deep Database: Orange No. 5

(13) Color Additives and Cosmetics (FDA)

(14) Revlon Hot For Chocolate/Ingredients (


Naturally Nicole’s Elderberry Flu Treatment Debunked (part 1)

naturally nicole elderberry syrup

What the heck is “evidence based” proof? Is there another kind?

So many snake oil peddlers, so little time.

In “Evidence Based Proof Elderberry Syrup Is Better Than The Flu Shot”,1 Facebook saleswoman “Naturally Nicole” offers up more misinformation on the flu shot than can possibly be debunked in one sitting.  In the interest of time, I’ll take on two of the three “scientific studies” she cites to support her flu cure, then come back for more in future articles.

Fasten your seat belts; make sure your tray tables are in a locked and upright position. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Claim #1
An extract of black elderberries has natural antiviral properties in vitro, and reduced flu symptoms in 3-4 days2

We have an epic failure right off the bat.  In layman’s terms, in vitro means the study was performed in a glass test tube or petri dish, not a live human.  So how did the elderberry extract reduce flu symptoms in humans?

Answer: it didn’t.  This study wasn’t performed on humans, and Nicole & the abstract essentially tell a bald-faced lie.  Here’s what happened:

Nicole starts you off with this abstract2 which describes a study performed courtesy of twelve volunteers who donated blood that was treated with elderberry extract in vitro.  The humans didn’t have the flu.  They didn’t have symptoms.  The test was simply to determine if the elderberry triggered an immune response in the extracted cells.  If you don’t read the paper behind the abstract, you never learn this vital fact.

It’s only when you read the full text of the study3 that you see the abstract’s reference to a reduction in symptoms isn’t for the study actually being done.   This mysterious second paper and the reduction in symptoms in humans is never even mentioned anywhere but the abstract.  I have to repeat myself, because it’s so important: the study cited by Nicole never tested a single flu patient, yet she and the abstract claim it reduced symptoms in humans in 3-4 days.  Pretty amazing since it was an in vitro test only! (wink wink, nudge nudge.)

I’ve laid it out graphically for you below, and you can follow the results yourself via the hyperlinks in the article to see for yourself how you’re being misled:

bait and switch study

Figures lie and liars figure.  The study cited by Nicole didn’t actually test patients who had the flu, even though it seems to claim a reduction in symptoms. It slyly refers to ANOTHER study in the abstract.  You have to actually read the paper to figure this out.  Nicole makes a false claim because of this.   (click/enlarge)


As for in vitro testing… that’s a necessary first step, but pushing it as a “cure” as Nicole does is dishonest.  My wife and I have a great in vitro germ killer under the kitchen sink:

an in vitro germ killer another in vitro germ killer


Claim #2
A “complete cure” was achieved in 2-3 days in 90% of patients receiving elderberry syrup.4

At least we’ve switched to live humans (an in vivo study).

I think the most damning indictment of Nicole comes on the second page of the study that this vehement anti-vaxxer once again apparently didn’t take the time to read:

“Vaccinating those at high risk of influenza-related complications before the influenza season each year is the most effective and most commonly used ways [sic] of reducing the impact of influenza.” 4

That’s right. The very paper Nicole cites recommends the flu vaccine as the most effective way of combating influenza.  (This is going to come back to haunt her, because the lead author of this study is also the lead author of the third paper she uses to prop up her product.  You’ll never guess what he does for a living!)

So how was this study conducted?  Did doctors do something objective, like, I don’t know… record the patients’ temperatures every day?  Maybe some bloodwork?

No.  Test subjects were asked to record in a diary how they felt.  How well did they sleep?  Were they coughing more or less?

I’m not making this up.4

from the study

(From the paper) That’s it?  Couldn’t you go even to the trouble of taking their temperature?

Look, I get it: you can’t measure a body ache.  But checking for a fever?  And Nicole glosses over some facts.  Twelve of the patients receiving the elderberry syrup (almost half!) needed a rescue medication during the study, because the syrup wasn’t working for them.  It’s true that those in the control group (receiving a placebo) needed the rescue meds at a higher frequency, and recovered somewhat more slowly.  But some recovered completely with no elderberry syrup at all, just as fast as those receiving the syrup.  So what can you conclude?  Well, the authors thought maybe they had something, maybe not, and said:

“These findings need to be confirmed in a larger study” 4

Nicole seems to have missed all of this.




Coming Up Next Time
In part 2 of this series, we’ll look at Nicole’s third study, a “switcheroo” piece that would have made Harry Houdini proud.  Our Doctor of Syrup quotes from the abstract of a $51 per-view paper hidden behind a paywall–a paper that has some hidden surprises in it.

A paper Nicole very clearly didn’t read.  It looks like this:


Coming up in part two of this series: why it’s always a good idea to read the papers you cite.


Image Credits
Naturally Nicole screen snapshots and product image captures are used in strict compliance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Bloom County/Opus image is used within parody constraints of Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Obfuscated image in closing sequence of “Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.  J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9. Zakay-Rones Z1, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, Manor O, Regev L, Schlesinger M, Mumcuoglu M.” used to provide commentary, review, and increase public health knowledge as provided under Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”).


(1) Evidence Based Proof, Elderberry Syrup Is Better Than The Flu Shot

(2) The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines. (ABSTRACT)
Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6.
Barak V1, Halperin T, Kalickman I.

(3) The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.  (FULL TEXT)
Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6.
Barak V1, Halperin T, Kalickman I.

(4) Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections
The Journal of International Medical Research
2004; 32: 132 – 140


Naturally Nicole’s Tooth Powder Debunked

naturally nicole tooth powder open sky

Naturally Nicole’s tooth powder contains a “toxic” compound–according to her!

“Naturally Nicole” is a rather belligerent snake oil saleswoman operating a “natural” online store from GodKnowsWhere, USA.  After a flood of emails from readers asking me to have a look into her product line, I couldn’t resist starting a series on her wares.  She’s not very well known, but it was this response from Nicole to one of her critics that tipped the scales:

naturally nicole tooth powder cavities

Naturally Nicole doesn’t take kindly to criticism.  (click/enlarge)

I despise censorship and ad hom attacks combined with bad science.  So, Nicole, welcome to my blog.  Let’s have a look at some of the products you’re selling!

This week it’ll be Nicole’s “all natural tooth powder”.  Before we look at the ingredients, it’s time for the ominous foreshadowing that regular readers of Bad Science Debunked have come to expect.  We’ll  pick a “toxic” ingredient Nicole hates and hope against hope we don’t find it in any of her products (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Writing on deodorants, Nicole tells us:1

“[…] some research has suggested that these aluminum compounds may be absorbed by the skin and cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells. Because estrogen can promote the growth of both cancer and non-cancer breast cells, some scientists have suggested that using the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may be a risk factor for the development of breast cancer.  This is NOT okay with me.“–NaturallyNicole  (emphasis mine)


So, watch out for aluminum compounds.  Got it?  Good!

Alright then, time to peek at the ingredients in Nicole’s tooth powder:2

naturally nicole bentonite open sky tooth powder

Bentonite Clay?   Cue horror story music.   (click/enlarge)

Bentonite clay?  I’m having flashbacks to high school geology and chemistry classes, where we learned that aluminum was the most common metal in the crust of the earth and a ubiquitous component of clay/bentonite.

Suddenly, I have a bad, bad feeling about what we’re going to find in Nicole’s tooth powder.  Take a look at the molecular structure of sodium bentonite, for example: 3

Sodium bentonite. Note the aluminum. (click/enlarge)

Sodium bentonite. Note the aluminum.   Courtesy USNLM PubChem.  (click/enlarge)


Oh dear.  In case it doesn’t jump right out at you, I highlighted the compounded aluminum.

“Ack!  Phhht!”-Bill the Cat, Bloom County

Geologists point out there are several forms of bentonite, but aluminum is a common element in each–and even Nicole agrees:   You can read her entire chemical “thesis” here.2  If you want to save yourself from a lot of hand waving, her argument is that:

  1. aluminum compounds in products Nicole sells are stable and safe
  2. aluminum compounds in products not sold by Nicole are toxic and cancerous

Yeah, right.

In all honesty, you’re in no danger from any of these products.  If you remember your high school chemistry, aluminum is highly reactive, “loves” to bind to other elements, and is readily processed by the bodies of healthy individuals (e.g. those without kidney disease).  The chemical properties of this element are precisely why it’s so “stable” as Nicole argues in her hand-waving, and it’s just as stable in the products she’s trying to scare you away from.  The difference in Nicole’s aluminum and everyone else’s?  She’s earning money from the former.  End of story.

Next week I’ll be looking at what Nicole calls “evidence based proof” (WTF?)  that her Elderberry Flu Syrup is more effective than the flu vaccine.  Stay tuned!


(1) Do You Smell Funny?

(2) Naturally Nicole’s Remineralizing Tooth Powder

(3) U.S. National Library of Medicine PubChem Compound Summary #7294614 (Sodium Bentonite)

Image Credits
Naturally Nicole product screen captures are used in strict compliance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

USNLM PubChem Sodium Bentonite molecular structure image used in compliance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, and increase public health knowledge.