10 Products That Don’t Actually Work as Advertised

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If you’ve ever been sucked into an “as seen on TV” craze, someone has probably tried to sell you something like an all-in-one potato peeler, oyster shucker, and nose picker for the low, low price of $19.99. But wait, there’s more! You can also get another one for free (just pay shipping and handling). And it comes with free eyebrow tweezers as a bonus gift.

Despite their flashy campaigns, catchy names, and convincing demonstrations, a lot of products advertised on TV, in catalogs, and on the internet don’t work as advertised. Many ads are aimed directly at seniors because they know the older we get, the more time we have to watch TV and wonder if we’re peeling potatoes optimally.

Below we’ve listed 10 products that don’t work as advertised, as well as the evidence you need to understand the pitch and avoid the scam.

Toe Shoes (Vibram FiveFingers)

Vibram FiveFingers shoes
Vibram FiveFingers shoes (Image courtesy of Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

One-third of older adults have some kind of foot pain, according to Health in Aging, so a shoe that can relieve aching feet by strengthening your ligaments and muscles as you walk sounds like a godsend.

That’s where toe shoes — those silly-looking shoes with pockets for each toe — come in. The premise is that the minimalist design gives you so little support that your feet get stronger to compensate. Unfortunately, all they do is leave you with little support (and monkey feet).

Minimalist shoes could work for some younger feet, but studies show they’re more likely to cause stress fractures and Achilles tendonitis in older adults. Choose podiatrist-recommended supportive footwear or insoles instead.

Red Bull

Red bull
Can of Red Bull (image courtesy of Klaas van Buiten, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Red Bull is an energy drink made from caffeinated compounds that supposedly boost mood and increase energy. The drink does that in the short term, but it also burns out your body and ultimately leads to the opposite effect you hoped for.

According to Healthline, the sugar and caffeine in Red Bull can lead to high blood pressure, kidney damage, and a higher risk of type-2 diabetes, and it can easily cause a crash of your body’s regulatory processes and lead to fatigue. Instead of drinking more Red Bull to fight the fatigue that eventually results from it, we recommend a strong, healthy herbal tea instead.

Detox Teas

A cup of tea
(Image courtesy of Ch Maheswara Raju via Wikimedia Commons)

Not all teas are made equal. Detox teas are the liquid form of the detox fad, which recommends everything from sweat lodges to coffee enemas as a way to clear your body of the chemicals absorbed from manufactured products. When celebrities “cleanse,” they may use detox teas to try to lose weight, gain energy, or rid their bodies of so-called toxins.

Most detox teas come with instructions to exercise more and eat healthier — proven methods of detoxing and losing weight. Meanwhile the teas themselves are often caffeinated, laxative, and diuretic, meaning they make you use the bathroom a lot. That can create the illusion of weight loss, when, in reality, you’re just becoming dehydrated.

At least the labels are right. Eating right and moving more are great ways to lose weight. But you don’t need the tea.

Charcoal Toothpaste

Charcoal Toothpaste
Image courtesy of NotTheDefault, via Wikimedia Commons

Charcoal toothpaste is made from the ground-up powders of natural wood and coconut shells. People put up with its black color and grainy texture in the belief that the abrasive bits can clean teeth more effectively and lead to a whitening effect.

The problem is that brushing your teeth with a smoothie of burned wood is about as useful as it sounds. The toothpaste may help remove surface-level stains, but its abrasive texture can damage tooth enamel, leading to sensitive, discolored teeth. It also hasn’t been tested enough to make a confident claim about its benefits.

We suggest doctor-recommended whitening procedures and toothpaste that contains fluoride (and no burned wood chunks) to take care of your teeth as you age.

Sauna Belts

Sauna Belt
Image courtesy of HeartlandAmerica.com

Sauna belts or sweat belts rely on the age-old myth of “spot reduction” to claim they can help you burn belly fat. But there’s a reason you don’t see too many people with wafer-thin waists and fat arms and legs: You can’t reduce only a single spot of fat on your body at a time.

The belts are supposed to be used during a workout because of something that shouldn’t be a revelation: Working out helps you lose weight! Making your tummy sweat, however, will not help this process. Studies show these belts may actually hurt your weight-loss progress by making you more tired and unable to vent sweat properly.

To lose weight, we recommend exercise — and maybe throwing in some healthy eating. A sweaty belly button is not required.

If you’re trying to lose weight, we recommend checking out our guide to exercise equipment and guide to yoga.

Green Coffee Bean Extract

Green Coffee Bean Extract
Image courtesy of NaturalGenius.com

The thing about “miracle” extracts, like the green coffee weight-loss miracle seen on “The Dr. Oz Show,” is that they probably won’t hurt you, but — with the complete lack of evidence affirming their efficacy — they probably don’t work as well as the people on TV say they do.

Green coffee bean extract supposedly helps you lose weight naturally, but it’s not natural if you’re taking a formulated supplement. It’s a manufactured product marketed as natural. With insufficient research on its benefits and side effects, as in the case of this extract, it’s best to steer clear until more conclusive evidence surfaces.

The Federal Trade Commission even sued some sellers of this diet fad for false advertising claims. We recommend proven weight-loss supplements, a healthy diet, and exercise instead.

Frosted Mini-Wheats

Mini Wheats in white bowl
Frosted Mini-Wheats (image courtesy of Jason Zhang via Wikimedia Commons)

Frosted Mini-Wheats are a Kellogg’s cereal made from a little nest of shredded wheat and hardened icing. Somehow the company got so cocky in its presentation of the little wheat chunks that the FTC sued it for false advertising, even though the cereal itself isn’t harmful and has some nutritional benefits.

Kellogg’s claimed a breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats improved attentiveness in kids by 20 percent. In reality, its study showed improvement in only 50 percent of kids, and only 11 percent of the kids that improved did so at the level claimed.

A balanced breakfast that includes protein, bread, and fruit is still the best way to use breakfast to improve your ability to focus throughout the day.

The Shake Weight

Shake Weight
(Image courtesy of Groupon.com)

The Shake Weight is another famous TV product. It’s a dumbbell with a handle attached to two spring-loaded ends. You shake it and, allegedly, tone your shoulders and arms in the process.

Since shaking something eventually makes you tired, it’s easy to think it’s working. The truth is that since the weights don’t activate muscles properly, they also don’t improve them much more than you’d expect from a 3-pound workout. Studies found, however, that they did activate slightly different muscle groups.

The Shake Weight is another classic example of using attractive models in commercials to make people think they can buy an easy way to look like them. But there’s no hack for toned muscles. To work them up, you have to work them out.

Airborne Tablets

Airborne Immune System Supplement
Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Airborne tablets have been around since 1999, claiming they can prevent or even cure common viruses like the cold. After a false-advertising lawsuit, the company stopped claiming its tablets cure the cold, but many people still believe they can.

Airborne contains some herbs and vitamins, such as A, C, zinc, and echinacea, all of which have been tested for their effects in strengthening the immune system. No studies, however, have shown Airborne to be particularly effective in its main claims.

Resting and staying hydrated remain the most reliable ways to help your body fight off common viruses like the cold.


Image courtesy of Smalls5985 via Wikimedia Commons

Gatorade may seem like a strange thing to debunk since it’s been around for so long, but people often mistake brand strength for validity when using Gatorade to hydrate and lose weight.

Gatorade contains electrolytes that can hydrate you, but it also contains sugars that can dehydrate you. The calories in Gatorade also make it a weight-gain drink if you don’t work out enough. According to this Berkeley study, the majority of people who drink Gatorade don’t work out enough to validate its status as a so-called healthy drink.

Water remains a much better choice to hydrate after a long walk or light workout.

Bottom Line

In a world where we’re all looking for a shortcut, scams like these can be hard to avoid since they market to our desire for convenience. The best defense you have against them is common sense. If it sounds too good to be true (“lose 30 pounds in one week!”), then it probably is.

For subtler claims, the internet is your ally. Many of the products on this list have past lawsuits challenging their phony claims and clarifying what, if anything, their products have been successfully tested to do. Look for confirmed studies on positive and negative effects before switching to a new supplement or trying a new product. Companies want you to buy impulsively. Their worst enemy is a person who Googles them first.

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