The Scam of Skin Antioxidant Testing

A while back, a friend of mine asked me about this product:

It's a biophotonic scanner made by a company called Pharmanex.  This product measures carotenoid levels in the skin.  Carotenoids are antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables.  Beta-carotene is one carotenoid that you may be familiar with.  Other carotenoids include lutein and lycopene, to name just a few.  Many scientists believe that carotenoids may be partly responsible for the observed associations between increased fruit and vegetable intake and lower risk of many diseases.

 The company claims that this scanner can give you an "accurate and reliable biomarker of your overall antioxidant health status".  They further state that, "Getting your Skin Carotenoid Score makes you aware of the antioxidant levels in your body-and gives you the push you need to improve your overall antioxidant health."  To appear scientific, their website is complete with a scientific advisory board, a list of scientists, and even a list of studies that they claim supports their product.

Well, it's B.S.

OK, it's not complete B.S.  The product does do what it claims to measures carotenoid levels in the skin using a technique called Raman Spectroscopy.

While that's fine and dandy, what is B.S. is their claim that it is a reliable biomarker of your overall antioxidant status.  There is simply no evidence that carotenoid skin levels reflect the overall antioxidant status of your body.

Carotenoid skin levels do correlate with fruit and vegetable intake, so the test can tell you if you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.  But do you need an expensive scanner to tell you if you're eating a lot of fruits and vegetables?

And what do you think the company recommends you do if you have a low skin carotenoid score?  Buy their antioxidant supplements, of course.

This isn't the first time Pharmanex has spread outlandish claims.  In 1997, they were fined by the Federal Trade Commission over claims they made about two supplements they sold.

The fact is that this scanner is nothing more than a fancy way to take your money and to get you to buy things that you don't need.  There is no evidence that skin carotenoid status is a reflection of overall antioxidant status.  You do not need an expensive test to know if you're consuming a lot fruits and vegetables.  Also, there is little scientific evidence that supplemental antioxidants have any health benefits.  In fact, too many antioxidants can have a pro-oxidant effect, and may also reduce your own body's antioxidant defense systems.  We are a bit too antioxidant crazy in our society....a topic that I will get to in another blog post.

325 Responses to “The Scam of Skin Antioxidant Testing

  • Greg Waller
    4 years ago (See Full Briefing)

    Increasing evidence points to the beneficial effects of carotenoid antioxidants in the human body. Several studies, for example, support the protective role of lutein and zeaxanthin in the prevention of age-related eye diseases. If present in high concentrations in the macular region of the retina, lutein and zeaxanthin provide pigmentation in this most light sensitive retinal spot, and as a result of light filtering and/or antioxidant action, delay the onset of macular degeneration with increasing age. Other carotenoids, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, play an important role as well in the protection of skin from UV and short-wavelength visible radiation. Lutein and lycopene may also have protective function for cardiovascular health, and lycopene may play a role in the prevention of prostate cancer. Motivated by the growing importance of carotenoids in health and disease, and recognizing the lack of any accepted noninvasive technology for the detection of carotenoids in living human tissue, we explore resonance Raman spectroscopy as a novel approach for noninvasive, laser optical carotenoid detection. We review the main results achieved recently with the Raman detection approach. Initially we applied the method to the detection of macular carotenoid pigments, and more recently to the detection of carotenoids in human skin and mucosal tissues. Using skin carotenoid Raman instruments, we measure the carotenoid response from the stratum corneum layer of the palm of the hand for a population of 1375 subjects and develope a portable skin Raman scanner for field studies. These experiments reveal that carotenoids are a good indicator of antioxidant status. They show that people with high oxidative stress, like smokers, and subjects with high sunlight exposure, in general, have reduced skin carotenoid levels, independent of their dietary carotenoid consumption. We find the Raman technique to be precise, specific, sensitive, and well suitable for clinical as well as field studies. The noninvasive laser technique may become a useful method for the correlation between tissue carotenoid levels and risk for malignancies or other degenerative diseases associated with oxidative stress.

    Keywords: Raman spectroscopy, carotenoids, human skin, macula, antioxidants, noninvasive detection, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, β-carotene
    Go to:
    1 Introduction
    Raman spectroscopy is a highly specific form of vibrational spectroscopy that has long been routinely used to identify and quantify chemical compounds. Carotenoid molecules are especially suitable for Raman measurements since they can be excited with light overlapping their visible absorption bands. Under this excitation condition, they exhibit a very strong resonance Raman scattering (RRS) response, with an enhancement factor of about five orders of magnitude relative to nonresonant Raman spectroscopy.1 This enables one to detect the characteristic vibrational energy levels of carotenoids through their corresponding spectral fingerprint signature even in complex biological systems, as in living human tissue. Any off-resonance Raman response from other molecules present in the sampling volume would be strongly suppressed under these conditions and would be buried in background noise. Also, the tissue environment of the carotenoids has only a negligible effect on the vibrational energy, thus making the Raman signature virtually identical for the isolated carotenoid molecule, the molecule in solution, or the molecule in a cell environment.

    Motivated by the growing importance of carotenoid antioxidants in health and disease, and recognizing the lack of any accepted noninvasive technology for the detection of carotenoid antioxidants in living human tissue, we started to look into RRS as a novel approach for noninvasive, laseroptical detection. Initially, we applied this new method to the detection of macular carotenoid pigments (MPs), which are composed of the carotenoid species lutein and zeaxanthin. Bound to the macular tissue in very high concentrations, these pigments are thought to play a major role in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration.2 Using RRS in a backscattering geometry we are developing the technology for invivo MP measurements in laboratory and clinical settings.3–6 Independent trials using the ocular Raman technology for population studies and in connection with ocular pathologies are now in progress at several sites worldwide.7–12 Recently we have begun to develop RRS spectroscopy for the detection of carotenoid antioxidants in human skin and mucosal tissue,13–16 tissues where other carotenoid species such as lycopene and beta-carotene are thought to play an important protective role, as in the protection of skin from UV and short-wavelength visible radiation. The carotenoids lutein and lycopene may also have protective functions for cardiovascular health, and lycopene may play a role in the prevention of prostate cancer. It is conceivable that skin levels of these species are correlated with corresponding levels in the internal tissues. Independent clinical studies using Raman detection of skin carotenoids that investigating potential correlations between skin carotenoid levels and breast and prostate cancer in large subject bases have recently been begun at the Charité Hospital, in Berlin, Germany.17

    Go to:
    2 Optical Properties and RRS of Carotenoids
    Carotenoids are π-electron-conjugated carbon-chain molecules and are similar to polyenes with regard to their structure and optical properties. Distinguishing features are the number of conjugated carbon double bonds (C==C bonds), the number of attached methyl side groups, and the presence and structure of attached end groups. The molecular structures of some of the most important carotenoid species found in human tissue, along with their absorption spectra, are shown in Fig. 1. They include β-carotene, zeaxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and phytofluene. The electronic absorptions are strong in each case, occur in broad bands (~100 nm width), and shift to longer wavelength with increasing number of effective conjugation length of the corresponding molecule. The absorption of phytofluene (five conjugated C==C bonds) is positioned in the near UV; β-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin (11,10, and 11 C==C bonds, respectively) are centered at ~440 nm, and lycopene (11 bonds) peaks at ~450 nm. All absorptions show a clearly resolved vibronic substructure due to weak electron-phonon coupling, with a spacing of ~1400 cm−1. Strong, electric-dipole allowed absorption transitions occur between the molecules’ delocalized π orbitals from the 1 1Ag singlet ground state to the 1 1Bu singlet excited state

  • Ginger Howell
    4 years ago

    Although this is NOT what you studied in med school, it IS real. If not, The National Institute of health, Columbia University, Purdue University, Hong Kong Medical and about 30 others would not have relied on it. Also, The Business Intelligence Group awarded it the 2014 title of “one of the top 14 innovations of 2014”. I understand that many doctors downplay the significance of the holistic world, but

    Shame on you for posting without properly researching first.

  • Dave Edmiston, MD
    4 years ago

    Read the published, peer reviewed studies before you start slamming something.

    You should be embarrassed…

    • Ginger Howell
      4 years ago

      Then Kreiger needs to update this site. Why have this online at all? He should take the time to remove it. It is irresponsible.

  • Greg Waller
    4 years ago

    The majority of comments on this thread were done on the scanner when it first started hitting the market. That are based on opinions, skepticism and ignorance. Then as the clinicals started coming out and posted you don’t see stupidity as much. So I encourage everyone to see all the published clinicals & peer reviews I’ve posted above.
    Thank you! This will help you be more intelligent about the subject next time you decide to share your opinions. GW

  • Dave Edmiston, MD
    4 years ago

    What’s your real agenda? Obviously, there is something else going on…


  • Greg Waller
    4 years ago

    My response: These statements fall into 4 areas : 1) Carnies trying to either sell you their system or add you to their data base to sell you as a lead to someone that thinks buying a list is the way our business works.

    2) A disgruntled distributor that thought their way of doing the business was better than ours.

    3) A stock short seller trying to capitalize on spreading rumors about our company.

    4) A blogger that gets paid for driving hits from advertisers to their site.

    If I pulled up pretty much any major company I would find a reason I’m sure why I wouldn’t want to work for them.

    If I pulled up your denomination of your religion I’m sure I’d find a reason not to join your church.

    Don’t believe? Try it!

    So there are 3 sources of information;
    Your friends & relatives (Hearsay & amateur experience)
    The internet ( creditable & incredible)
    The ones doing it at a pro level (just the facts)

    When I evaluated the company I started with the product and at the same time the financial statements and also flying directly to the corporate offices (a fly-in)

    If a person wants to do this at a pro level this is what we recommend to everyone. Its what we call “kicking the tires” or “Due Diligence”

    Greg Waller

  • I got scanned few days back by Nu Skins scanner. A few people before me had low numbers ranging from 20k to 40k.
    On my turn I got 61k, it’s the top of their scale. They couldn’t sell me their supplements )))

  • My whole family get’s scanned quarterly. Kids know it’s coming and they start eating more fruits n veges. We’re motivated as a family to make healthier choices because of the “scam”. The science and studies are real. I did my vetting and some of us take the Lifepak nano (I’m older, I don’t have time to eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables) and some don’t. Either way, we are motivated to raise our antioxidants to support good health. I have decided to not be a diabetic or have high cholesterol and take matters into my own hands. My kids now the importance of nutrition through measured ups and downs.

  • The scanner is real. The vitamins are high quality. The business opportunity is real as well. The science is real. The National Eye Institute has performed well designed studies that prove a benefit for a specific mix of nutriceuticals (AREDS2 formula) in a select group of individuals with Macular Degeneration (a leading cause of blindness).

    If you don’t believe vitamins are of any benefit, don’t take them. For those that want to focus on health and nutrition, at least pick a supplement that has objective evidence of an improvement in some measure of health, your carotenoid level/antioxidant level. Pharmanex GUARANTEES an improvement in your carotenoid levels with their line of scanner certified products.

    • Bapcha
      1 year ago

      Vitamins have repeatedly been shown to be very expensive urine

  • I just got scanned today and had very low numbers. I eat a ton of veggies and fruits and take vitamins. I fell into this blog because I was curious how accurate this machine was. My hunch is that while I do eat very healthy, I have a few gut problems and I suspect I’m not absorbing the nutrients properly. I haven’t felt well, and have been trying to figure out why I eat so well, and still don’t feel well. There are many aspects to health, such as sleep, absorption, and stress. I firmly believe you can eat the healthiest & cleanest diet and still be unwell if your life isn’t balanced. I’m looking into better supplements, and increasing the HCL I take to help with absorption to see if my score improves. I’m sure this machine does create revenue by selling people vitamins. But that doesn’t mean it’s a scam.

    • Excellent Point. It’s not what you eat, but what You absorb. Do Research on Earthing / Grounding. This technique pulls electrons from the earth while walking barefoot on the ground. Your body cells become Free Radicals because they lose an Electron, and this will cause the body cell to become unstable and become self destructive. These Free Radicals are stabilized by gaining additional electrons. Antioxidants are nothing but additional electrons. You can absorb them from the earth by Grounding. You can Ground yourself by touching a Tree or placing your bare foot on the Ground. It’s totally FREE. Good Luck.

    • Try Fitline by Pm International. It’s German supplements that are absorbed directly by your cells and within 5 to 20 min time frame

  • Daisy Jimenez
    3 years ago

    My nutritionist scanned me 3 yrs ago and though I thought I was eating enough vegetables and fruits….I was not….I scored low. I’m a true believer that we can get adequate nutrients from food and not from supplements. The scanner encouraged me to eat what I’m suppose to eat more often. I believe most humans need visual aides to improve our health behavior. I’m all for this kind of technology.

  • …earth to idiots….we all will die of old age. Excercise, good food, water and laughter is better than any supplements and mooochines. However, you can neither create, nor destroy matter only alter its state…thus put your ass/ashes in a bottle, or scatter across the sea…come back as an amenable. Flys eat a lot of fruit, but die in 3 days!…dah!!

  • I agree very much of the article says. Those who claims research says so are definitely part of this scam. There are research going on, but it has never been definitive. They are either sellers/distributors or users who has wasted much money to even admit they are wrong.

    The fact of the matter is, the pyramid schemes use such unfinished research to fund the egos and blank minds of users, who also failed to see the point of this article – 1. the machine is an just an expensive crap (i can tell if I ate a lot of fibers just by looking at my shit, no need expensive machine for it) 2. Too much of something is definitely bad (same as vitamins supplements / /

    So wake up and smell the multi level marketing trash. Stop feeding your kids trash and definitely, if you want to eat trash, be clever and eat the cheap ones.

  • I just had the test done and got 84. The scannist was shocked!

  • Dummy. the renown Dr Joel Fuhrman uses it and all of his patients are testimonials to the thing being accurate. And he’s the biggest skeptic on earth. Every one of his books and papers are meticulously documented.

    And he doesn’t sell the supplements he is an 80% Raw foodist. Ask any of them when they have a direct correlation from the increase of mostly RAW dark leafy greens, and vegs from when they start their treatment with him for various diseases like cardio and diabetes….compared to the subsequent months ALSO in correlation to when their lipid, glucose and insulin problems reverse.

    The man has acres and acres of property with his own gardens he tends to himself, for crrisakes.

    • “renown Dr Joel Fuhrman”

      Renowned? lolololololololol

      Hold on again….lololololololol

      “all of his patients are testimonials to the thing being accurate”

      Accurate for what?

      “And he’s the biggest skeptic on earth. Every one of his books and papers are meticulously documented.”

      Meticulously documented doesn’t make one a skeptic. Gary Taubes’s GCBC book was meticulously referenced but many of his references don’t check out or even show the opposite of what he claims.

      “he is an 80% Raw foodist”

      Is this a religion?

      “The man has acres and acres of property with his own gardens he tends to himself, for crrisakes.”

      Lots of people do that. Doesn’t make them health experts

  • I was recently scanned and was shocked to receive a low result given my exceptionally healthy lifestyle and diet. I searched the net to see if there were any negative reviews because I could not make sense of the result.

  • Paul T Phinney III
    1 year ago

    Good morning.
    I’m interested in learning more about you skepticism. I consume more antioxidants than most people through natural products vs supplements.
    Would you be willing to share your credentials in order for me to further understand your stance on biophotonic scanners?
    Thank you,

  • Hi Clare, In January of this year I was diagnosed with an immune disease. I was very unwell, having been admitted to hospital the July prior. I commenced taking YSpan as well as made dietary changes. My first reading (when I was inflamed and sick) was very low. My next reading was slightly higher and the 60 day reading significantly higher. By this stage I’m feeling alot better and almost back to a normal life. I have no idea if I can attribute my wellness to YSpan, diet or medication (Although my specialist didn’t think my initial improvement was due to medication as it takes months to take effect). In comparison to others who say dietary changes have had little effect, I’m thinking that Yspan has been the difference for me. I guess the only true way to find out is to stop taking it, but given that I was practically bedridden, I have no desire to return that physical state, so I intend to continue on. I suggest you try it for yourself.

  • Gregory Waller
    12 months ago

    8 years and 300,000 scans later and this fruit cake still has his blog up with over 60 peer reviewed studies done on the technology and used at Yale Cancer Center.

    At what point is ignorance exposed?

    • Peer-reviewed studies that show that the device can measure carotenoids in the skin.

      That’s not the point, and you completely missed the point. It’s a scam that you somehow need to measure your skin carotenoids, or that it will give you any useful actionable information, other than perhaps eating more fruits and vegetables. But nobody needs a scan to know if they eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. And it’s a scam because if you score low, they try to sell you their supplements to “correct” things.

      • So you get a bad vision report and accuse the eye doctor of trying to sell you glasses?

        Let’s try better logic for you: Ok! You eat 6 veggies because your smart and can count to 6…right? Now tell me how much nutrients you absorb & utilized from those 6…you can’t!!! And you can’t tell how much oxidative stress effected those 6 can you??? NO! That’s why you need a measure tool!!!

        Your fit right? Are you really healthy?? How do you know?!?

        Get measured!!

        • Gregory Waller
          6 months ago

          Do you know if the antioxidant status is higher or lower in an obese person
          by a blood test?

          You CAN’T!

          Because the blood test won’t reflect the absorption & saturation of the antioxidant network in fat tissue!

          So therefore you don’t know how many fruits & vegetables a person that’s obese should be eating because you don’t know how much fat tissue needs to be penetrated in order to offset oxidative stress due to the fat.

  • No James I feel you missed the point.
    1. device does measure carotenoids in the skin
    2. carotenoids in the skin are the most reliable quantifier that we currently have of fruit and vegetable carotenoid absorption.
    3. having sufficient carotenoid levels is good for the body.
    4. The USDA recommends 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day but because of genetics we all do not get the same amount of nutrition from the 5 servings.

    If we are all the same genetically and all got the same benefit from the 5 servings then you would be correct that a scanner is not needed. The problem is that your assumption that we are all the same is wrong.

    Like you Im not a fan of supplements, but I do see the value in being able to quantify if I need more or less fruit and vegetable consumption.

    • And you also missed the point.

      1. Yes it does. I never argued that it didn’t.
      2. Plasma levels work just as well. Also, this is for GROUP LEVEL DATA. That’s fine if you’re doing observational or epidemiological research, looking at population relationships between carotenoid levels (as an objective biomarker rather than self-report) and health outcomes. But on an INDIVIDUAL level, it’s fairly useless, as there are no scientifically validated thresholds to determine what is “good”. For example, the R-squared values for the correlation between self-reported fruit/vegetable intake and skin carotenoids is only around 0.3, meaning only 30% of the variance can be explained by changes in intake.
      3. There is no scientifically established threshold as to what level is “good”, and what exactly “good” means in terms of measurable outcomes. In fact, there’s not much research on the relationship between skin carotenoids and any health metric. The limited studies that do exist suggest a relationship with photoprotection and photoaging, and that’s about it.
      4. What do you mean “the same amount of nutrition”? Your use of the term “nutrition” is very vague here. Science works in specific, measurable outcomes, not vague generalizations.

      Remember, we’re talking about a biomarker for POPULATIONS, which doesn’t mean it works well on INDIVIDUALS (similar to body comp testing, where individual results show significantly large errors, but group data is fairly accurate). That’s fine if I’m a scientist doing studies looking at groups of people, but it’s not fine if I’m a company trying to market this scanner to individuals (and then trying to market a supplement based on your score). That’s the SCAM part of it.

  • Agree to disagree. State your case and leave it at that. The stress is creating free radicals that are eating up your cells and making you more susceptible to illness. I am pro scanner and pro quality supplements because I do not want to eat a ton of fruits a veggies everyday. There is also something missing in the discussion and that is the soil that are fruits and vegetables are grown in. It has eroded away and does not contain the nutrients it once did hundreds of years ago.

    • There’s no scientific evidence to support the claim that the soil “doesn’t contain the nutrients it once did.” If you have references to peer-reviewed scientific studies showing the contrary, please provide them

      • James,

        My concern is that the baby is getting thrown out with the bathwater.
        Let’s get to the bottom of this.
        Publish your suggested design for a scientific study to prove or disprove the subject. Once the design is agreed to I will fund the study.

      • Gregory Waller
        6 months ago


        Go read the book. :
        Conversation on
        Chealation by Dwayne Ashmead

        You’ll find plenty of studies in there on soil nutrient content from all over the world.

        If you think your so smart go put your resume in at Pharmanex and let’s see how it stands up to 75 PhD Scientists and the following groups:
        The Pharmanex BioPhotonic Scanner has been showcased in relation with the following associations:

        Experimental Biology
        Gordon Research Conferences
        New York Academy of Sciences
        Oxygen Club of California
        American Society of Nutritional Sciences
        Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research
        American College of Nutrition
        Journal of Biomedical Optics
        Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition
        Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology
        European Academy

        As of 4/3/2019 there’s over 80 peer-reviewed studies done on the scanner.

        If you like I will send you them so if you can’t get to sleep at night you can read them.

        Do you REALLY think you’re smarter than 75 PhD level scientist & 10+ worldwide scientific organizations?

        PS: Lipid testing is very volatile when it comes to antioxidants due to there aqua state (water soluble) & lipoic state (fatty soluble)

        • Apparently you’ve never been to any of these scientific conferences.

          I have. I’ve been to Experimental Bio and have presented research there myself (like this study which I published in JAP). “Showcasing” at these conferences means it’s been displayed in the commercial booth section, along with all sorts of other products that people are trying to sell.

          You’ll find plenty of studies in there on soil nutrient content from all over the world.

          That doesn’t mean those studies are relevant to your claims. Just throwing out references, which you seem to like to do, doesn’t mean anything. You need to read the references and understand what they show (just like you’ve failed to understand that the references you’ve provided only show the scanner can assess skin carotenoid status on a POPULATION level, not INDIVIDUAL level…please learn the difference).

          As of 4/3/2019 there’s over 80 peer-reviewed studies done on the scanner.

          See what I just said above. You obviously haven’t read any of these studies, or if you have, you don’t understand them. Many of them simply show that the scanner can reliably detect skin carotenoids, and that skin carotenoids can be a marker of fruit and vegetable intake on a POPULATION level (meaning it could be useful in epidemiological and observational research). That does NOT make it reliable for individuals or determining whether a particular individual is consuming sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables, nor does it mean that it is a reflection of TOTAL antioxidant status (which is actually quite complicated and you can’t do any single measurement to determine it). There is also no research demonstrating any particular “threshold” that needs to be met in terms of skin carotenoids to meet any particular health endpoint. If you can show me such research, then I might change my mind. But until then, you’re just a person trying to make a buck off a product that people don’t need.

  • I just got scanned today and my rateis 86000. The person who did the test was shocked. However, he said that there is still room for improvement and I need to take supplements. Average joe is between 40000,-50000. Wtf

    • It’s the problem of a good tool in the wrong hands. I got scanned last week and scored 65000. My person said “good job” and “keep up the good health”. Although it is not a perfect tool, I think, as of today, it is the best non-invasive base line test out there. I have been a fitness and wellness professional for 20 years with a college degree in the field. I don’t believe in supplementing for no good reason.
      So, Jack, I say “Good job and keep up the good health!”

Trackbacks & Pings

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *