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Kinoki foot pads: Sucking away toxins or just your money?

By Paige West, director of interactive projects

What it is: Kinoki Detox Foot Pads, $19.99, www.buykinoki.com

What it claims to do: The foot pads collect "harmful toxins" from your body while you sleep, says the manufacturer, by "cleansing and detoxifying your skin's outer layers," boosting your energy level and improving your health and wellness.

My experience: I was surfing the Web on a rainy Seattle night with the TV on in the background when whatever late-night show I'd been watching ended and suddenly, images of a woman in a kimono filled the screen as a voice-over told me about an ancient Japanese secret that would give me better health and well-being. The claims were so fantastic that it took me a while to decide whether I was watching a satirical sketch or an ad for a real product. 

The item in question? The Kinoki Detox Foot Pad – and it's real, all right.

Every night for two weeks, you attach a small, white pad to the bottom of your foot right before going to bed. While you sleep, the pad removes "heavy metals, metabolic waste, toxins, chemicals and more!" A fancy graphic on the Kinoki infomercial explained that the pad draws toxins down your legs and out through the soles of your feet like a biological magnet. There's even "proof" that it's working: After wearing it overnight, the pad is black and puffy, full of nasty crud that used to be floating around in your body. As a result, you will feel better and have more energy! At least, that's what the lady in the kimono seemed to be promising.

Putting it on, I discovered, is a little like building your own foot-sized Band-Aid. I followed the instructions by placing the pad in the middle of an accompanying piece of adhesive, pressed it on to the sole of my foot and went to bed. 

The next morning, my ticklish feet gamely endured my peeling the pad off when, to my surprise – and utter disgust – I found it had turned completely black. Worse yet, it smelled like a vile combination of sweat and the acrid smoke of a campfire. But that day at work I was oddly perky.  Maybe there was something to this detoxification system.

Alas, no.  The directions say that continued use is supposed to result in the pads becoming less and less black over time due to the gradual elimination of toxins from my body, but mine continued to be dark and smelly every morning.  The only pattern I saw was related to how long I'd slept – longer equaled blacker (though, luckily, not smellier).

And my higher energy level? That vanished, and I found myself in an ugly funk a few days into my experiment, but I blame that more on the gray Seattle weather than Kinoki.

Growing increasingly suspicious, I decided at the end of the two weeks to test a theory.  I held one of the foot pads over a kettle of boiling water, and within about 10 seconds, that familiar blackness and smoky odor became obvious.

What the expert says: Dr. Devra Davis, director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on toxins, did a similar experiment:  She left the foot pads out overnight without their plastic packaging and saw the same effects.  She says the pads contain little more than green tea and vinegar.

"It doesn't make sense that these ingredients would produce that effect," said Davis, who suspects the blackness and odor are the result of the ingredients interacting with oxygen, heat or moisture. 

And while it's not unheard of for substances to get into our bodies via the skin, such as the nicotine patch or estrogen creams, Davis says she doesn't know of any therapy that actually pulls substances out of the body through the skin. 

Davis doubts the foot pads are harmful, but says "we really just don't know."

As for energy boost the first day I tested the pad, Davis says there's no way to know whether any psychological benefits are real or merely a placebo effect until controlled experiments are done.  (She doubts that will happen anytime soon since the Food and Drug Administration doesn't have authority over alternative therapies like Kinoki foot pads.)

Bottom Line:  While Kinoki foot pads probably won't hurt you, they likely won't help you either. Save your money and put it toward a nice pedicure.