Comment »Posted on Thursday 9 April 2009 at 12:06 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Health & Medicine

Today we’ve got another oral story from the Daily Mail, although this one is a little more current. In “Why lipstick could save your life” we learn that “scientists” have discovered that applying lipstick acts as a “stretching exercise” which can improve balance and coordination. The “study” revealed that this could be particularly helpful for women over 65, who are at risk of serious injury or death following a fall.

You’ve probably noticed I’ve got my “scare quotes” out. That’s because the study leader, Dr Patricia Pineau, just happens to be director of research communications for L’Oreal Group. That’d be L’Oreal who, amongst other products, make lipstick. Instantly, my “conflict of interest” alarm is set off.

It could be that this research is completely kosher. The study looked at 100 women aged 65 to 85 who were given shoe insoles to test their centres of gravity and a belt that monitored posture. The conclusion was that the women who wore make-up every day had better balance and posture, and were less likely to suffer a potentially fatal fall.

What we have here is a positive correlation between make-up use and balance. Does that mean that wearing lipstick improves your coordination? Not necessarily. It could be that the women with better coordination are more likely to wear make-up. If you’re old and difficulty maintaining balance, it’s also possible that you find it difficult to put on make-up due to shaky hands. As such, those women with poorer coordination would also wear less make-up.

Now, I’ve got no evidence to support this hypothesis, but it seems equally likely to me as the one put forward by this research. The difference is that I’m not trying to sell you anything, whilst L’Oreal have chosen to go with the hypothesis that just happens to highlight their products. Surprise surprise.

“Research” like this is really only one step above customer satisfaction surveys that “prove” product X is better than product Y. I’ll continue to distrust any study that benefits the company that funded it it – sorry L’Oreal, you’re just not worth it.

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