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‘Second skin’ needs a second look: Times coverage thin on evidence for new wrinkle approach

Rating

3 Star

Categories

‘Second Skin’ May Reduce Wrinkles, Eyebags, Scientists Say

Our Review Summary

second skin

Melanie Gonick/MIT

This New York Times’ story provides a detailed explanation of research developing an artificial “second skin” that may have both cosmetic and medical uses.

The story discusses several experiments leading to the product, its availability and the connections between the academic researchers who discovered it and the companies planning on marketing it.

However, as with an NBC story on the same story–which we also reviewed–this information is given without succinct, numerical details on what the study findings showed.

 

Why This Matters

This new “second skin” claims to solve some cosmetic skin problems associated with aging.  If proven correct, it will be a product with assured public appeal.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t discuss costs of the would-be product, even though the story emphasizes that the technology is in private product development and data is being gathered for future FDA approval consideration.

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

Not Satisfactory

Though we’re told there’s a new published paper about several pilot studies, the story does not include any hard numbers from the research on what the measured benefits were. The photos included with the story–do they represent a best-case scenario? They have the potential to skew reader perception.

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

Satisfactory

The story mentions harms indirectly by citing a lack of irritation or allergic reactions among those test subjects that used it. This at least clarifies the findings about some of the obvious potential harms, so we’ll rate this Satisfactory.

But, we do think the the story could have pointed out that long-term effects are still unknown. For example, what happens if you get some of this in your eye?

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

Not Satisfactory

There are some hints of study details included in the story that help the reader assess evidence quality, such as this line: “…people were randomly assigned to use second skin or a placebo under their eyes. Trained observers graded the subjects on the appearance of the undereye skin.”

But overall, we felt it was challenging to assess the evidence quality based on what the story included. How many people were in these tests? How long were they? What are the next steps?

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 Times’ Health section, we feel this story disease-mongers a normal life event (aging). For example, it refers to under-eye bags as “a condition that plagues so many middle-aged and older people.”  Are under-eye bags really a “condition” in need of treatment?

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

Satisfactory

The story clearly uses sources beyond those provided by the news release. It also gets applause for pointing out clearly the connection between the researchers and the companies licensing the product saying, “All of the authors on the new paper have an equity interest in Living Proof and so, indirectly, in Olivo,” (the two identified companies).  NBC’s story on the same research didn’t make this financial connection nearly as clear.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

We’ll give the story credit in this rating since it mentioned current practices in treating dry skin, one of the touted uses of this new product, and explains how those current practices are less than optimum. It doesn’t however mention that surgery is the common approach to addressing undereye bags.

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

Satisfactory

The story establishes these as preliminary studies, adding that they haven’t obtained enough data yet to submit the product for FDA approval.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

It’s made clear that a cream that changes into a second skin that is somewhat protective, ostensibly harmless, and cosmetically appealing is clearly novel.

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

Satisfactory

The story clearly went far beyond the university’s news release in explaining the research.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory

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