FTC: That $1.99 Smartphone App Won’t Cure Your Acne

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Entrepreneurial techies have been selling thousands of smartphone apps that claim to treat acne for 99¢ and $1.99 a pop (excuse the pun). Now, however, a Federal Trade Commission investigation reveals that (shocker!) the claims—that weird colored lights emitted from one’s smartphone could eliminate pimples—have no scientific basis. The app makers are being forced to stop making baseless claims in advertisements, and to pay fines.

The FTC’s complaint about acne-curing apps gave one of its employees the rare opportunity to demonstrate a sense of humor:

“Smartphones make our lives easier in countless ways, but unfortunately when it comes to curing acne, there’s no app for that,” said FTC Chairman, Jon Leibowitz.

Ba-dum-bump! Jon Leibowitz everybody! He’ll be here all week! Tip your waitresses!

According to the FTC, two mobile apps—AcneApp and Acne Pwner—have been making false claims. For example:

The marketers of AcneApp claimed, “This app was developed by a dermatologist. A study published by the British Journal of Dermatology showed blue and red light treatments eliminated p-acne bacteria (a major cause of acne) and reduces skin blemishes by 76%.”

In fact, the journal referenced above doesn’t back this up at all. But somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 of these two acne-treatment apps were downloaded by consumers, at a cost of $1.99 or 99¢ each.

In a recently reached settlement, marketers for these apps must cease from making scientifically unfounded claims, and the app makers are facing thousands of dollars in fines. They’re also facing seriously bad karma after ripping off thousands of pimpled teenagers desperate for clear skin.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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