Hazel Wood and Amber Teething Products – TearlessTeething.com – Ineffective and dangerous

Tearless Teething is a company based in Berkshire in the UK. Through their website they sell bracelets and necklaces made mainly from Hazel wood. As their name would suggest, the bulk of their marketing is aimed at children. Specifically young children who are teething.

Now you, like me, are probably wondering what teething and hazel wood bracelets and necklaces have to do with each other? Well, the tearless teething website makes some claims:

Acidity imbalance in the body is thought to be a main player in certain medical conditions and connected to teething symptoms.

Customers have reported that the Hazelwood products have also shown to be helpful with the general well being of the digestive system and certain skin irritations.

The “main player”? I’m yet to be convinced. Also, “Customers have reported”? Well, that’s always a sound way of ensuring efficacy for your product! Just to be sure I had a scan over the PubMed database for studies conducted into hazel wood and pH levels and found nothing. Not even a single poorly conducted, altmed sponsored study. In fact, I couldn’t find anything that suggests that hazel wood has any beneficial effects for, well, anything medically related. Nada. If you find any data which supports the claims made on this website, let me know and I’ll be sure to look into it.

Then there’s the good ol’ fashioned claim that it’s an old custom, nearly lost to history:

The native Americans were the first to discover that if they were to put hazel wood Chips on their babies’ neck it would soothe teething pains. Almost forgotten Tearless Teething reintroduced this old remedial way to holistic healing in the form of their necklaces and other products to help not only the babies but to take advantage of the natural benefits of the hazel wood, not only for the infants but the whole family.

Ah, so it’s holistic healing? In other words, ‘whole body healing’? That certainly fits in with the claims made. If you compile the list of conditions these hazelwood necklaces and bracelets are supposedly curing, treating and helping from the site and the testimonials on the site, you get a list that looks like this:

reduce symptoms of teething
eczema
intestinal health
extremely bad eczema
controlling baby’s temperature
chronic headaches/migraines
dry, cracked hands
cystitis
colic

As you can see, hazelwood is certainly good for a whole manor of ills. Things like eczema and teething are repeated many times over, with mention of things like cracked hands and cystitis only being mentioned once a piece.

The claims on the site are fairly vague, but when you include the testimonies on several pages of your site, you have some responsibility for the claims that are made.

There is no evidence to support any of these claims. Despite the enticing post on their Facebook page that:

20130521-043256.jpg

None has yet appeared on their site, some seven months later.

The FAQ’s page on this site is a thing of wonder for several reasons. Apparently, this “all natural” product has a 2-3 month lifespan and will need replacing after this time. Under the heading “How will I know when my necklace is no longer working?” It reads:

First, you will notice the symptoms returning or you will also see that the extremities of the wood beads have darkened possibly both. This is easy to see. You will then need to get a new necklace because at this stage, the necklace is no longer absorbing acidity. We recommend replacing them. For best results 2-3 months Depending on severity of Symptoms. Sometimes longer.

And there’s another unscientifically tested claim, that the wood absorbs the acid from the skin. I assume that’s what changes the colour of the wood? Your guess is as good as mine! (the person who told me about this site did tell me that that was what they had been lead to believe was the reason for the change in colour). Also, every 2-3 months! That’s a great marketing hook if ever I saw one. What parent doesn’t want the best from their child or children?

These things aren’t Live Blood Analysis (LBA) expensive, but they aren’t free. Prices are around the £15.99 to £16.99 mark, making is somewhere between the £50 – £100’s a year mark on bracelets, depending how often you replace them. I think I bought a hazel wood necklace once for about £2 in Lanzarote, but of course these bracelets and necklaces have holistic properties and are clearly worth more than that.

I mention LBA because that’s another pseudo-science that makes claims regarding body acidity as the reason for people developing things like diabetes and even cancers. I recommend reading some excellent posts on Live Blood Analysis by Josephine Jones.

More than just pseudo-science

So there’s no evidence to support the many claims made by Tearless Teething. The very idea behind the claim that it can reduce or eliminate teething pain just sounds so ridiculous and the lack of evidence supports this. That it draws the toxins from the skin, rebalances the body’s pH level and that this in turn has any effect on pain is ridiculous. In fact, mechanistically, their claim is more plausible if the hazel wood introduces a toxin to the body! A toxin that effected the conductivity of nerve endings. This would have other side effects, you know, like potential paralysis and death but mechanistically it’s more plausible!!

This all said, pseudo and non-scientific claims made by this company are not my biggest worry. While I feel people are being exploited, there appears to be a genuine risk of suffocation with this product. Even more worryingly this risk appears to be two-fold.

Suffocation: Risk 1

If you continue to read the FAQ page you will see the following statement under the heading “It is normal that the wood to peel after a while?”

It’s normal for the wood to peel after a while. It’s a natural factor. We have no control over that. The wood is natural so can vary in colour some lighter and some darker.

Yes. That’s right. The necklaces and bracelets peal. You’ll all be surprised to know that I’m no expert on hazel wood, so I can’t say how big these bits of hazel wood are. But these are being marketed at children from birth. Even a flake a couple of millimetres in length could cause a choking hazard to a child of less than a year old. Remember they are marketing this to parents with children aged zero. Also, just because “we have no control over that” does not absolve the company of their legal obligations towards safety!

If you sell a product that bits fall off of, then I recommend you don’t sell it to children aged zero!

Suffocation: Risk 2

Interesting, the FAQ’s section on the Canadian site that many of the testimonials come from, called “Pure Hazelwood/Pur Noisetier” (French), lists a few details about this that the Tearless Teething site have failed to include:

Warnings
Parents must supervise children less than 3 years old wearing any necklaces.

Do not allow children to handle or wear the necklace while in a crib, bed or cot.

Now the Tearless Teething site make no mention of removing the items when in bed. The only mention (which i’ll go into later) is to double it up around the ankle if you’re worried. In fact on the “product” page, at the very bottom underneath “product safety” says the following:

Wear the necklace all the time even bath times only remove when swimming. EXCESSIVE removal may result in the weakening of the safety clasp. If you find it nessecary to remove more than twice a week then please replace more regulary than 3 months to preserve the safety of this necklace.

I’ll talk about the safety clasp in a bit, but you’ll note that there is no mention of removing the product when a child is in bed like the Canadian site did. In fact they are actively recommending that you don’t remove the product.

There’s one other point to add in here. The site recommend that you use both the necklace and bracelet. Under the heading “What do you recommend between a necklace and a bracelet?” Is says:

Wearing both necklace and bracelet together will maximize the benefits. And if you chose to remove the necklace for the day, your acidity surplus is still decreasing because of your bracelet.

Now, they are a company and they want to sell as much as possible. But when you remember that recommend that you wear them all the time, (bar swimming), make only passing reference of removing them on children at bed time and that bits naturally fall off the things, this seems to spell a recipe for a real and serious choking hazard.

This is remarkably dangerous! In my view they aren’t just neglecting their own duty of care here, they are recommending that parents do the same. The idea of leaving a necklace and bracelet on a child who is a few weeks old is so potentially dangerous. Yet when you have a company saying you should leave it on, it’s hard to know what to do. When you’ve got a child screaming in pain because of eczema or teething pain, you’ll try a lot of things.

They offer only one piece of safety advice, listed under the heading “Are the baby necklaces safe?”, which is:

The clasp has been specially designed with children’s safety in mind. For example, if the necklace got caught on a blanket’s threads, the loops on the clasp will open. If you are not comfortable with your baby wearing the necklace at night, another option would be to wrap it around baby’s ankle so they are still getting the benefit of the Hazelwood against their skin. However excessive removal may result in the weakening of the safety clasp.

Even here they aren’t saying you should, they’re saying “If your worried, we still recommend you leave something that naturally falls apart in easy reach for your child and don’t forget if you keep worrying it’s going to cost you more because you’re going to have to replace it more often”. I might have paraphrased a little, but I feel I covered the tone of the statement they’re making.

So, what about the safety clasp? This photo from the site appear demonstrate what happens upon the product getting caught or snagged on material.

20130523-041503.jpg

Now, this is just a small observation. But if its weak enough for a infant to break the clasp open while, say sleeping, then it’s probably going to break fairly easily with general usage. Your kid is going to pull on it, it will happen! This then presents a choking hazard. Alternatively, it doesn’t break under minimal pressure and therefore presents a strangulation hazard. You sort of cant really win when you design something to break as a safety feature.

Summary

Bit of a long one, I know. But I wanted to get the points about the unscientific claims and my fears about the choking hazards on the record in one post. I have contacted both Trading Standards (TS) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding Tearless Teething. I believe the products to be a double header of both dangerous by design and ineffective by current scientific understanding. You just can’t make claims for treatment of ailments without having the evidence to back your claims up and you can’t sell products without either the relevant product safety or warnings in place. Not cool.

I will update when I hear back from TS and the ASA.

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14 Responses

  1. Stan says:

    So I came across this product that my wife was clamoring to get and I asked her to provide me some scientific evidence, she gave me this:
    http://www.lifescienceglobal.com/home/cart?view=product&id=84

    To me it looks like someone spent a lot of time writing technobable. It doesn’t look even remotely legit. There is no control group, no test group, no repetition, no numbers.

    Hoping perhaps anyone can shed some light as to whether this research is actually legit or not.

  2. Janice says:

    Jewelry is not medicine, people, no matter how magical you believe it may be. Jewelry is for decoration.

  3. Nicky hall says:

    I’ve been using these necklaces for years for all three of my children, and can honestly say that their teeth have appeared in their little mouths without me knowing! I’m not entirely sure I can put it down to the product, but I’ve continued to be a fan and will recommend to others too.

    • David says:

      I’m pleased that your children had an easy teething experience. So did my daughter, but without a necklace. Teeth appeared and life continued as normal!

      It’s interesting that you’ll happily recommend a product, despite not knowing if it works. That seems a little odd. It’s good that you’ve realised that you can’t equate your children having easy teething with the necklaces. Personal experiences are not good indicators of effectiveness.

      What I would love to see from the sellers of these products is an actual plausible mechanism by which these necklaces work. So far not a single one has been offered and that should worry you. If they claim it works, but don’t have an actual method that can be shown, then what’s to say they don’t cause long term harm? Nothing.

  4. T. says:

    Ok first off, I’ve been using these necklaces with and without Amber for almost 4 years (my son was around 3-4 months old). He had eczema and had started teething. He would start to itch after about 6 months here and there. I’d know it was time for a new necklace and usually a little bit bigger size. The company we usually use did not have the size we’d need and te other one was out so I got them elsewhere. He started itching a lot in the past couple weeks. Also had symptoms of patches starting and little bumps. Which he never really had. He has had the necklace on since late this AM and I’m already noticing less itching. I bought one for my son, 16 that has mild acne. It has been very beneficial to my 4 year old, who also happens to have Down Syndrome. He is almost neer sick, gets much milder cases of anything when he does and went through teething so much easier than most.
    Do not dismiss something that you really don’t know too much about. Read some testamonies. It is a great product. I only read this because it says something about swathe and paralysis. Not sure where that was stated. The companies I use are from Canada. They are reputable. Hazelaid.com and Ecomom.com sell them. Read up about more companies offering these products before you say that all the necklaces are not helpful.
    Thank you.

    • David says:

      Yeah, it’s pretty easy to reply to this, by saying: read my reply to David Thompson. I cover all of this there.

      I will add that I know a lot about these products and “reading testimonies”, as you suggest, isn’t going to change the evidence.

  5. David Thompson says:

    I came across tearless teething some four years ago, and decided to contact the owner directly. As memory serves, she was struggling to get the business to support itself due to not being able to get the word out there properly. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I sent off for one of their products and in a very short period of time, ie, hours not days my baby son was able to sleep soundly. And no, it was not a health hazard as you present it, I simply didn’t put it around his neck but on his thigh with a baby grow over the top. But do you know what the double pleasure for me was? it was my wife not being stressed out and tired also. In all honesty, I think before you rubbish this product, and attempt to have the business closed down, you should try it for yourself and see how it has positive affects. Science doesn’t actually know everything and has itself, through many centuries been responsible for deaths on a truly massive scale.

    • David says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do have a couple of issues with some of the points you’ve raised, which I’ll try and address here.

      I, too have had direct contact with the owner of this company. She has continued to offer no evidence for the claims that she originally made on her website regarding this product; that the “toxins” from teething are somehow draw into the wood through the skin and that this is why it should be replaced every 3 weeks-1 month and that placing it around the neck ensures this process is more efficient (because the neck is closer to the mouth than the thigh.)

      I should point out that it is her that has claimed that “scientific research” regarding this product is soon to be added to her site. That “soon” is now over a year ago, with still no sign. If she is claiming there is research to back her claims then the burden or responsibility lays firmly with her. If I see good, robust evidence for an effect, that would most certainly be interesting (science isn’t done by one research finding!) and would certainly be worth exploring more. As it stands, there is no plausible method by with “toxins” leave the skin an are absorbed into this wood. Think about that claim for a minute. It suggests that 100’s of years of understanding of the physiological responses of the epidermal layers be completely disregarded, because suddenly this wood placed on the body attracts “toxins” to it. Laughable. Also, what are these “toxins” caused by teething? There are none recorded in any medical literature because teething isn’t a medical condition. It’s pain caused by teeth pushing through the gums. I have two kids under 3 and I know that it can be an extremely difficult time, but to suggest that hazelwood has some magic properties goes completely against all scientific understanding and logic.

      It was only after my contact with her that an additional warning about not leaving children unattended while wearing this product was added and not as a result of careful consideration on her part. Safety is my main concern with this product and if you’re using it in a safe way, then that does reassure me somewhat. I should add that this product is a health risk in exactly the way I presented it. If you’ve sensibly chosen not to use it as originally suggested by the site (around the neck, even during sleep) then I’m pleased that you have done so. It doesn’t mean other people would be so sensible.

      I wouldn’t normally waste my time even addressing your “it worked for me” point, because it lacks an understanding of how this necklace is supposed to work and that you’ll be amazed at just how often your brain is tricked. But your comment was legible (many aren’t) and explained your views clearly, so let’s see if I can make you think about a couple of things. Hopefully they make you see that, at least in part, the “effects” of the necklace (thighlace?) were probably more a result of known, explainable phenomena and not the necklace.

      I’ll start by giving you two statements and then explain how these apply to you and your wife:

      1. Placing a gnome at an accident hotspot has the effect of reducing accidents.
      2. Children who eat sugary products with E numbers (smarties, for example) do not become extra active (hyperactive).

      Number 1 refers to “regression toward the mean”. The fact that there are gnomes has no effect. You may remember a spate of speed cameras being placed at accident hotspots being hailed as a successful means of reducing accidents? While some effect may be present in that case, it’s very likely that it was overstated as regression toward the mean wasn’t considered. Well, the same may have been true here. Although you say it was “within hours” that an effect was noticed, you may not have considered the many other parents who noticed no effect at all and you won’t see those examples or testimonies listed on the website. Your child’s teething probably just eased off as it tends to do. Illnesses often get worse and then get better, all on their own, without medical intervention.

      Number 2 is a very common misconception. You ask nearly all parents and they’ll tell you that sugar and e-numbers makes their children go nuts. But when tested properly, all the evidence suggests that it’s actually the parents perception that is altered. Parents cannot tell if their child has been fed sugar, if it wasn’t them that gave it to them. I can actually give to a personal account of this. My parents divorced when I was around ten (I think). My mother would see me at the weekends and would always give me something packed with sugar and/e-numbers (often smarties) just before I was returned to my father. The attempt was to make his life a little more difficult than it already was. My mother would always ask the following Friday how I’d been on the previous Sunday evening (when I went home). My father always use to say that I’d been fine and no more active or disobedient than at any other time. This was always of great frustration to my mother! In reality, what she should have done was not waste he money being such a knob and just tell my father that she’d given me something high in sugar!

      You see the point I’m making here is that you suffer from very common and explainable biases, that lead you to believe there is an effect that isn’t there. You expected your son to get better with the product, so that’s what you perceived. You also appear to have got a statistically normal and predicable effect from regression towards the mean.

      I’m certainly pleased that your sons teething pain eased off. I know how hard it can be dealing with the darling wee ones when you just can’t get them to calm down. Constant dribble, rashes and crying take there toll! It is also worth noting that teething can come in waves and that not all teething pain is as acute.

      Please understand that I fully appreciate how appealing the “it worked for me” anecdote it. It’s really not an easy one to get your head around. We’re evolved to see patterns and connect things. That how we’ve survived as a species for so long. But you have to understand that our brains are actually fairly useless sometimes and were easily deceived.

      I never intended to cause Maxine undue hardship. I would be more than happy to see her succeed selling similar products that don’t make magical, disproven and unscientific claims. Claiming that American Indians use to place hazelwood chips on the chests of their children does not constitute good evidence of a plausible mechanism!

      The safety concerns I originally had have been partially addressed with the addition of the warning and but this doesn’t end my concerns that the wood “naturally flakes” at the site claims. Nor does it address my original concerns regarding the clasp. Either it’s too strong for a new born and risks a suffocation hazard, or it’s not, and can be removed by the child and present a chocking hazard. Which do you prefer? You can say, “but I would never leave my child unattended with it on”, well that’s fine, but the actual website said that it could be worn at night. Unless you planned to watch your child sleeping for 10-12 hours, this seemed like really really dangerous advice to give.

      If you’d like to give me some specific examples (as I’m sure there are) of “science” being responsible for deaths on a truly massive scale in the last 100 years (1914 to today) then I’ll be please to discuss that with you further. You point does miss a fairly obvious issue, though. That being we’re talking about the evidence for this necklace and not all of science. Your apparent general mistrust of science seems a little confused, so feel free to explain it some more. I’ve got nothing but time!

      (apologies for any spelling errors, reply written rather quickly, but with due consideration of your comments.)

  6. David says:

    Hey Pinngy,

    The problem is that some are potentially dangerous. Oh, and the random unsubstantiated health claims! No issue with safe products that don’t make claims to treat medical issues. That’s called jewellery.

  7. justine maxwell says:

    please read the scientific research now included on the manufacturer website http://www.purehazelwood.com before dismissing this product you also have no proof or evidence of danger or or ineffectiveness

  8. Lolie says:

    And also for this skeptical blogger have you had the need to try this or have you personally tried the product out? As you seem only to be referring on extracts of the website, in my mind don’t knock it till you tried it.

  9. Lolie says:

    Reading through your page and would like to comment, my baby starting teething at 4 months and we went through tough tough times and tried every thing possible, I came across the tearless teething web page a week ago and decided to give it a go, (this stage anything was worth a try) my baby is now 10 months and has got 10 teeth and has been a extremely hard time for her the necklace arrived a couple of days ago and within a couple of hours of wearing this I can honestly say this thing works, a completely different baby, she is finally able to do what little baby’s do at 10 months explore, have fun nap and sleep throughout the night. Trust me I tried every thing and went through all the pharmaceutical products that claim to help but nothing worked, why would you doubt a natural product made by nature with no harm or side effects? And so if you need to replace every couple of months it’s no big price to pay when your child is at ease and happy, the amount of paracetamol etc would add up to a lot more and not to mention the effects on the baby’s system .
    As for safety I have no issues at nighttime I put the necklace around the baby’s legs then put a sock on with her baby suit ! Some practical thinking and tip.
    Happy mummy and no I have nothing to do with tearless teething just a mom with 5 lovely kids ☺

  10. Pinngy says:

    I agree that some of hazel wood and amber teething production can be dangerous, but definitely not all of them. Good producers pay a lot of attention to keep the production safe.

  11. Mark says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing what you hear back from TS and the ASA. I live in New Zealand, and I’m also about to make a complaint to our ASA regarding some hazelwood teething necklaces, advertised here: http://www.pungatails.co.nz/FAQs/Hazelwood.html.

    This post should make a useful reference when writing my own complaint, thanks for publishing it.

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