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You've heard the claims made by detox foot patch marketers. They draw "toxins" from the body. They boost immune system health. Simply adhere the patches to your feet each night, and they miraculously do their magic as you sleep. However, explaining how detox foot patches work is a "sticky" topic. Media reports and Federal Trade Commission rulings point solidly to the evidence that they may affect your pocketbook and peace of mind–but not your health.

Anatomy of a Detox Foot Patch

Detox foot patches, also called detox foot pads, are similar to large, white bandages with adhesive strips that allow them to stay on the sole of the foot. According to Mayo Clinic dermatologist Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D., the patches purportedly contain a variety of ingredients, typically wood vinegar, plants, herbs and tourmaline, a mineral. Purportedly, these "all-natural" ingredients draw out toxins, even heavy metals and poisons, such as lead and arsenic.

Do They Work?

In the morning, you'll peel off a detox foot patch only to be greeted with a frighteningly dark sludge on the pad's surface–purportedly proof positive that "toxins" have been leeched from your system. Devicewatch.org, a site maintained by the National Council Against Health Fraud, considers detox foot patches consumer scams, citing the most popular brand, Kinoki, which was whisked off the shelves after the FTC filed suit against the marketer for making false claims. Stephen M. Barrett, M.D., states, "All such products should be regarded as fakes, and the proposed mechanisms should be regarded as nonsensical."

What Science Says

Detox foot patches are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and therefore, cannot make claims to treat or cure your medical condition. Barrett points out that marketers of detox foot patches have no clinical studies to prove that their products work. This leaves it up to the media to expose detox food pads; an April 2008 segment of ABC's 20/20 looked into two detox foot pad brands, Kinoki and Avon. The foot patches did indeed turn dark after use, but dropping water on the pad had the same effect. Furthermore, a laboratory analysis of foot patches used by volunteers revealed that no heavy metals, poisons or solvents were secreted into the used pads. The sole benefit of detox foot patches appears to be the placebo effect experienced by consumers who believe they work.

How You "Detox"

Sense About Science, a charitable trust based in the United Kingdom, makes it a mission to inform consumers of fraudulent health claims. Detox products are huge moneymakers–even though the word "detox" has no practical application outside of a clinical setting. In its attempt to create a "detox dossier," Sense About Science discovered that marketers of detox foot patches were "unable to provide reliable evidence or consistent explanations of what the ‘detox’ process is supposed to be." Your body is continually purifying itself without the need for foot patches or any other detox products. As Sense About Science explains, your intestines prevent harmful bacteria and other toxins from getting into your body, and those that do find a way in are processed by your liver and kidneys and exit your body through your urine.

Other Scams to Avoid

A close cousin to detox foot patches are detox footbaths (ionic footbaths), which also purport to remove "toxins" from the body through the soles of the feet. However, the word "detox" attached to any consumer product should send up a red flag. Sense About Science points to "detox" supplements, socks, body wraps, herbal extracts and infusions and special diets, all of which promote a specific product, service or ritual. All of these are a waste of your time and money, and according to Sense About Science, "sow confusion about how our bodies, nutrition and chemistry actually work."