SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- It's the latest craze in beauty products: A skin cream they say can make you look younger in a matter of weeks. The miracle ingredient…a poisonous plant extract. So where's the proof that it works, or that it's even safe?
Nerium AD has been featured on the television program "The View" and in beauty magazines and dozens of rave reviews online.
Kristy Parcels signed on to sell it. "They said I could probably make enough to quit my day job," she said.
But what really sold her - the before and after pictures on the company's website. "It was just amazing," she said. But after a month instead of younger looking skin both she and her daughter developed a rash.
"I was thinking gosh I am using this stuff on my face? Oleander plant is toxic," she said.
That is right: She said oleander, Nerium AD's magic ingredient .. the same toxic plant that lines the freeways. It's poisonous to animals and humans. Which begs the question: How safe is Nerium AD?
"Well once in a while someone gets a rash," admits Jeff Olson, the CEO of Nerium International, the skin cream's marketing company. He points to ten years of research which started when Nerium oleander was first tested as a cancer drug to show the cream is safe.
The FDA hasn't approved the cancer drug, citing potentially serious adverse effects from the poisonous plant. As for the skin cream, the only evidence KPIX 5 was provided was a summary of a clinical trial conducted by Dr. Larry Fan, a San Francisco plastic surgeon.
Dr. Fan says his trial showed no adverse effects, or signs of oleander in the blood. But he only tested 34 healthy patients. He admitted his study alone doesn't address safety when it comes to the general population. "Absolutely not, based on this study," he said.
Nerium says five experts in Pharmacology and Toxicology found Nerium AD to be perfectly safe. According to Olson, "One of them said a baby one year old could consume 400 bottles and it wouldn't be toxic."
Dr. Vic Narurkar, the head of Dermatology at California Pacific Medical Center reviewed Nerium's so-called "real science" behind the skin cream posted on Nerium's website. His response, "Show me the evidence, show me the published papers."
And while our sister station in Los Angeles reported that "some" doctors believe the oleander is unlikely to penetrate the skin Dr. Narurkar says: "It's not just toxicity in the blood stream. Does it cause allergic reactions? Does it get absorbed by mucous membranes? These are all unanswered questions," he said.
Dr. Narurkar says there's nothing on the Nerium website or the in the summary of the clinical trial that he believes proves Nerium is safe. "Is this 'real science'?" we asked him. "No, it's not," he said.
As for the 'real results' shown in the "before and after" pictures on the Nerium website, Dr. Narurkar opines: "so apparently this product also gave a brow lift, and improved frown lines? There are only a couple of things that do that, one is Botox and the other is a surgical brow lift," he said.
"That is ridiculous," said Jeff Olson. He insists the results shown in the before and after photos on the website are due to Nerium AD alone. "These are people that take the pictures, you can see they are within two weeks of each other. There's no way there could have been work done," he said.
But even the doctor who conducted Nerium's own clinical trial is skeptical of the pictures. "My suspicion is that it is certainly possible that they could have had additional treatments, said Dr. Fan.
Olson says the proof the product works is in the sales, over 3 million bottles, and the rave reviews from the women our Los Angeles affiliate station interviewed. But since the product is sold mostly through multi-level marketing, KPIX 5 asked him: "A lot of your strong supporters, they have a vested interest in this company." Olson responded: "That is one of the good things about word of mouth business or relationship marketing, people give their own testimonial to the product."
As for Kristy Parcels: She's back to her regular night cream. Though her rash went away, she's out her $600 Nerium investment. Don't expect to easily find her negative review online. Nerium's multilevel marketers are trained to systematically bury them. At a training session for Nerium's multi-level marketers the trainers spell it out: "If people are going on the internet to look up negative stuff on Nerium, our positive stuff is going to get pushed down. We want to dominate the first three pages."
We initially scheduled an additional interview with one of Nerium's scientific advisors. But after our interview with Olson, they cancelled it. Olson offered to provide KPIX 5 with further scientific evidence behind Nerium AD, but lawyers for Nerium Skincare, the manufacturing arm, later said that information was proprietary and they would only allow our expert to look at the data, not anyone from KPIX 5, and only if our expert signed a non-disclosure agreement.
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