OK, we admit it. When we first heard of a product named NeriumFirm (from the people who bring you Nerium AD) we thought they were getting into the erectile dysfunction market. Another one of those creams to … well … you know, make some things work better. We were wrong. What they claim to shrink and tighten are thighs, buttocks, abdomens, arms, but no mention of penises. Have they succeeded in creating another miracle? We hate to deflate that notion, but we are compelled to tell the truth. Even when the truth is embarrassing.
We don’t often review skincare products these days, but who could resist. Here we have a product containing an extract of cardiac glycosides (a known poison) claiming to do away with cellulite (what is that again?), dimpling (watch out Miranda Kerr), smooth and tighten loose skin (oh no, wait … just the ‘appearance” of loose skin – not actual loose skin) and restore youthful contour, tone and texture. In other words, a liposuction in a bottle. Lookie here:
A scientific breakthrough holds the answers to looking toned and smooth all year long. Following the historical success of the NeriumAD age-defying skincare line, Nerium International presents NeriumFirm Body Contouring Cream. NeriumFirm is a skin-tightening cream developed from the patented NAE-8 extract of the Nerium oleander plant. Its powerful antioxidant formulation has been clinically proven to reduce the appearance of cellulite and dimpling and to help smooth, tighten and firm the appearance of loose skin. NeriumFirm also helps restore the appearance of youthful contour, tone and texture.
Quite a feat, if it is true. But is it? As always, lets start with the logic, and an examination of the ingredients. That should be the easy part, right? A sound hypothesis perhaps? Then we shall move on to the evidence. is there any, and what quality. If you really force us to, we may comment on how it is sold, but only to make the point that it is not a hot seller at Target or CVS. Or any store for that matter, except maybe e-bay. We will endeavor to explain why that might be the case.
NeriumFirm is the only contouring product on the market harnessing the power of the NAE-8 extract, the key ingredient in the renowned NeriumAD skincare line.
I believe that. What other company would be so cynical that they would add a known “massively oxidizing” chemical to a firming cream, for goodness sake? NeriumFirm contains five other key ingredients:
- Peptide matrix
- White willow bark extract
- Green tea leaf extract
- Forskohlii root extract
Let’s start at the top with the term “peptide matrix”. Now if you thought that means some actual peptides (a popular category of actives in cosmeceuticals) you would be logical, but you would be wrong. We thought the same. But then when you look on the label ingredients you see it is defined as “Peptide Matrix (Collagen, Elastin, Glycosaminoglycans)”. Not a peptide in sight. Peptides are very small fragments of proteins. Not collagen or elastin (very large proteins) nor glycosaminoglycans (amino sugars). No self-respecting biochemist with even minimal credentials would ever call any of those constituents a peptide. So, once again, we are forced to conclude either an innocent mistake (ahem) or lack of knowledge / incompetence, or marketing manipulation. We report, you decide. What about the “matrix” part? The extracellular matrix (ECM) in our skin and other tissues is composed of an interlocking mesh of fibrous proteins and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). GAGs themselves are long unbranched polysaccharides (sugars, or amino sugars). They are important constituents of interstitial tissues in mammals, and largely responsible for maintaining hydration. The best known is hyaluronate, which is the most prevalent constituent of skin connective tissue, and a major product of dermal fibroblasts. While you can put matrix proteins in a bottle, matrix itself is far too complex. It contains many other components, cross links, etc. All-in-all, the term “peptide matrix” is a nonstarter, scientifically speaking. We are not necessarily opposed to including matrix proteins in a product, and they can be good moisturizers as they are quite good at holding onto water. But they are large molecules, and therefore not likely to penetrate if you merely slather them on normal skin. The next ingredient is caffeine. This chemical (the “active” ingredient in coffee – well, it can make you more active) is widely used in slimming and firming creams, but for no sound reason. There is really no solid scientific evidence that it performs either purpose when applied to skin. The only studies documenting its usefulness in cellulite are seriously flawed (I was a medical director for the sponsoring company of one of the two studies), and fail to distinguish between the effects of caffeine and multiple other ingredients including retinol, tetrahydroxypropyl ethylenediamine (THPE), carnitine, and forskolin. What’s worse, in the classical first study published in 2001, weight loss wasn’t measured as a confounding factor. Really bush league, that one. As respected colleague Paula Begoun points out, J&J had a product in the market which may have influenced the results of that study. I would add to that insight that it came from a consumer products company in France that J&J inherited in some deal, and has no reliable track record in dermatologic research other than certifying oatmeal as safe to apply to skin. If I had to guess, any effects actually measured were due to THPE (and contaminated by weight change). Or due to the fertile imagination of French cosmetic “scientists”. White willow bark is a folk remedy passed down through the millennia. Salicin, the active ingredient in willow bark, is a salicylate, like aspirin. Salicin is famous for having caused the death of Ludwig von Beethoven. It seems he ingested large amounts of salicin before he died. His autopsy report is the first recorded case of a particular type of kidney damage that can be caused by salicin. So, here we have another chronic insidious poison being touted for skin. Roll over Beethoven! Now, you may have heard of another MLN selling skin products, called NuSkin. They have been in hot water with regulatory authorities, and courts, multiple times. They are the ones that popularized the idea that salicin is good for skin. They even hired some scientists to do some in vitro experiments. I will now boldly tell you that these experiments were total and absolute crappola. This is one fine example of science distorted for a commercial purpose, with an incorrect interpretation of data in order to come to some “miraculous” conclusion. I will explain briefly, but it could be the subject of a whole post. It is that bad. In one press release they claimed to have “discovered” this gene cluster. There is a cluster phrase in my mind right now, but it is not “cluster discovery”. Let’s just call it “cluster gone amuck”. Suffice it to say, they discovered nothing. They chose (not discovered) a group of genes that have to do with matrix production (remember matrix is hyaluronic acid, GAGs, collagen, elastin, etc). Salicin increased to expression of genes HAS1 and HAS2 (both involved with the synthesis of hyaluronic acid or HA), and decrease the output of some other genes having to do with collagen breakdown. From this they concluded “salicin acts on youth genes”. problem is, what they really “discovered” is a stress response. In response to just about any kind of stress, biochemical or mechanical, fibroblasts and the cells that support them crank up the genetic machinery to make more HA & other matrix proteins. It’s a survival mechanism. Salicin probably works really well (since we know it is a known toxin to kidney cells). Although I have proven in the past that these same genes are upregulated by spitting into your cell culture. Saliva alone is enough to perturb these cells to make matrix. There are other experiments by the NuSkin folks I won’t bother with. Let’s just call it “MLM Science” (MLM in this case= multi-level malarkey). I do find it interesting that Nerium International has decided it needs more than one potential toxin in its latest concoction. Nerium oleander was not enough? Green tree extract contains some helpful chemicals, and is antioxidant. Ho hum. Forskohlii root extract is another folk remedy, and may help weight loss when taken by mouth (weak evidence) but has no demonstrated benefit in changing anything when applied to skin.
Here are the label ingredients: Water, NAE-8 Proprietary Blend (Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Nerium Oleander Extract), Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Peptide Matrix (Collagen, Elastin, Glycosaminoglycans), Caffeine, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Cetearyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Isohexadecane, Ceteareth-20, Polysorbate 80, Sorbitan Stearate, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate Copolymer, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Dimethicone, Ethylhexylglycerin, Xanthan Gum, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Coleus Forskohlii Root Oil, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Disodium EDTA, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate.
Now, I would love to tell you about the clinical trial, but I couldn’t find one. maybe one will show up. There is a “user ” trial, which means only subjective measures, no objective measures. In other words they gave a group of women some free product, lots of attention and praise, invited them to some do, and ask them “so, did you like the product”. I’m worried for them that even with that low bar they couldn’t get 100% of the women to say “yes, we absolutely loved it.” Then they have some very strange before & after pictures with ABSOLUTELY NO CHANGES to the eyes of this highly experienced observer.
They include (why??) the trademark poisonous substance (Nerium oleander extract) proven (by parent company Nerium Biotechnology to be a “massively oxidizing” chemical & cell killer (and is used to treat cancer) and then add a second (kidney) cell killer and a collection of largely unproven and uninspired ingredients. The rest of the ingredients list is sadly deficient. Amateurish. Cheap stuff. The so-called clinical trial is an opinion survey. The before afters are either ludicrous or impossible to see change. They want to charge $90 for this product? You could take out everything but the green tea extract and make it a better toner product. In which case it should sell for $15. In fact, here is one with green tree and about 15 other proven ingredients which you can buy from Paula for $16 The emperor has no clothes. But he still runs naked in the street. Won’t somebody please tell him to stop embarrassing himself? NeriumFirm? Flaccid as a marionette without strings.