12 Common Placebo Products That Don't Actually Do Anything

It pays to be an informed consumer - literally. You can save big money by being aware of outrageous product claims, or even subtle claims that are insidiously deceptive. Sometimes, there are products that don't work as advertised, and the only way you can combat scam products is by being aware of what you're buying.

And just because a celebrity is backing a product doesn't necessarily give it validity. Such was the case with Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke backing Skechers Shape-ups, the shoes that supposedly toned your legs merely by walking around in them. Many angry customers and a $40 million lawsuit later, and Skechers is probably wishing they hadn't made quite so many outlandish claims.

The general rule of thumb is that if it sounds too good to be true (like "fat burning" body wraps), it usually is. But what about something as innocuous sounding as rental car insurance? That's where it pays off to do your research because standard auto insurance will provide coverage for rental cars a solid 95% of the time.

Read on to discover some surprising placebo products so you don't fall prey to false claims!

  • Skechers Shape-ups

    Skechers Shape-ups
    Photo: You2ubeTeasers / YouTube

    Skechers advertised that its "Shape-ups shoes would help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs, and abdominal muscles,” and their ads featured celebs Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke. Yet they had to pay out a $40 million lawsuit to angry customers because the shoes didn't work as advertised.

    None of Skechers's claims about the benefits of Shape-ups were supported by scientific evidence. 

  • The Shake Weight

    The Shake Weight
    Photo: SNL

    Not only does the Shake Weight look more than slightly NSFW, it's also ineffective. You're better off saving yourself the embarrassment and just using a regular dumbbell. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, a regular dumbbell was found to be much more effective than the Shake Weight.

    Those outrageous claims that the Shake Weight is "seven times more effective" are pure nonsense. 

  • Airborne

    Photo: Airborne

    Think Airborne helps protect you from colds by boosting your immune system? Think again. Airborne settled a class-action lawsuit for $23.3 million over their claims that their product could help prevent colds. Save your money wash your hands more often instead.

  • Weight Loss Wraps

    Weight Loss Wraps
    Photo: FITWorks

    You've likely seen ads for these pop up at some point while scrolling through Instagram. But save your money, because it's all in the fine print: "These claims have not been clinically proven or evaluated by the FDA." That means there haven't been any clinical trials which support the claims these products make.

    To be fair, there haven't been any clinical trials that disprove their claims, either, but many experts believe that any weight loss resulting from a body wrap is temporary.

  • Sports Drinks

    Sports Drinks
    Photo: Gatorade

    A study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) explored the claims many sports drink manufacturers make about the constant need to stay hydrated. They found that there is actually no need to "stay ahead of your thirst." In fact, the study concluded that overhydration can be far worse for you than dehydration. It also called out the hypocrisy of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), a Gatorade-owned research facility. Here's how GSSI describes itself:

    "GSSI scientists study the effects of nutrition on the human body before, during and after exercise. For more than two decades, hundreds of amateur, elite and professional athletes have participated in testing with GSSI and in studies with university research partners around the world. GSSI’s headquarter lab, mobile and satellite laboratories and on the field testing enable GSSI to do leading research with the aim to provide athletes with advice and products that help their performance and achieve their goals."

    But don't believe their benevolent claims. The Center for Food Safety reports, "With this sophisticated operation, Gatorade is seeking to legitimize its products as a necessary component to sports and for athletes, whether pro or amateur. It’s probably one of the most successful examples of marketing-driven science, given how prevalent Gatorade products are in sports."

    So next time a sports drink advertisement tries to tell you that you need to immediately replace all the electrolytes you sweat out when you exercise, don't believe it.
  • Shea and Cocoa Butter Creams for Stretch Marks

    Shea and Cocoa Butter Creams for Stretch Marks
    Photo: Palmer's

    There's no such thing as reducing the appearance of stretch marks with cocoa or shea butter, either in oil or lotion form. A double-blind study found no difference in the appearance of stretch marks on women who used cocoa butter lotion and those who used a placebo. Laser therapy and a prescription topical cream called Tretinoin have shown early signs of possible stretch mark improvement, but there is not enough scientific evidence yet to conclusively prove either method reduces their appearance.

    The single most effective way to reduce the appearance of stretch marks? Let them fade with time.