Trial and error
We put five seemingly too-good-to-be-true products to the test
We are an ambitious culture. We want washboard abs in eight minutes. We want acne-free skin overnight. We want to lose ten pounds in seven days. We watch Suzanne Somers, we buy the ThighMaster, we squeeze the damn thing between our legs, but do we get thighs of steel?
In the name of better science, freakish curiosity and an enduring interest in infomercials, five intrepid Time Out Chicago staffers tested “results guaranteed” products. They read books, they hit the gym, they rubbed creams all over their bodies. Along the way there were upset girlfriends, insults from strangers, injuries, even a bit of vomit. Was it worth it—did we get what we wanted? Turns out the Rolling Stones may have been right.
I’ve never been overly concerned with baldness. I remember being nine years old, watching a Hair Club for Men commercial, and promising myself that if I were to lose my locks, I wouldn’t go crying to the president—and client—for a magic pill or potion. But a guy’s gotta do his part for science. Panchvati Herbal Hair Oil ($2.50 via e-mail at email@example.com or fax at 0091-11-26846525) promises to promote thick, healthy and shiny hair after just four applications. I read the bottle and immediately begin envisioning lazy days as a smut-novel cover boy.
The directions instruct me to use the concoction in the evening, so the “herbal extracts get proper time to penetrate through the roots.” On day one I apply the noxious liquid (it smells like mediciney maple syrup) and immediately rush to the sink to scrub the gummy residue off my hands. About 30 minutes later, the smell proves so offensive that my girlfriend sneaks out and sleeps on the couch, saying it gives her a headache and makes her want to puke. From then on, peaceful cohabitation requires me to wrap my head in a T-shirt, which muffles the smell and keeps our pillowcases free of the Soul Glow halo.
Results: One month of sticky hands and smelly tees later, I see no new hair. Not even a single strand. I do have a few more pimples, but sadly no hair seems to grow out of these, either.—Tim McCormick
Momentum Direct’s 2-Day Slim Down ($49.95 at www.momentumdirect.net) works like this: You pour a packet of powdered herbs into eight ounces of water four times a day and eat nothing else for two days. Drink a lot of water on the side, and you’re in line to lose 12 pounds by the time it’s over.
Day one, I come to work and pour my first glass of the stuff, a mealy concoction of ginseng, burdock, licorice, fennel and various other substances that sound like nice earthy prescriptions. I take my first sip and think, Well this tastes terrible, but what’s the worst it can do? A few gulps later, my stomach starts to rumble and I half-joke that there is no way I can last—the potion will make me puke for sure.
About ten minutes later comes the fatal sip. I’ll never forget it. I’m checking my fantasy-basketball stats online (not a regular work habit, I swear), I take a swig of the junk, feel a bubble in my stomach and haul ass to the bathroom, where luckily, I’m alone. You know where this goes.
Results: So that’s how it works. Drink one packet, vomit it up in your work bathroom, and feel too sick to eat properly for a couple days. I didn’t lose 12 (or any) pounds, but I must have burned some calories on the sprint to the head.—Jonathan Messinger
Get a tan
Come winter, my skin dishes out a double whammy: dry as a Baptist wedding and pasty pale as an Osbourne cousin. I’ve dipped into the self-tanning well before, but found out the hard (streaky) way that dry skin absorbs tanning agents unevenly. Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer ($6 at drugstores) claims to gradually darken skin by at least a shade when applied twice daily for a week. Within two hours of my first application, I notice a huge difference—in how I smell. Rubbing it in, the lotion smells vaguely floral and nonoffensive—like any other drugstore slather—but ten minutes later, the smell of chemicals and dirty feet begins to waft freely from my pores. The scent fades a bit after about an hour, but it appears to be aggravated by heat: I smell it again after a long, hot ride on the El. By day three, my arms start to look like they might have seen the sun some time in the past year, and nobody is moving away from me on the train, so perhaps the smell isn’t as bad as I thought. On day six, I get a manicure and the aesthetician uses what little English she knows to ask, “You use self-tanner?” Apparently the unattractive, orangish stains between my fingers are a giveaway. Results: On the plus side, my skin does feel surprisingly soft, and at the end of a week I am definitely more than a shade darker. Two thumbs (and one nose plug) up.—Jenn Thompson
Kurt Brungardt, author of Essential Arms: An Intense 6-Week Program ($14.95, Rodale Books), insists that his entire book be read before the workout starts. And thus begins the first of my many setbacks. Reading the entire book takes me about three weeks, mostly because when I get to chapter four—Essential Physiology—I can read only two or three sentences (e.g., “The muscles on the inside of your forearm include the flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris and palmaris longus.”) before I get too sleepy to even think about lifting weights.
The workouts begin simply enough with four arm exercises, but quickly evolve into a full-body affair. I mean, lunges? Have you ever? Because I haven’t. They leave me in such a terrible state of soreness that I hope to never lunge again. As I continue, I realize my weights are too light, which exemplifies the major problem with this book: It’s a book. There’s nobody around to tell you your weights are too light or your form is fucked up.
Results: After three weeks I’m a little slimmer, which I attribute to the metabolic benefits of weight lifting. But I see no progress with my arms, and I’ve somehow managed to sprain, of all things, my neck. So I say good-bye to the program. Why? Because I’m weak. Which is precisely why I needed it in the first place.—David Tamarkin
Cellulite is a fact of life—chances are, if you’ve got it, you’re stuck with it. Yet we waste valuable time (that should be dedicated to working our fat asses out) testing products like Murad Firm and Tone Cellulite Serum ($70 at www.sephora.com). Don’t. Plastic surgery is barely pricier and, from what I’ve heard, only slightly more painful.
The bottle says to slather on this goo twice a day. Improbable. Applying it and waiting 20 minutes for it to go from sticky-icky to dried egg white can be tolerated once, but twice a day is pushing it. Not to mention the increasing dread of the burning sensation created by the cream’s cayenne pepper. Murad claims cayenne increases circulation, but it might be the flailing around your apartment like a crispy zapped mosquito that gets your blood pumping. Other ingredients in this shaman shit sandwich include cat’s claw, tiger’s herb and horse-nut extract, something immensely more fun to visualize than use.
Results: Results are based on an eight-week test, but even at once a day, the serum lasted only five weeks. During that time, the impending doom of examining my th-ass (that’s thigh-ass, duh) for improvement forced me to do Tae Bo. Twice. The exercise DVDs cost half as much as the cellulite serum. Neither really worked out, but then again, neither did I.—Heather Shouse