Consumers Union, which publishes "Consumer's Report" magazine, has developed a list of nine products the agency has deemed "not worthy of your holiday cash."
"We've blogged about healthful gifts you can feel good about buying yourself, especially if you have holiday gift money burning a hole your pocket," explains Jamie Kopf Hirsh, associate editor of ConsumerReportsHealth.org. "Now we've come up with a list of nine items that aren't worth your money, either because they performed poorly in our tests, they pose a potential risk to your health, or both."
These products offer no way to start a new decade, Hirsh says. Those finding themselves with the nine no-no's in hand should be quick to use the return policy.
1. The Ab Rocket exercise machine. This $100 infomercial gadget worked abdominal muscles less than a regular crunch -- yes, the kind you can do for free on your own floor. Some testers felt like their heads were in an uncomfortable position.
2. The Best Fitness BFT1 treadmill. This folding treadmill ($1,000) earned a "Don't Buy: Performance Problem" rating in tests because its incline feature malfunctioned on two of the three models tested.
3. The Night Light condom. Hirsh held the test model up to a light, then sat under a desk. The sample glowed, but the product was the weakest of the 20 latex condoms tested for Consumers Union December report, and it had a higher-than-average rate of holes and other physical flaws.
4. Latisse. Unless you have a medical reason for using it, this eyelash-growing drug is unnecessary at best and potentially risky at worst. And it costs more than $1,000 a year. What's wrong with mascara?
5. Overpriced eye creams. Lanc√¥me "High Resolution Eye Collaser-5X Intense Collagen Anti-Wrinkle Eye Serum" ($59) was among the most expensive anti-wrinkle eye creams tested for this report and offered little improvement in fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes compared with other creams.
Perricone MD Cosmeceuticals Advanced Eye Area costs a whopping $95 for the same amount and performed only slightly better -- and sensory panelists said it smelled like fermented fruit.
6. Diet pills. The past year was an especially bad one for weight-loss pills and potions. In March the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a list of 72 weight-loss products that it found to be illegally tainted with prescription drugs, sometimes at doses several times the safe daily maximum.
In May the government announced a recall of the dietary supplement Hydroxycut after reports linked it to 23 cases of serious liver damage, including one death.
And in August a review of adverse event reports by Consumer Reports' Best Buy Drugs project revealed numerous adverse events, including cases of rectal bleeding and kidney, liver, and thyroid problems among people taking orlistat, the ingredient in the over-the-counter weight-loss drug Alli and the prescription drug Xenical.
Consumers Union previously warned against using orlistat because of its modest weight-loss results and embarrassing side effects.
7. Dollar-store vitamins. Be careful where you buy, Hirsh cautioned. "The last time we tested no-name multivitamins from outlets like the Dollar Store, Family Dollar and Big Lots, nearly half failed to meet the label claim for one or more nutrients, and a few didn't dissolve properly. And they don't offer that much savings over better-known brands -- particularly if you buy store brands ... so why take the gamble?"
8. Banana Boat Kids Tear Free SPF 50 sunscreen. This sunscreen did the poorest job of the 10 tested at screening out UVA rays, the ones that cause wrinkles and skin aging and aren't accounted for in a sunscreen's SPF number.
9. Kinoki footpads. Claiming to draw out body toxins during the night, the manufacturer of the product tells buyers to wear the pads on the bottom of your feet while sleeping. The pad will "indeed turn brown," Hirsh says in the health report. "But that's not because it draws toxins from your body. Simple informal experiments suggest that moisture from your feet causes the color change."
The Federal Trade Commission has charged the company's marketers with deceptive advertising.
"Meanwhile, our medical consultants question whether the body even needs to detox," the associate editor adds.