Now at SkyMall: Pseudoscience

Illustration for article titled Now at SkyMall: Pseudoscience

SkyMall's Ionic Cleansing Facial Steamer boasts it "...rejuvenates and refreshes skin..." via "...steam molecules that are 1/8,000 smaller than normal water molecules...." These super tiny steam molecules supposedly allow more moisture to penetrate your skin leading to all sorts of awesome benefits. Just one problem: steam is just vaporized water, so it can't be smaller than itself.

In the liquid state, intermolecular forces between water molecules (H2O) keep these molecules relatively close together. When we boil water, we overcome these forces and our water molecules are no longer hanging out in a close-knit liquid gang. Now they're in the gas state, where water molecules are lone wolves, being too far from their cohorts for intermolecular forces. This change of state (liquid to gas) doesn't change a water molecule, it only changes how water molecules associate. The size of a "steam molecule" just the size of a water molecule.

Illustration for article titled Now at SkyMall: Pseudoscience

At $299.95, the Ionic Cleansing Facial Steamer is a lot to pay for hot water. Save the money and simply multi-task the next time you cook pasta. Steam with caution - this is hot water we're talking about.

Extra-Tiny Water Molecules [Central Science]

Top image from Flightster
Product image from SkyMall

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Hmmm… there's steam, and then there's steam. As water boils it changes from liquid to gas. As this gas meets cooler air, some of the water condenses back into tiny droplets suspended in air. This is called wet steam; it's the kind we're used to seeing coming out of our tea kettles. At higher temperatures all the liquid droplets evaporate. When the water vapor is hotter than the boiling point it's called superheated steam, sometimes called "dry" steam, or "live" steam. This is the kind used in big steam engines. I guess it's possible the the Sky Mall people are actually talking about the size of droplets in wet steam, not "molecules". But even then I'd sure like to know how they do it.