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If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I read and share articles—a lot. So much  so, that it has become increasingly evident that there’s an awful lot of information out there—and not all of it is good. Or worth your time.

A few months ago, I picked up Adina Grigore’s book, Skin Cleanse, and instantly knew that she was echoing my own experience in the skin care arena. In Chapter One, she nails it right away:

“Think about it. Of all the information you have about your skin, how much of it came from someone trying to sell you something?”

I mean, talk about a reality check, right?

The same applies to health, diet, beauty products, and any number of topics. Should you go vegan? Raw? Paleo? Do an all juice detox? Rub coconut oil over your hair, face, and body? Take a fish oil supplement?  Ditch the fish oil supplement in favor of chia seeds? Buy the latest serum to banish those dreaded wrinkles…? SCREAM! A person can go mad reading about the latest “hot” trends. One week whole wheat is a healthy option, the next—it’s a culprit in Celiac disease.

If you’re doing your fact-finding online, you’ve likely been forced to develop a strong filter to weed through the hype. Like taking a sieve and mining through the rubble, developing discernment requires a mix of investigation and intuition, as well as trial-and-error in the process.

Here are six key questions that help figure out what’s real and what’s not when it comes to articles, products, or services. The last “tool” trumps them all, in my humble opinion.

 

#1 WHO?

Whose expertise are you following?

This is a biggie. What are the actual credentials held by the “expert opinion”?

It’s imperative to find out if this person is a board certified quack or if the professional is the real deal. A doctor can be quoted frequently in the press but run a failing medical practice. Establish your criteria early on to determine what you need to know in order to feel comfortable enough to rely on an expert.

One more claim that is often unfounded: someone may list terms like “award-winning” or “best-selling,” as they tick off their credentials. Many people scatter these titles like seeds, but the words may have absolutely no basis in truth. If they’re exaggerating their own status, how else are they misleading you? This calls into question their credibility.

The same goes for finding out who formulates the products in a skincare line.

If it’s a skincare website or beauty product, I tend to favor those lines created by seasoned herbalists, estheticians, and wellness professionals. If they don’t have a background in formulating products, what IS their level of experience? How well do they know skin? How familiar are they with their ingredients? It may be ok not to have a degree if they have knowledge, wisdom, experience, and thorough research behind them.

Sadly, just about anyone can ask a chemist to put together a lotion, slap on a label, and charge an exorbitant amount of money for the end result. Heck, the department store is full of fancy bottles like those.

Recently, a holistic skin care expert uncovered a beauty company that was essentially an identical version to her own line—down to plagiarizing actual copy from her website and names of products. The founder of the forged skincare brand worked for her for a while and then vanished without a trace only to crop up a year later with her own skin care formulations. The developer of the “fake” brand never studied anything about skin, so whatever she used in her skincare and on her labels had been pulled directly from her observations of this expert. Yet this fraudulent brand is marketing itself as an organic and natural skincare line that consumers are readily buying into without realizing it! (Feel free to contact me to find out more details about this. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.)

Be on the lookout for:

  • verifying the source of the expert opinion
  • misleading credentials
  • brands that don’t understand the chemistry behind their ingredients or don’t really know the way skin works
  • overstating results and exaggerated promises
  • evasive answers to direct questions
  • unanswered emails and calls requesting more information
While you’re at it, you might want to look into who is funding the “scientific study”?

If the article cites a random study like “4 out of 5 dentists approve”—be wary!

Who are those “dentists” that are endorsing the product or citing the results? Most likely, they’re on the company payroll. Often, the same applies to studies quoted too. Did the company themselves hire the scientists to do the study? Are they quoting the entire study or merely the sections that shed positive light on them? If the company isn’t using third-party testing, the outcome raises a slew of questions.

Yes, this actually happens. Yes, it’s a hodgepodge of misinterpreted and skewed studies, as well as confusing marketing terms.

Be on the lookout for:

  • uncited scientific sources
  • studies paid for by the company
  • conflict of interest
  • incomplete data quoted from studies that show partial results
  • unsubstantiated claims

#2 WHAT?

What does the author/expert have to gain by you believing their advice and what do you know about the writer? 

Is the post attached to a hidden sale?  Does the article recommend one of the items that’s also listed in an ad that supports the publication?

If so, that instantly reduces objectivity—if that ever exists. Then it becomes a question of whether the reporting is truthful or if the entire motive is pushing a sale or culling favor with advertisers.

I always appreciate full disclosure—as I’ve seen with bloggers using affiliate links or people offering a service. Even one clarifying disclaimer in a post can make a difference in reliability and trust. I’ve seen statements like: the items were sent for review by the brand, but that all reviews and opinions belong to the blogger; or that the goods or services worked for them before they decided to share it for profit. Even then, lines can blur. Caveat emptor.

It helps to discover who the author is and what’s their bias. The angle of the article will slant the outcome.

Many times you’ll find a small group of website editors piecing together bits of internet-derived information for the latest post. Can that really be the source of the next trend you follow? Maybe yes—or maybe their job is to funnel traffic to their advertisers or simply to generate catchy titles to drive traffic to the website.

Websites want to protect their credibility too, so it’s worth getting to know the site for its ethical responsibility and attitudes toward its audience and its advertisers.

As a side note: editors are generally language arts majors—not dermatologists or health experts. So the next time one of the biggies tries to hook you on the latest must-have item, take pause. Your skin probably doesn’t need that expensive serum with the exotic, imported oils—and I have entire cabinets to prove it.

Be on the lookout for:

  • hidden traps like a sales pitch at the end of the article
  • marketing tools and sneaky PR tactics
  • the author’s expertise and bias
  • the website’s ethical standard

#3 WHEN?

When did the study happen? Is it out of date?

How recently was the post written? When was the study conducted? Is the post quoting an old study or a recent one? If the post introduces a trending treatment or diet, how new is it? Has it been tried and tested over time?

Be on the lookout for:

  • outdated studies and references
  • information that is no longer relevant
  • long-term results

#4 WHERE?

Where is the proof of the labeling claims?

A large part of discernment is reading between the lines. Did you know that “NO MSG ADDED” doesn’t mean that the food doesn’t contain MSG? It merely means that it is not added to it. “Natural flavors” in an ingredients list can cover anything from MSG to other excitotoxins.

Be wary of “All Natural” or “chemical-free” claims too. An authentically natural product never uses the term chemical-free because it’s simply not true. Water is a chemical composition. Everything is. And, of course, I have to laugh every time I see “All Natural” on Snapple bottles. Puh-leez!

Labeled as

Labeled as “100% all natural ingredients,” this product lists ingredients that are known to be harmful.

Also, products that are vegan and cruelty-free may be kind to animals but unsafe for humans. How’s that for a bit of irony? Always read ingredients and don’t assume that a product that cares about your pet will also care about you.

Do check out the Green Beauty Team founder Kristen Arnett’s exposés on big name labels that rip the lid off green-washing in the beauty industry:

And don’t even get me started on the FDA and their studies of convenience.

Be on the lookout for:

  • tricky marketing claims
  • labels that want you to believe something that isn’t true

“Where?” can also be a question of asking whether or not the particular information pertains to your specific location. Some advice may be climate or environmentally conditional. This is good to keep in mind too.

#5 HOW?

How does your personal body chemistry react?

This one is crucial when reading anything related to dietary and skin concerns. Every person’s biological constitution is different, so a one-diet-fits-all or one-serum-for-everyone solution simply does not exist—much as the latest trends want you to believe. I take most advice with a grain of salt, so to say. I allow my body to inform me by using intuition or by asking myself how I feel after eating something.

This concept crystallized when I noticed that a friend of mine who ate greens every day, suffered from terrible stomach pains that turned out to be caused by those greens not being digested properly in her body. As soon as she removed that food group and started eating cooked veggies, her stomach handled them better.

This post by The Healthy Home Economist reveals that after leading a vegan lifestyle, Angelina Jolie was in worse health than ever before. She needed to consume meat in order to stay alive. So much for the raw, vegan lifestyle being the way to go for everyone. That’s not to say it’s wrong, however marketing it to everyone doesn’t take into consideration the physiology of each individual.

How many posts have you read lauding the multiple benefits of coconut oil? Yet many people can’t use it on their skin!

Be on the lookout for:

  • unequivocal statements
  • blanket advice that promises to work for everyone that doesn’t take into account different body types, varying conditions, or shifting seasons
  • not including contraindications
How do you know if information is reliable?

Checks and balances: If I’m uncertain about a piece of information that I read, I often check in with someone whom I trust and who can verify it or dismiss it. That’s one of the reasons the Facebook group Green Beauty Insiders, the Food Babe, my health care practitioners, and others, are such valuable resources!

Be on the lookout for:

  • advice that doesn’t match up

#6 WHY?

Why doesn’t the information add up?

As Bubble & Bee founder, Stephanie Greenwood, pointed out with formulas in this post here, do the facts add up and make sense? If a product lathers but doesn’t list lathering ingredients, then the company is hiding its full ingredients list and who knows what else.

If a company or person gets defensive or abusive when you ask them questions, then find out why. Belligerent behavior stirs my suspicions. It may be a sign of trying to cover up something or fear of discovery. Don’t assume that it’s normal or ok. It’s not.

Be on the lookout for:

  • a lack of full transparency
  • undisclosed ingredients lists
  • obscure terms without enough information to back them up
  • condescension toward other opinions
  • fear or shame tactics when referring to different viewpoints

The ultimate tool you may not be aware of yet

Using your sixth sense

After I ask these questions, I make sure to check in on the final crucial step (actually this step precedes all others in my book): does this information resonate with me? I’ve been working remotely with Vanessa Codorniu, a wonderful and gifted intuitive hypnotherapist, for over a year. Our sessions have helped me develop and build trust in the intuitive voice that each of us possesses. She has taught me well what a reliable and uncannily accurate source of information our inner sense can be (and best-selling author Malcom Gladwell has written volumes on the topic too).

Ultimately, I delve inside when all investigative questioning fails me or to double-check how the information feels. This tool is at our disposal at all times. It’s merely a matter of believing in it and quieting the thinking mind in order to allow the stillness to flow through.

Have these questions been helpful? What do you ask before accepting something as legit?

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