*Hi reader, it’s been almost three years since I wrote this post and I have learned a lot since then. I don’t want to irrevocably change this post because I think that would be wrong. Instead, I’m going to insert my evolved opinions in the text, in red like this. I hope you enjoy the post and please leave a comment. This week someone sent me an email about using Vicks Vaporub on your feet to combat a cough. Here it is;
Vicks Vaporub and Cough
During a lecture on Essential Oils, they told us how the foot soles can absorb oils. Their example: Put garlic on your feet and within 20 minutes you can ‘taste’ it. (This line is in a different font from the email that follows, thus it was probably added by someone other than the original author of the email. I have not altered the font.)
Some of us have used Vicks Vaporub for years for everything from chapped lips to sore toes and many body parts in between. But I’ve never heard of this. And don’t laugh, it works 100% of the time, although the scientists who discovered it aren’t sure why (This is important, the email claims that scientists discovered the effect). To stop night time coughing in a child (or adult as we found out personally), put Vicks Vaporub generously on the bottom of the feet at bedtime, then cover with socks. Even persistent, heavy, deep coughing will stop in about 5 minutes and stay stopped for many, many hours of relief. Works 100% of the time and is more effective in children than even very strong prescription cough medicines. In addition it is extremely soothing and comforting and they will sleep soundly.
Just happened to tune in A.M. Radio and picked up this guy talking about why cough medicines in kids often do more harm than good, due to the chemical makeup of these strong drugs so, I listened. It was a surprise finding and found to be more effective than prescribed medicines for children at bedtime, in addition to have a soothing and calming effect on sick children who then went on to sleep soundly.
My wife tried it on herself when she had a very deep constant and persistent cough a few weeks ago and it worked 100%! She said that it felt like a warm blanket had enveloped her, coughing stopped in a few minutes and believe me, this was a deep, (incredibly annoying!) every few seconds uncontrollable cough, and she slept cough-free for hours every night that she used it.
If you have grandchildren, pass this on. If you end up sick, try it yourself and you will be absolutely amazed at how it works!
The request attached was for the Skeptic to “please be gentle on me!”
Ok, I will try my hardest to be gentle, this won’t hurt me a bit!
I think that this is yet another example of a chain e-mail which trades on the same old logical fallacies in an attempt to spread false information.
1. There is the Appeal to Authority:
“During a lecture on Essential Oils” Who was giving the lecture? Which college / university was it held at?
“the scientists who discovered it”During which trial was this discovered? Where was it published and by whom? This may seem pedantic, but any real scientific trial is published, and the information is available to the public. If “scientists” had discovered this they would have published.
Scientists publish their work so that their peers can review their methods to ensure that the procedures followed were sound and do not present any glaring errors or omissions. This is an essential feature of science.
(The email claims that this discovery was made by scientists, yet no proof of any such discovery is available.)
2. The author uses loads of Anecdotal Evidence
“My wife tried it on herself”
“And don’t laugh, it works 100% of the time”
“Some of us have used Vicks Vaporub for years for everything”
I have a list of the 20 most common logical fallacies on my website. A logical fallacy is, basically, a flawed argument. People use logical fallacies when they have nothing stronger to base their argument on. An argument which uses logical fallacies should not be trusted.
Now let’s look at the bad information used in this e-mail;
“The foot soles can absorb oils”
Your skin is an amazing barrier and is virtually impermeable. If this were true putting cheese in your socks would allow you to taste cheese. Doesn’t quite seem right does it?
(Hey, I’m wrong on this point! The skin absorbs substances that are put on it. I’m sure there must be a limit in the molecule size which would allow my skin to absorb nicotine from a patch but not the desk my arms are resting on, but I don’t know what it is and I made a mistake here. There is a great comment on this post that explains this in detail.)
“put Vicks Vaporub generously on the bottom of the feet at bedtime, then cover with socks”
Vicks only recommends using this product on the chest and throat for relief of a cough. Don’t you think they would print on the label “Put it on your feet” if it ACTUALLY worked 100% of the time?
(I stand by this statement, if it worked like this 100% of the time, Vicks would recommend you use it this way. The fact that they don’t raises my skeptical eyebrows, but doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. I think it reflects the abundance of anecdotal evidence, and the lack of rigorous, placebo-controlled testing.)
“more effective in children than even very strong prescription cough medicines”
Oh, Really? Prove it, I say, and with controlled trials, not anecdotal evidence.
(Since I wrote this post I have learned that over the counter cough syrups have no effect beyond placebo. I’m not sure about prescription medicines. I still want scientific evidence, however, that Vicks on the feet is more effective than prescription drugs for treating a cough.)
“Just happened to tune in A.M. Radio and picked up this guy talking about why cough medicines in kids often do more harm than good, due to the chemical makeup of these strong drugs so, I listened. It was a surprise finding and found to be more effective than prescribed medicines for children at bedtime”
Would you trust some guy you happened to hear on the radio? The author doesn’t even take the time to mention who this person is. This is a major red flag and makes me think that this (section) was made up out of whole cloth. For that matter, don’t trust what you read on my website without questioning every assumption and testing every premise (this has been vigorously performed on this post and I’m very glad! I don’t resent being challenged).
There are a few other blatant problems with this e-mail, I will leave it up to you to figure them out.