A primary goal of the Beauty Brains is to teach you to recognize marketing hype and nonsense in the beauty business. It is our hope that after being part of the Beauty Brains community for a while, you should be able to figure out for yourself what products are worth spending money on and which are complete wastes. You should also be able to filter questionable beauty advice, identify beauty myths, and decide what cosmetics are really safe.
While we’re happy to answer your Beauty Questions, we just don’t have enough time or brain power to get to them all. That’s why we’re going to do a series of posts called Skeptical Beauty 101. (Thanks to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Skepchick and Carl Sagan for their inspiration). With this skeptical thinking toolkit, you should be empowered to answer many of your beauty questions yourself.
Beauty Skepticism Series
In this series, we’ll cover the following topics. We will be publishing a new one once a week until we run out of topics. Feel free to suggest other useful topics in the comments section below.
1. The Scientific Method
2. Experimental Design
3. Null Hypothesis
4. Occam’s Razor
5. Anecdotal Evidence
6. Confirmation Bias
7. Correlation & Causation
8. Argument from Authority
9. Extraordinary Claims / Extraordinary Evidence
Beauty and the Scientific Method
The most useful technique for figuring out which beauty products, advertisements, or advice are worthwhile is the Scientific Method.
You probably first heard of the scientific method in grade school and probably think it is something only good for science fair projects. Fortunately, it’s much more useful and can be used to you help get closer to the truth about any subject while filtering out your personal and cultural biases.
It is used every day by doctors, car mechanics, investigators, and even you. When you misplace your cell phone, you use a version of the scientific method to help you find it.
4 Steps of the Scientific Method
The scientific method has four basic steps.
1. Make and observation about the world
2. Generate a hypothesis to explain the observation
3. Make a prediction using the new hypothesis
4. Test (experiment) to see if your hypothesis is correct.
The more experiments your hypothesis correctly predicts, the more likely it is to be true. Of course, the validity of your hypothesis depends greatly on both the quality & reproducibility of your experiments. Which means you need to make every attempt to minimize the amount of error in your experiments. Also, someone else should be able to repeat what you did and get similar results.
Beauty Applications of the Scientific Method
So, how can you apply this to what you know about beauty?
Let’s look at an example.
Step 1 – Observation: You notice acne the day after you eat a chocolate bar.
Step 2 – Hypothesis: “Chocolate bars cause acne.”
Step 3 – Prediction: If you eat chocolate, you will get acne.
Step 4 – Test: Check scientific literature for other experiments that people have done related to chocolate and acne. Create a series of your own tests where you eat chocolate and observe whether you get acne or not.
If you start with no acne, eat a chocolate bar and don’t have a break-out within some amount of time (24 hours?) then you can safely say that your hypothesis is false. Chocolate does not cause your acne.
If however, you do get acne the next day, it does not mean you’ve proven chocolate causes acne. It just means you haven’t proven that it doesn’t cause acne. You’d have to run more tests and continue to get the predicted results before you can confidently make the statement “Chocolate causes acne.”
Of course, it’s also important to remember that any tests you run on yourself are only applicable to you. They will not necessarily be useful (or true) for anyone else. To figure out what is more generally true, it’s better to look at large, peer reviewed studies. The sheer amount of controlled data they collect is much more reliable than your small experiments. (Although, you’re small experiments may be more predictive of what happens to you).
Limitations of the Scientific Method
While this process can lead you closer to what’s true, it can not ultimately determine whether something is absolutely true. There is always (no matter how remote) a possibility you could run some new experiment proving your hypothesis wrong. There are incredibly few things we know for certain.
Beauty Brains bottom line
People are very good at making observations and creating hypotheses to explain the observations. But if you really want to know whether something you think you know is true, apply the scientific method and find out.
Come up with a hypothesis, make some predictions and test to see whether those predictions come true. Without taking these steps, your hypothesis is no more than a guess. And guesses are usually wrong.
*Incidentally, eating chocolate doesn’t generally cause acne.
Have you used the scientific method to figure out some beauty problem? Leave a comment below and let the Beauty Brains know.