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‘Facelift in a bottle:’ Incomplete NBC coverage reads too much like the news release

Rating

2 Star

Categories

Facelift in a Bottle? 'Second Skin' Tightens Baggy Eyes, Protects Dry Skin

Our Review Summary

Credit: Olivo Labs, LLC.

Credit: Olivo Labs, LLC.

NBC offers a story about a new product, developed in MIT labs, that can function as a “second skin.” The story touts the cream’s usefulness in addressing cosmetic problems like undereye bags and mentions other supposed attributes, including moisture retention, elasticity and esthetic appeal.

The story included an independent source, which is important, especially given the source’s skeptical, cautious tone. But her comments don’t appear until the very end of the piece, and are buried under many paragraphs of promotional-sounding copy. The story also lacked sufficient detail about the experiments (a problem we also saw in our review of the New York Time story on the same research), and it didn’t acknowledge that some of the quotes in the story were lifted directly from the news release.

 

Why This Matters

A new product providing a non-surgical approach to solving an apparently unappealing cosmetic flaw–under eye bags–is sure to grab the attention of many readers.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story offers no information on the cost of the would-be product, nor of how expensive the components of this new material is, even though the story emphasizes that the technology is being licensed for commercial applications. Even if it’s too soon to know the precise cost, a ballpark figure is useful.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story outlines the improvements arising from the use of this material, but no numerical data was offered.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story tells us that “Repeated daily wear resulted in no report of irritation or other adverse events resulting from the XPL use.” That’s at least a nod toward discussing potential harms, so we’ll consider this Satisfactory.

But, we think the story would be stronger if it had been more specific about what “repeated” meant. We’re also wondering about things that could inevitably occur with regular use, like the product getting into the eyes.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

NBC’s story gives scant information about the human tests involved in this report, nor are we told just how preliminary the research is, which is made more clear in The New York Times story we reviewed.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

Given the tone of the piece–lots of medical language and interviews with researchers–and that it appeared in the NBC’s Health section, we feel this story disease-mongers a normal life event (aging).

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story does include at least one independent source, although that perspective is buried at the bottom of the story, long after the many potential benefits of the technology have been extensively touted. As as to potential conflicts of interest, the story didn’t point out the researchers have equity interest in the companies, instead it said they had “close ties,” which warrants a Not Satisfactory rating.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

We’ll give a Satisfactory in this category since the story states that the problem of undereye bags–which the story seems to focus on–is normally addressed by surgery, and clearly a topical product is preferable to an invasive approach.  Another obvious alternative, with no risks or costs, is leaving the normally aging skin alone, but that’s not discussed.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

Since the story mentions that the material has been licensed to two private companies, readers will assume that it’s not on the market yet but may be in the near future.  It’s pretty clear that it is not available for public use yet.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

A cream that changes into a second skin that is somewhat protective, ostensibly harmless, and cosmetically appealing is clearly novel enough to garner public attention, so we’ll score this category as Satisfactory.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The story used several quotes from the news release without acknowledging that. For example, this quote appeared in the story and in the news release:

“It has to have the right optical properties, otherwise it won’t look good, and it has to have the right mechanical properties, otherwise it won’t have the right strength and it won’t perform correctly,” Langer said.

As did this one:

“Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult,” says Barbara Gilchrest, a dermatologist at MGH and an author of the paper. “Many people have tried to do this, and the materials that have been available up until this have not had the properties of being flexible, comfortable, nonirritating, and able to conform to the movement of the skin and return to its original shape.”

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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