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2019-03-19 11:43:44

American multilevel marketing company Nu Skin offered its condolences on Monday to a Beijing-based vendor who had died of organ failure after allegedly relying solely on the company’s health products to treat her fever.

“First, we would like to pay our respects to the deceased and offer our deepest condolences to her family,” the company said in a press release posted on its Chinese-language website, adding that it had assembled a team to look into the incident. “If there have indeed been unethical sales practices — such as misinformation or exaggeration — we will not shift the blame.”

The statement followed a report earlier that day by news outlet Beijing Youth Daily detailing the circumstances surrounding the woman’s death at the beginning of this month. According to the report, the woman — identified with the pseudonym Lin — joined Nu Skin four years ago and quickly became a dedicated supporter and seller of its health and beauty products.

But in late February of this year, she came down with a fever. Rather than go to a hospital for medical treatment, she upped her intake of nutritional supplements and juice products from Nu Skin on the advice of her “mentor” at the company, according to Beijing Youth Daily. She died of organ failure on March 2.

Since entering the Chinese market in 2003, Nu Skin has flourished, becoming one of the country’s largest distributors of health products. Last year, the company raked in $2.68 billion in global sales — roughly one-third of which came from China. But Nu Skin has also faced uncertainty in the country, which cracked down Nu Skin, Herbalife, Amway, and other companies suspected of operating as pyramid schemes in January 2014 and August 2017.

According to Beijing Youth Daily’s interviews with Lin’s family members, she had been approached in 2015 by a Nu Skin seller surnamed Song, who convinced her to join the company. Then, friends said, Song began indoctrinating Lin with exaggerated and false claims about the supposed healing powers of Nu Skin products. On Song’s advice, Lin began refusing medical treatment when she fell ill, opting instead to self-medicate with Nu Skin’s health supplements. Family members told Beijing Youth Daily that Song assured her the fevers were a sign of the body’s natural process of “detoxification,” and friends said Lin used to claim that the fevers actually made her feel healthier.

“Whenever she fell ill, she would refuse to take any medication or go to the hospital, insisting on only drinking Nu Skin’s G3 juice and taking pills to cure herself,” Lin’s husband, surnamed Su, told Beijing Youth Daily. “She delayed her treatment for far too long.”

Nu Skin’s website says the G3 juice product is an all-purpose energy drink made from gac — a Southeast Asian “superfruit” — as well as goji berries and prickly pears. The health supplements Lin consumed, meanwhile, included green tea extract, lingzhi mushroom, and fish oil, which Nu Skin accurately describes as sources of antioxidants.

Su said that after Lin joined Nu Skin, she began coming home late from work and neglecting their child. He said she also started bringing home large quantities of Nu Skin products and consuming them: Her breakfast typically consisted of 16 Nu Skin health supplements and two G3 juice boxes. When Lin refused to take their sick child to the hospital, Su said, it nearly broke up their marriage.

“Lin said her mentor told her vaccines were poisonous and could harm our child,” Su told Beijing Youth Daily. “Before joining Nu Skin, she would go to the hospital and take medicine whenever she got sick. Why did she stop taking care of herself?”

After Lin’s death, her colleagues, customers, and mentor at Nu Skin fell silent, friends said. Some even left the WeChat group Lin had created to promote Nu Skin products without so much as acknowledging her death, they added.

Beijing Youth Daily found that Nu Skin and Song are still holding seminars to promote health supplements, which cite cases of “miraculous recoveries.” During one such seminar, Song claimed that fevers would only get worse if treated at a hospital and could only be cured through Nu Skin’s pills.

Lin’s death after consuming Nu Skin products is only the latest news story in recent months involving health and beauty companies making questionable claims about their products. In December, Tianjin-based Quanjian Group was investigated for false advertising after it used the image of a girl who died of cancer in a promotional poster for cancer-fighting products, with 18 employees later detained by authorities. The following month, the head of a similar health product company in Hebei was arrested on suspicion of deceiving customers and operating a pyramid scheme.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Nu Skin’s G3 juice product is available for purchase on Alibaba-owned e-commerce platform Taobao, Shanghai, March 18, 2019. Liu Jingwen/VCG)