Top five ‘uses’ for crystals

I’ve been involved in skepticism for the last seven years. I’ve been one of the organisers for the Merseyside Skeptics Society for five years and a co-host of Skeptics with a K for three years. In this time of actively researching some of the more ridiculous pseudoscientific claims, one of the things I enjoy coming back to time and time again are the use of crystals.

Crystals epitomise many of the ‘appeals’ of pseudoscience. They’re natural, they’re ancient, they’re beautiful, they’re accessible and they’re easy. Speak to anyone who endorses the use of crystals as a way of healing and supporting your body and they’ll tell you that different crystals have different properties and can be used for different purposes. They’re a quick fix for your anxiety problems, they’ll bring you good luck for that job interview, they’ll even cleanse your chakras…

So here are my top five ‘uses’ for crystals.

  • The Jade Egg

This item hit headlines worldwide last year when Gwyneth Paltrow herself endorsed the use of jade eggs through her popular ‘wellness’ website, GOOP. The jade egg is a small piece of jade, shaped like an egg, that proponents recommend people who have a vagina should hold inside of their vagina. This ancient practice is recommended for supporting and training the pelvic floor or Kegel muscles. Jade is said to have properties which allow it to cleanse negative energy from the centre of “intuition, power, and wisdom” – the vagina. It should be said that not only is the use of jade for this is completely unsupported by the scientific evidence. It might also be actively detrimental for users. According to Dr Jen Gunter, gynaecologist and all-round gem (pun intended…) jade is particularly porous and therefore carrying a crystal inside the body can lead to bacterial infections developing in the vagina. Not to mention that over-enthusiastic Kegel training can actually cause pelvic pain for some women.

Claim: “Jade eggs can help cultivate sexual energy, clear chi pathways in the body, intensify femininity, and invigorate our life force. To name a few!”

Cost: A jade egg from GOOP will set you back $66

Why not? –  at worst it might lead to vaginal infections and pelvic pain at best, you’ve wasted your money on something that doesn’t work

  • Crystal Bed Therapy

At a New York City Wellness Centre called Modrn Sanctuary, you can immerse yourself in a crystal and energy bath using their Sensory 7 Energy Bath. For this experience you lay on an infrared biomat (whatever one of those is) with 17 layers of healing and immune system enhancing materials (apparently) and experience some ‘sound therapy’ from the sound system around the bed, ‘vibration therapy’ from the biomat, chromotherapy (which basically just means they will use coloured LED lighting to ‘adjust the vibrational frequencies in the body’) while zapping you with ‘frequencies’ and magnets to provide quantum magnetic pulses and frequency harmonising. Yes, it really is a bed combining all of the pseudoscience. In addition to all of this there are seven Vogel-cut quartz crystals which will apparently combine frequencies from the frequency generator, UV laser energy from the infrared biomat and the magnetic energy which apparently cancel each other out to leave TESLA ENERGY. Which is focused through the crystals into your chakras.

 

woman lying on a mat with a metal arm holding seven crystals above her. The crystals are lit and coloured red, orange, yellow, green, teal, blue and pink and are positioned down the centre of the body in a line from head to toe with even spacing
The Sensory 7 Energy Bath in use – image from Modrn Sanctuary.

Claim: Health! Wellness! Magic Tesla Energy…

Cost: $150 for one 60-minute session

Why not? – it shouldn’t do you any real harm, but you’ll be $150 and an hour of time down

  • Crystal Facial Roller

Facial rolling particularly with jade or rose quartz rollers is becoming increasingly popular in the beauty world. The premise is simple – you massage your face with a crystal roller. There are two suggested benefits from this. Firstly, believers claim that the massage of the face is good for reducing puffiness, preventing wrinkles and enhancing the skin. Secondly, some people believe that different crystals are imbued with different properties. So, jade is claimed to be a particularly cleansing stone and rose quartz apparently opens up the heart chakra bringing you love. There is, of course, no evidence that a) crystals have these properties, b) the body has any way, by chakras or any other means, of responding to these types of energy or c) that crystals have any ability to heal the body.

It seems slightly more plausible that massage of the skin might have some benefit in smoothing the skin however research shows that any benefit from facial massage is only subjective. A study of 142 women who received facial massage at beauty parlours showed that one third of patients had some negative effects including skin reddening, swelling or flare ups of dermatitis or acne following facial massage treatments.

Claim: facial rolling will reduce puffiness of skin and prevent wrinkles

Cost: you can get a jade roller for around £18

Why not? – it probably won’t cause any harm and it might feel soothing on the skin, but for some people it might trigger skin problem flare ups. The best way to protect your skin is to not smoke and to use a good sunscreen.

  • Crystal Butt Plugs

Yes, there are places on the internet where you can buy chunks of crystal to stick up your behind. Which would be completely fine if it weren’t for all the weird claims about chakras. According to Nymph NYC “black obsidian is definitely one of the strongest soul-cleansing stones” which “resonates with the root chakra”. According to Hindu tantrism the root chakra or Muladhara chakra resides below the coccyx which is why this company recommends the use of a butt plug in order to cleanse it. It shouldn’t need to be said that there is no evidence of the existence of chakra, no evidence that they need any sort of cleansing and no evidence that crystals can cleanse them.

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A black crystal butt plug on a pink background with iridescent glitter. Image from Nymph NYC.

Claim: “ORIGIN works energetically by bringing positive and nourishing energy to the root chakra at the buttocks while soaking up years of stagnant and settled negativity”

Cost: $135

Why not? – some crystals, such as jade, can be porous. It’s probably not a good idea to stick crystals in your anus. The rectum does not produce any natural lubrication and has very thin skin prone to tearing. Any insertion into this area should be gradual, with the use of a good quality lubricant to prevent damage.

  • Crystal Yoga

A common theme here is that many of these ideas combine pseudosciences. Now, I’m not saying that yoga doesn’t have its benefits. I practice yoga for my strength, flexibility and mental health. But the practice of yoga has its origins in the spiritual and some western yogis make some interesting health claims including that it can help with infertility despite no evidence to support these claims.

But some people claim that you can use crystals to ‘power up’ your yoga practice by lining them along or around your yoga mat. Do You Yoga claim that amethyst will help create serenity and stabilise emotions while moonstone will increase your wisdom. What’s more “If there is a specific stone that you’re attracted to or needing right now, carry it around somehow (pocket, locket, etc.), wear it as a pendant or even as a mala.” And don’t forget to ‘cleanse’ your crystal else it might hold onto negative energy.

Claim: ‘boost’ your yoga using crystals to “bring a new world of intentions, energies and powers into your life”

Cost: the cost of a crystal – this can range hugely from a few pounds to several thousand pounds.

Why not? – it probably won’t do you any harm, unless you fall or stand on a crystal during your practice!

 

What’s the most bizarre claim you’ve seen for crystals? Do you know anyone who carries crystals with them for luck? Let me know in the comments.

 

Skincare, anti-aging (and cancer)

The world of skincare is not a place for the faint-hearted. It is such a dizzying mix of advice and recommendations, advertising and ‘science’ that any wander through this world leaves you feeling like you are not doing enough for your health or appearance. The only way to make yourself feel better, it would seem, is to spend sometimes hundreds of pounds on products you will use religiously for a few weeks before you end up exhausted by all the time you’re spending slathering on potions, oils and creams.

Why do we do it?

There are a range of reasons we feel we have to invest time, money and energy into our skin. One of the main reasons seems to be to maintain a youthful appearance for longer. Anti-aging is a huge part of skincare marketing and people (women especially) are targeted from an early age to start protecting their skin from the effects of aging.

The science of aging

There are two types of aging – intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic aging is the type that is genetically accounted for. It happens naturally pretty much no matter what you do. This is the kind of aging that leads to changes in skin elasticity. This type of aging is also called chronological aging and is the one you cannot really do much to change.  The characteristics of intrinsic aging include smooth, unblemished skin with a loss of elasticity, fine wrinkles and paling of the skin. The skin gets thinner and the small blood vessels in the skin reduce in quantity.

In addition to the natural course of aging, we also have extrinsic aging. This is the one our behaviour has a say in. By far, the two biggest factors which cause extrinsic aging are smoking and exposure to UV light.

Smoking reduces the elasticity of skin and reduces collagen levels in the skin. This means the skin gets hardened, slack and rough. We have evidence from multiple studies over a number of years showing that smokers have increased wrinkling compared to non-smokers. The evidence is consistent and overwhelming – smoking tobacco increases skin aging.

Photoaging

Exposure to UV light from the sun is thought to account for up to 90% of visible skin aging. UV light causes an increased level of specific proteins in the skin called enzymes. The enzymes that are increased in skin exposed to sunlight are responsible for degrading important connective tissue. After repeated exposure the skin starts to sag and to form wrinkles. Sunlight exposure increases the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals in the skin. ROS and free radicals damage the DNA which increases your risk of skin cancer, but they also increase the levels of those degrading enzymes even more. In addition to all of that, UV radiation interferes with the immune system and may even prevent cell death in sun-exposed skin which can also contribute to an increased risk of skin cancer. The characteristics of photoaged skin include nodular, leathery, blotchy skin with coarse wrinkles and furrows. The skin has irregular pigmentation and obvious marking on the skin and the elasticity is severely damaged. Blood vessels become dilated and there is pronounced inflammation.

What works?

It should be clear, now, that the two most useful ways to prevent visible skin aging are to minimise intake of cigarette smoke and to minimise skin exposure to damaging UV rays.

Sunscreen

To protect your skin from UV damage, applying a daily sunscreen with a high factor SPF and high-quality UVA protection (4 stars or above). SPF protects your skin from burning and from the damage associated with that but it does not protect against UVA radiation. UVA damage is invisible, although it does cause darkening of pigmentation, and is very deeply penetrating. You need a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB damage.

image of a person's knee with white sunscreen and a hearth drawn into the sunscreen

Topical Retinoids

While most skincare products have very little evidence supporting their use in preventing or reversing the signs of aging, there is one active ingredient that does seem to help.

Retinoids are a family of chemicals which include retinol (vitamin A) and similar compounds. The potential of retinoids in treating aging was discovered in the 1980s when scientists treating photoaged mice noticed repair of the skin and reduction in wrinkling. We now know that retinoids encourage cell growth and can reverse some of the effects seen in photoaged skin and you can buy skincare products which have retinoids in them. There are two downsides to using retinoids on your skin – firstly, retinoids can cause some sensitivity making the skin red and sore which means some people cannot use it at all and most people need to build up their usage from a low dose (0.1%) used infrequently (1-2 times per week). Retinoids can also make your skin more sensitive to UV damage. This means if you are using retinoid skin products you need to be extra careful about staying out of the sun.

Prevention is better than cure

Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your skin to prevent visible aging is to protect it from harmful damage caused by smoking or sun damage. Of course, if you enjoy the relaxation of using different products on your skin, then go right ahead. But the best way to protect your skin is to use a decent sunscreen and to refrain from smoking.

You will also be doing wonders for your risk of lung and skin cancer!

Sources:

Read more about skin cancer here:

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/skin-cancer/about-skin-cancer