NeriumAD is a topical cream (sold by multi level marketing) that claims to be a “true breakthrough in anti-aging skincare.” The efficacy (and hopefully safety) studies quoted by the manufacturer were conducted by ST&T Research and have not been submitted to any peer-review publication listed in PubMed. Keep in mind that I use the term study loosely, because when something isn’t published and you can’t read it yourself you are really in a danger zone. A poorly done study is a dangerous thing and an unpublished study that no one can access is about as good as saying, “My mom’s friend’s cousin said it’s good and helped lots of people.”
However, the actual effectiveness of NeriumAD isn’t really a concern to me. People do all kinds of things that they think helps their wrinkles and as long as the products are safe and a doctor isn’t promoting something worthless as a safe, effective treatment then who am I to get involved in cosmetics?
Except Nerium Oleander (oleander), the plant that the company claims is the source for its “patent-pending age-defying active ingredient” NAE-8 is toxic. Not toxic in a poison ivy kind of way, but toxic in a stop-your-heart-and-be-the-cause-of-death-for-people-and-livestock-alike kind of way. Poisoning from oleander is a particularly common toxicological emergency in South Asian countries. My neighborhood is filled with oleander and the first thing I did when I moved in was tell my kids about the dangers.
All parts of oleander are poisonous, the roots, the bark, the leaves, and the flowers. Smoke from burning the plant is toxic. There are two cases of indirect oleander toxicity from eating snails! The snails were contaminated by oleander through regular garden contact and then adsorbed the plant juice via their own slime. (My first reaction was “gross” and my second was “nature is freaky” and my third was “wow.”) All craziness aside, how much oleander juice can snails really absorb? (i.e. even a very little bit of oleander is very dangerous).
The product “monograph” from NeriumAD says, “The Nerium Oleander plant has been used for centuries by traditional herbal practitioners, but due to various components of the plant it has also been associated with negative stories.” Well, that’s a master class in white washing. Yes, oleander has been used for years, and lots of people got sick. Some died. Some still do. People have also used it for years in suicide attempts. It is not safe. In the 90s someone tried to get a supplement with Nerium Oleander passed by the FDA and they were denied because they submitted no safety evidence and, to quote the FDA,
FDA has carefully considered the information in your submission, and the agency has significant concerns about the evidence on which you rely to support your conclusion that a dietary supplement containing N. oleander, when used under the conditions recommended or suggested in the labeling of your product, will reasonably be expected to be safe. N oleander is well-known to be a poisonous plant. All parts of the oleander plant are poisonous to man and animals and serious adverse effects are associated with ingestion, inhalation, and contact of mucus membranes with oleander or oleander extracts. Adverse effects include, among other things, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, cardiovascular symptoms, and peripheral neuritis. The most serious effects that are associated with exposure to oleander result from the cardiotonic actions of the cardiac glycosides in oleander. The main cardiac glycosides are oleandrin, folinerin, digitoxigenin, and oleandringen.
Oh, and the “negative stories” alluded to in the NeriumAD monograph? Well, those are on Medline and in reputable journals of toxicology, cardiology, and emergency medicine detailing the toxicity of the plant and how to recognize and treat oleander poisoning.
So where does that leave us?
NeriumAD is made from a highly poisonous plant and there is zero safety data. It is possible like many supplements and unregulated products that NeriumAD contains no active ingredients and then of course it would probably be safe.
It is possible that the makers of NeriumAD have found some unique way to neutralize the cardiotoxic oleandrin, folinerin, digitoxigenin, and oleandringen and still retain some other “anti-aging” benefit of an extract. Without published studies it is not possible to know. Believing the company hype about safety is a massive leap of faith considering they dismisses the cardiotoxicty as “negative stories.”
However, it is also possible that NeriumAD contains a cardiac toxin and maybe it’s relatively safe for a healthy woman who weighs 100 lbs or more to apply to her face (again, without studies, who knows), but what if that woman had a heart problem that would make her even more vulnerable to the cardiotoxicty? Or what if her 2-year-old smeared it all over her body or ate it? Two weeks ago I had some kind of cardiac event (probably just from a common virus) that slowed my heart rate to the high 30s/low 40s for a few days and caused an arrhythmia. What if I had been a regular user of NeriumAD? Would I have been more vulnerable? Remember, two people became ill from eating snails who absorbed oleander sap/juice/or whatever snails absorb through their slime. It doesn’t take much. What if someone accidentally used it as toothpaste (about 1% of calls to poison control centers are from people who accidentally used noon-oral care products for brushing) or as a lubricant for sex? (people do this, they grab random creams and liquids, sometimes because it’s dark and sometimes because they are just desperate for lube, and sometimes because they want to experiment).
To promote a skin product that purports to be an extract of a potentially lethal substance without safety data while advertising that it is somehow safe because it was used by “herbal practitioners” and dismissing a wealth of data on poisonings as “negative stories” is so ludicrous it’s beyond belief.
If NeriumAD is safe then publishing the safety data should be no hardship at all. Then again, maybe they don’t need safety data because it’s all glycerin, aloe, and brown rice powder.
Without studies you don’t really know anything at all.
*Update, May 27, 2014*
Given the amount of pure vitriol and personal attacks from Nerium supporters comments will be very closely curated and flagged as spam and IP addresses blocked for any comments that are hate based. A personal attack on me is not a counter argument to safety concerns. In fact, ad hominem attacks typically mean the exact opposite.
I find it hard to believe that personal attacks on me are coming from users of the product who love it. To the people that sell Nerium, if there is safety data publish it in a dermatology journal. Otherwise, go spam elsewhere.