8 things not to buy this holiday season, for yourself or anyone else

Consumer Reports News: December 22, 2010 06:26 PM

We recently reported on some of the best last-minute health-related gifts, based on our tests. Now, for the other list: Stuff our experts have deemed unproven or unnecessary at best, and seriously dangerous at worst. If you were thinking about picking up an Ab Circle Pro or a pair of man Spanx for that special someone, this list is for you.

1. Ab gadgets. Every year sees one or two new entries in this category, a mainstay of the nightly infomercial lineup. And they almost never work better than (or even as well as) a plain old sit-up or side plank. This year, we tested the Ab Circle Pro, a $200 disk with handlebars and knee pockets, and the even pricier Ab Coaster ($250—ouch!), a wheeled seat attached to a curved steel track. The verdict: Save your money.

2. Slimming clothing. Some of the stuff we put on to look our best can actually screw us up in the long run. Case in point: the uberpopular skinny jeans, which can cause nerve damage and possibly other problems. Another item to skip: Spanx for men. While the “cotton compression undershirt” did trim an inch or so off our brave tester’s midriff, he found it constricting, hard to get on and off, and uncomfortable to wear for a long time. Even scarier? They come in boxer and brief versions, too. Ouch.  

3. Bad manicures. A gift certificate to a nail salon makes a great present, but make sure the recipient doesn’t get a gel manicure, which can cause nerve damage and expose the customer to toxic chemicals, among other risks. And they pose a greater infection hazard than regular manicures since the vibrating electric file can easily cut or abrade the skin.  

4. Lead-tainted products. Obviously nobody would buy a lead-contaminated product on purpose, especially for a child. But our recent spot-check of children’s products and household items found concerning levels of lead or another heavy-metal contaminant, cadmium, in numerous products that could appeal to kids, including a flowery Revlon barrette and a cell-phone charm sold at Claire’s, a favorite store of ’tweens. These tips can help you avoid products tainted with lead or other heavy metals. 

5. Obscenely salty (or fatty, or sugary) foods. There’s nothing wrong with indulging yourself a little. But try to stay away from these six items, each of which contains more saturated fat, sodium, or both in a single order than you should eat in a single day. The milkshake also has at least five times as much sugar as most people should consume, enough to make any endocrinologist (or dentist) shudder. 

6. Sex supplements. Some of these potions, sold online or in packets near the checkouts of gas stations and convenience stores, have been found to be adulterated with prescription erectile-dysfunction drugs. And while the popular ingredient yohimbe might help improve erections, it probably isn’t safe to use without medical supervision since it can have potentially dangerous effects on the heart and other organs. (For that reason, we named it among our “dirty dozen” ingredients to avoid in our report on dangerous supplements this year.) Here are some safer tips for better sex.

7. Protein drinks. With names like Muscle Milk and Lean Dessert Protein, these are generally sold as powders that you mix with liquid to make a shake, and they claim all kinds of body-building, nutrition enhancing, and buffing benefits. But our investigation found that some contain heavy-metal contaminants that could damage your organs if consumed regularly. Most people already get plenty of protein from their diets, but for those who don’t, there are better and cheaper ways to boost protein intake. (Edamame, anyone?)

8. Gimmicky baldness remedies. The market teems with products promising to help the hair-challenged reclaim their follicular fullness. But in our survey of more than 2,000 readers with hair loss, herbal pills and topical hair-growth potions rated among the least effective treatments for replacing lost hair. More-reliable solutions included the prescription pill finasteride (Propecia), which 68 percent of readers said helped at least somewhat. If you don’t want to go the drug route, consider a toupee, shaving it all off for the Mr. Clean look, or diverting attention from your head with new clothes or a buff physique. 

 —Jamie Hirsh, senior associate editor

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