Hail to the Apparently: Why we need credible science

Snake Oil


Without being too specific, I am recently made aware that selling horse shampoo for human usage is a growing business in Indonesia. Let me elaborate.

I have been asked to bring a certain shampoo brand from Australia over to Indonesia – I was told that this brand was apparently well-known in Australia and in the US, and that the celebrities also apparently use it regularly. It is apparently good for hair growth and for fine hair. I haven’t heard of this brand before although I was told that I should know. Then, I was also told that in the US the shampoo was called “Mane and Tail” and that the brand is locally known as “shampoo kuda” (Indonesian term for “horse shampoo”). Then the “AHA!” moment occurred so I changed my search terms. I found the said brand, that I discovered to be indeed, horse shampoo. I didn’t know that horses also have their own shampoo and conditioner before this bizarre conversation – and that somehow some vain folks somewhere thought that it was wise to use horse shampoo on themselves.

Before you think that this is some kind of joke, well, sadly, it is true. This is not “Blades of Glory” that is lost in translation in Asia. It is a growing business in Indonesia and I have been told as well that this brand of shampoo is highly sought after and is sold in top supermarkets.

Through researching online, I discover that many women do use horse shampoo and attest to their potency (and not just in Asia). They claim that the shampoo makes their hair grow longer and faster. From various sources I hear the same statements, peppered with words such as “claim” or “apparently”. They don’t bother to check that horse shampoo contains substances like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) that is common in detergents and dishwashing liquid to strip away oils and grease. Although short-term tests find that Sodium Laurel Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are not carcinogenic, none has so far stated the impact of long term usage. Sources do say that it can irritate the skin for prolonged usage (i.e. leaving it on for a longer period of time). So I may argue that using horse shampoo and conditioner that contain the substance, where one may leave it on for a while before rinsing, can potentially bring long-term effect in the future, that is yet discovered and tested. I thought about putting the sources here but you can find them yourselves – just look through the search hits carefully and sceptically. As an example, we have moved on from skin products that contain mercury to lighten our skin when it is discovered that exposure to mercury can damage our kidneys and the nervous system.

This issue highlights the fact that there is so much misinformation online that is accepted as the truth especially in growing economy. People seem to think that if it is online, it must be true. I have found dubious articles being passed around in Facebook, such as the danger of vaccination – just because the author is a “Doctor” and that it is published in some kind of medical journal. Nobody has the initiative in checking the credentials of the authors and looking for the opposite opinions, or the authenticity of the journal. With the growth of the Internet, it’s just so easy for netizens to record themselves yapping about the ‘benefits’ of using horse shampoo, which people will take it as the truth – or writing about opinions and packaging them as a bona fide article. Heck, you should also cross check what I write here!

This is also why credible science is needed – where results are replicated, tested and retested to see whether findings can be generalised. This is especially true in emerging economies where people still rely on hearsay, “apparently” and untested methods. With the sheen that comes from the West, many think that as long as the article is written in English, and comes from the US, England or Australia then it must be true. No. There is a lot of rubbish that comes from the developed world too. So, before you get enamoured by slickly produced Youtube clips or convincing speakers or presenters, do your research and don’t be so gullible in washing your hair with horse shampoo. With scientific progress, we now know the substances that are carcinogenic, that were commonly used in the past. Perhaps this will be so as well with SLS, parabens and any other substances that we willingly put on ourselves.

Don’t gamble with your long term health.

Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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