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Issues in Dermatology
December 1998

Snake Oil for the 21st Century

Arch Dermatol. 1998;134(12):1512-1514. doi:10.1001/archderm.134.12.1512

Dermatology has been associated with quackery for at least a century. The dictionary defines a quack as "a pretender to medical knowledge or skill; ignorantly or falsely pretending to cure."1 The term quack is derived from quacksalver, or one who quacks like a duck in promoting his salves.2 Quacksalvers hacked many potions, including snake oil, with claims that it cured everything from dermatitis to rheumatism. With the current promulgation of skin "products" and their promotion and even sale by dermatologists, and the use of treatments of no proven efficacy, this association between dermatology and quackery is set to continue well into the 21st century. The list of offending treatments includes silicone gel sheets and onion extract cream (Mederma) for keloids, α-hydroxy acid creams and peels, topical ascorbic acid and phytonadione, "laser resurfacing," and cimetidine for warts, to name only a few.

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