Truth Serum

Scientists have been given a bad reputation by being inherently literal. But there is a limit to the amount of bullsh*t that I am willing to hear without fighting back.

I can recall having endless dead-ended conversations about “carbs” this and “carbs” that. For those of you who may actually have been fortunate enough to avoid hearing such discussions, the reference is to carbohydrate calories taken in from food. The fact of the matter is that people use these terms loosely, and wouldn’t know a carbon from a xenon if it flashed in their face and the valence electrons did a little ditty. With such lack of basic understanding, no wonder people are superb prey for all the homeopathic propaganda.

The other day I had a nice leisurely walk around my favorite nearby lake, and came home to have a nice hot shower. In the course of my shower I noticed the following hair conditioner product on a shelf (not mine, I don’t have enough hair to merit such a thing):

Truth serum, recently.

What the hell ISrepairing serum?”

As a scientist who takes things literally, serum is serum. Ain’t that the truth, serum. The dictionary has the following definitions, all related to blood serum:


serum (plural serums or sera)

  1. The clear yellowish fluid obtained upon separating whole blood into its solid and liquid components after it has been allowed to clot. Also called blood serum.
  2. Blood serum from the tissues of immunized animals, containing antibodies and used to transfer immunity to another individual, called antiserum.
  3. A watery fluid from animal tissue, especially one that moistens the surface of serous membranes or that is exuded by such membranes when they become inflamed, such as in edema or a blister.
  4. The watery portion of certain animal fluids, as blood, milk, etc; whey.

Wonderful Wikipedia actually does make a brief mention of “Cosmetic Serum, describing it as: “Cosmetic serum, a cosmetic product that is more expensive than a cream.”

Great! What a definition! Humor me!

It’s time to hold the hair product company (Dove) accountable for their “serum.”

I wanted to contact the company and simply ask, “Why do you call this serum?” At least give them a chance to respond. The Dove company internet site had a “contact” section, but this was a dead end. One could ask a question, but given that there was no place to plug in e-mail (see screen shot below), I saw this as another fictitious enterprise:

I tried their to send them a Tweet question, but their setup for Twitter was fixed in a way that one could not Tweet a question to them. And so it goes. ENOUGH!

I would recommend they be forced to swallow their own Truth Serum–sounds like the only way we’d get any real answers.


About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
This entry was posted in science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Truth Serum

  1. KristiV says:

    I frequently try different shampoos, in futile attempts to tame my wayward locks, and the current brand is a “sensual and alluring blend of cherry blossom extracts and Asian ginseng root” that “nourishes your hair with replenishing rice milk and bamboo extract …” Replenishing rice milk? Also, shouldn’t a shampoo be sensuous, rather than sensual? I think Dean Wormer’s wife in Animal House got it the wrong way round.

  2. Steve Caplan says:

    “Replenishing rice milk” suggests that it is returning rice milk that was lost to your hair. How many people do you know who walk around with rice paddies on their heads?

    Tell you what–if the shampoo has sticky rice and mango topped with coconut sauce, my favorite Thai desert–I’ll buy it…

  3. cromercrox says:

    I have an engineer friend who designs factories. Ripper (not his real name) worked (and may still work) for a company that makes shampoos, bath ingredients and all sorts of other things. All the ingredients in shampoos are exactly the same, he says. Most of it is ‘aqua’ (why not say ‘water’?) and after that usually comes something called ‘sodium laureate sulphonate’ which is elided to ‘sulfate’ when I googled it, not sure why, maybe I am reading the label upside down. So, basically, it’s a detergent. You could use washing-up liquid for the same effect.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      Yes, it’s not too dissimilar from that famous SDS (sodium dodecyl sulfate) used by many of us cell biologists/biochemists/non-paleotologists for protein separations. I noticed that the same shampoos are often sold for “normal hair,” “dry and damaged hair,” and “oily hair.”

      But the list of contents are all exactly the same. It’s all in the concentrations, eh?

      • cromercrox says:

        It’s probably all in the marketing.

        • Steve Caplan says:

          You think so? How cynical. So do I.

          I wonder if we could prove the two shampoos are identical chemically (oily and dry hair potions) and then sue the company for false advertising, and settle out of court for $20 million.

          I wouldn’t have to write any more grants!

          • ricardipus says:

            Steve – all you need is a friend with a mass spec, and maybe a GC and HPLC. When I worked in biotech we used to occasionally discuss doing exactly this to reverse-engineer various companies’ proprietary buffers and solutions.

            As for detergents, I’ve seen Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate listed. It’s all the same stuff of course.

          • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

            We used to discuss using the spectrophotometer to test my hypothesis that being presented with a cup of hot (ish) water and a tea bag can only lead to an inferior cup of tea, heartbreak, and pain. Not being able to find the appropriate wavelength in any of the published literature, we settled on a double-blind taste test instead; I easily identified the difference between the above method and the Path of Light, i.e. adding boiling water to a tea bag, thus supporting my hypothesis.

  4. Laurence Cox says:

    When I was at school (more years ago that I like to admit to) a group of the 6th Form Chemistry students decided to undertake a study of hair shampoos. Their conclusion (published in the School magazine) was that Teepol was as good and cost far less than anything sold as a shampoo. Do people still use this for cleaning laboratory glassware?

  5. Steve Caplan says:


    Tea is by nature inferior to espresso coffee. A fact of life perhaps not yet fully understood by those across the pond.


    How about sodium dodobird sulphate?

    • ricardipus says:

      Steve – espresso is fine, but I prefer mild roasts (more caffeine).

      As for sodium dodbird sulphate – to assay it, we’d need to know its extinction coefficient.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        You’re both deluded. Tea is the Only Way, the Truth, and the Light.

        • Steve Caplan says:

          You must be tea-terring on the brink of insanity…

        • Despite being English, have to say that tea really doesn’t do it for me and I only rarely touch the stuff. Give me a nice strong Bialetti stovetop-brewed medium roast coffee with milk. Preferably two or three cups. First thing in the morning. And mid-morning. And after lunch. And after supper…

          • Steve Caplan says:

            When I was in the military, I would drink anything warmer than room temperature–no questions asked.

            Now, I am a coffee-snob. For >25 years I have had one kind of espresso maker or another (always have a stovetop for back-up, but my wife loves the steamed milk). Right now I have the best and longest working machine (a “Gaggia”). It’s a very bright red, which cost $25 less than white or chrome–but hey, it makes the same espresso!

            Each morning, a double with a tad of frothed milk and I’m good-to-go. No sugar/sweetener, and always using the best coffee: Lavazza!

      • Steve Caplan says:

        You get an “A” for that one!

  6. cromercrox says:

    When I visited China last year I became rather fond of green tea. And jasmine tea.

Comments are closed.