It was one of those rare days earlier this week when I sat down to watch a bit of television. I was amazed at how pharmaceutical companies now dominate advertising for the evening news. After a few minutes, I came to accept this observation as the new cultural norm, much the same way in watching a football game you expect to see commercials for beer and trucks. But then I was blown away by a commercial for Latisse featuring Brooke Shields.
In case you don’t know, Latisse is a product manufactured by Allergan – the same company that brought you not only contact lens solution but also Botox, Juvederm and the Lap-Band surgical weight loss system. So what does Latisse do? Well, it treats the debilitating disease of having short eyelashes! In fact in the commercial Allergan even reinforces this condition as a disease in calling it by name: hypotrichosis. If we can give a condition a name, we can prescribe a drug to solve it. I don’t know about you, but to me that seems to be the modus operandi of the medical/pharmaceutical industry these days. So what is hypotrichosis?
According to the American Hair Loss Association, hypotrichosis “is the term dermatologists use to describe a condition of no hair growth“. The emphasis on no hair growth is mine, because that’s the important piece. Their description of hypotrichosis make a distinction between hair loss – which is a condition called alopecia – and the condition where there wasn’t any hair growth to begin with or hypotrichosis. Hypotrichosis is the result of one of hundreds of potential genetic defects that affect people from birth and is usually associated with more severe physical or mental problems beyond a lack of hair. It’s not having thin hair. It’s no hair.
This reminded me of a girl I knew in my high school chemistry class. She must have had hypotrichosis because she didn’t have any eyelashes from birth. Not only that, she didn’t have any eyebrows either. I wondered how she must feel being compared to the under performing eyelashes of Brooke Shields. Really, I’ve never known Brooke Shields to be inadequate in the hair department – just look at the woman’s full eyebrows! So I find it troubling that Allergan is using the condition of hypotrichosis to legitimize their marketing of what is fully intended to be a cosmetic product.
Here’s why Allergan is doing this. The ingredient in Latisse that grows hair is a drug called bimatropost (also known by Allergan’s brand name Lumigan) which is a prostiglandin (a type of hormone) used to treat glaucoma. The hair growth was discovered as a side effect of the drug when used by glaucoma patients. That’s when Allergan realized the cosmetic potential for this drug. But since it’s a drug, it’s regulated by the FDA and needs a condition to treat – hence the expanded definition of hypotrichosis to include the “cosmetically impaired”.
I bring this up not only because I have serious misgivings about the medical-pharmaceutical complex, but because in the debate over the future of health care, drug companies are a key stakeholder along with doctors and insurance companies. Yet, this is a classic example of how the lines are increasingly blurred between health care, health insurance, wellness and now cosmetics which confuses any rational discussion on solutions to the problem. How can we define what we want from a health care system in any form if our concept of what is disease is what is cosmetic are being blended together? Perhaps the real disease that needs a cure is vanity.
– Paul Kulpinski
Watch the TV ad here:
LATISSEÂ® Advertising | Pause For a Commercial Break