Myth Busting

A loosey-goosey attempt to separate fact from fiction.

In a quest to uncover the truth behind several myths—theories, urban legends, and alleged home remedies—that I’ve heard about over the years, I played lab rat and ran a few tests at my house. I am not a scientist. I took high school chemistry. Unlike those of the crew on my beloved MythBusters, my methods were pseudoscientific, and my results merely anecdotal (though personally satisfying).

1. Eating a burrito before bed will give you nightmares.

The myth: My mom once tried to stop me from eating a late-night burrito. “It will give you nightmares,” she said. I thought that she was joking, but apparently there is a connection between eating food right before you go to sleep and having bad dreams. (According to this article, a big bedtime meal disrupts your sleep patterns, which can affect your dreams.) Being a burrito enthusiast, my mom’s warning did nothing to hinder my eating pleasure, and I don’t recall having had any nightmares that night. But to be honest I didn’t go to sleep for a couple hours after eating it, so I wanted to give this experiment another shot.

The verdict: After eating a Taco Bell XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito right before bed, I dreamed that a person in a cape was punching my hip over and over again and trying to take my Halloween candy. I don’t think that qualifies as a nightmare, but I did feel anxious throughout, which makes me think that there is something to this theory.

2. Putting toothpaste on pimples gets rid of them.

The myth: You weren’t cool at my middle school unless you were putting toothpaste on your pimples. Not that we walked around the halls with white dots on our faces, but the popular wisdom of the day was that if you applied it to your zits at night, the toothpaste would dry out those bumps while you slept and they’d be gone (or at least a lot smaller) by morning. I made this practice part of my nightly ritual, but I can’t recall how effective it was. I imagine it must have worked at least a little, or why would I keep doing it? To fit in? I kept this up until high school, when I began getting clusters of zits instead of the occasional blemish. Because of a feeling I had that it would be weird to slather toothpaste all over my face, I started using actual acne medications.

The verdict: Seeing that a new, massive pimple sprouted right above my lip earlier in the week, I decided to give the toothpaste a whirl for old times’ sake. I put a tiny bit on my pimple—I don’t know if it makes a difference or not, but I used Crest with cavity protection—and went to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, my pimple was bigger! However, it had come to a head and basically popped on its own as soon as I washed my face. So did the toothpaste make the pimple disappear? Yeah, in a manner of speaking. The pimple is gone-ish—I still have the scabby remnant. I guess this worked. Sort of.

3. If you say her name enough times, Bloody Mary will appear in your mirror.

The myth: Having been introduced to it an impressionable age, the Bloody Mary legend is so ingrained in my psyche that I never even look at the mirror when I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night for fear that some spirit will show up on the other side of the glass and stare at me while I pee. If you aren’t familiar with the story, Bloody Mary is this ghost who shows up in your mirror—presumably covered in blood—when you say her name multiple times (I’ve always heard that it was 13 times, but there may be some regional or historical variations on the number). What’s supposed to happen when she appears is a mystery to me. I’ve read that it could be something relatively innocuous, like presenting you with the image of your future spouse, or bringing you some bad luck. I’d always assumed, though, that death would be the consequence of summoning her, and witnessing people perform the ritual without dying somehow didn’t stop me from believing this. The invocation is usually attempted at night in a darkened bathroom during a sleepover or at camp—essentially, it’s a scary game that allows otherwise typical kids to experiment with necromancy.

The verdict: I know that Bloody Mary doesn’t actually exist—I’m rational, I understand science, I realize that mirrors are reflective surfaces and not ghost portals—but I was still kind of scared to do this. I called Bloody Mary first with the lights on, and then with the lights off. Both times I had my cats with me for emotional support. And I totally saw Bloody Mary. She’s actually super chill and not as bloody as you’d think. No, JK, I didn’t see anything. Myth officially busted.

4. Wet hair causes colds.

The myth: I’ve heard two different theories about wet hair. One is that you’ll catch a cold if you go to sleep with wet hair, and the other is that you’ll catch a cold if you go outside with wet hair. One potential explanation for both of these myths is the belief that fluctuations in body temperature make our bodies more susceptible to catching the common cold virus (which also appears to be a myth). So if your hair is wet, then your head is probably cold, and that would make your body cold, and then it’s “hello, human rhinovirus.” Another possible explanation involves the Freemasons, every branch of the government, and hair-dryer manufacturers in an international conspiracy to keep people from letting their hair dry naturally.

The verdict: I’ve gone to sleep without drying my hair many times and the result is usually just frizzy, matted hair and a large damp spot on my pillow—but never illness. So I’ll go ahead and say that this myth is busted. I wouldn’t necessarily doubt a person who said that she was constantly getting sick after going to bed with wet hair, but to rule out all other possibilities, I’d also tell that person to set up a camera in her room before bed, because I have a sneaking suspicion that someone is sneezing on her face while she’s sleeping, and her problems are much bigger than wet hair.

I also go outside with wet hair three or four times a week, yet I only get one or two colds per year. Admittedly, I’m horrible at math, but if there is a link between wet hair and the outdoors, then I should be sick more often, no? But I wanted to play around with this one a little more, and at the risk of my health (and in the interest of wasting time), I walked around my neighborhood in the evening in 48-degree weather with sopping wet hair. I did this for about 10 minutes, and I even touched a street pole to get my hands nice and germy. The immediate result of this jaunt was that my ears became so excruciatingly cold that I swore I had an ear infection. But once I went back inside, the pain went away. It’s been a week since this experiment, and I haven’t gotten sick.

5. Fish is brain food.

The myth: “Fish is brain food,” my mom used to say. I don’t question the wisdom, particularly because research has shown that the omega-3 fatty acids (my favorite kind of fatty acid, if I had to choose) found in fish boost brain power, but the way people talk about fish and brains, you’d think that simply eating a little tuna would instantly make you smarter. So what I’m testing here isn’t the veracity of the claim, but how it can apply to everyday life—specifically if it will make me better at online Boggle, a game that requires players to create as many words as possible out of a 4×4 grid of jumbled letters within three minutes, and which I’m horrible at.

The verdict: The tuna and salmon that I ate was top-notch, supermarket sushi. You know, the kind that’s been sitting in the refrigerated section all day long and is only a couple of hours away from being thrown out? But before I did that, I played three rounds of Boggle, using the first two rounds as a warm-up and then basing my word-building skills on the points that I earned during the third round. In the pre-fish game, I scored 19 points. In the post-fish game, I came up with an impressive list of four-letter words like note, fine, and tole. I scored a whopping 25 points—still crappy, but it does seem to suggest that eating fish can slightly improve your Boggle game.

Now that I’m finished with these experiments, I’ve been thinking that it would be amazing if I were able to create my own myth that would be passed down from generation to generation. It would be something harmless but bizarre that could never be totally debunked. Here’s an idea: you guys, sleeping on your side decreases the potency of morning breath by 50%. Spread it around. These things have to start somewhere, right? ♦


  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild January 3rd, 2013 7:24 PM

    I really want a burrito now…………

    <3 Melissa

  • ivoire January 3rd, 2013 7:29 PM

    I’m actually really interested in the fish one because my mum never stops telling me that fish will make you smarter! Maybe I’ll try my own experiment.

  • DreamBoat January 3rd, 2013 7:30 PM

    HAHAHAHAHAA YES YES YES I LOVE THIS. “1. Eating a burrito before bed will give you nightmares.” IS PROBABLY THE FUNNIEST THING I HAVE READ ALL 2013.

  • Galadriel January 3rd, 2013 7:50 PM

    helpful tip – sudocrem (stuff that is usually used to treat diaper rashes) gets rid of pimples and blackheads. I put it on my face before bed if my skin gets bad and usually it will get rid of a pimple, or at least shrink it, overnight :)

    • Jessica W January 3rd, 2013 9:06 PM

      I use Bepanthen Antiseptic Cream (same stuff basically), it’s really good for shaving rash and ingrown hairs, though I’ve never tried it on my acne. Makes sense.
      My legs are way less spotty from shaving because of it! :)

      The Lovelorn

  • llamalina January 3rd, 2013 8:24 PM

    “I never even look at the mirror when I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night for fear that some spirit will show up on the other side of the glass and stare at me while I pee.”

    I laughed out loud at this. Even though I’m still kinda afraid to look in the mirror at night. This article was hilarious.

  • momobaby January 3rd, 2013 8:29 PM

    I’ve never actually heard any of these before (except the Bloody Mary one, super scared of dark mirrors) and I just wanted to chime in that sushi is freaking amazing.

    This is the end of our Public Service Announcement, have a nice day.

  • vonnegutcobain January 3rd, 2013 8:47 PM

    Props to you for trying the bloody mary game. I could never do that in a million kajillion years.

  • Maddy January 3rd, 2013 8:50 PM

    “It’s been a week since this experiment, and I haven’t gotten sick and .”
    ^ I want to know how this sentence ends!

    • Anaheed January 4th, 2013 1:28 AM

      “and…I’ve also been eating garbage and dirty diapers, because I’m Amber Humphrey and that’s what I do every day.” We took that out for Amber’s sake–I don’t think she realizes how embarrassing that confession is.

      OK actually it was just me leaving in a stray “and” by accident.

  • Chloe January 3rd, 2013 8:56 PM

    ahah, i promise to start spreading it around!! I love the boggle experiment :))

  • Claire January 3rd, 2013 8:58 PM

    Oh my gosh, I thought I was the only person who avoided looking in the bathroom mirror in the dark in fear of Bloody Mary! Haha, good stuff.

  • Jessica W January 3rd, 2013 9:02 PM

    This is awesome. More articles like this! <3

    The Lovelorn

  • Toilets January 3rd, 2013 9:11 PM

    Hooray, now I can use being a vegetarian as an excuse for my lack of skill at playing Boggle and other word-based games!

  • nikkiduck January 3rd, 2013 9:58 PM

    When I was in the 4th grade, we had a bathroom in our classroom and, every so often during the year, 3 or 4 of the girls would go into the bathroom at one time, turn the lights off, and chant Bloody Mary 3 times. Even though I don’t remember anything ever actually happening, everyone would scream and then when they came out one of the girls would usually exclaim “Look! I got a cut!” because we believed she’d come out of the mirror and scratch you.

    Kids :’)

  • booklover January 3rd, 2013 10:26 PM

    Oh man, my mom used to tell me that if I plantded Cheerios in the back yard that a donut bush would grow. Needless to say that myth was busted years ago. I was very disappointed.

  • warreno January 3rd, 2013 10:34 PM

    It’s not the burrito that does it – it’s the chili peppers. There’s something about chili peppers that can lead to ‘vivid dreams’ – not nightmares, but the kind of anxiety inducing dreams you describe.

    I’ve experienced them many times myself, and while correlation does not mean causation, in this case I think it’s the peppers. The size of the meal seems to be irrelevant.

  • savsavlovesyou January 3rd, 2013 11:38 PM

    Loved it. Funny but also full of facts(:

  • sequoia January 3rd, 2013 11:44 PM

    i’m hungry now….

  • cherrycola27 January 4th, 2013 12:27 AM

    This was so great! I love these fun Rookie articles.
    I’ve always thought the wet hair thing was silly. I go to bed with wet hair all the time, and the only damage it causes is a funky morning ‘do.
    I also used to hear the toothpaste thing, and I even tried it a few times. Pretty sure that might only work for tiny pre-puberty pimples, not serious ones.
    I loved all these though. :)

  • mayaautumn January 4th, 2013 3:42 AM

    this is utterly great! my mum used to say that if i pulled funny faces and the wind changes, i’d get stuck like that. i guess that one turned out true..

  • anoziram January 4th, 2013 4:20 AM

    This article was PRICELESS.
    thanks to that one episode of Supernatural, Bloody Mary somewhat terrifies me now.
    Like, to the extent that I can’t even go to the bathroom at night because I just have this deeply ingrained fear and sense that she will find me an make my eyeballs bleed.

    Although, I suppose if that happened I’d get to KINDA meet the Winchesters. On that note, you Rookie editors ABSOLUTELY MUST include that show this month.

    • marengo January 4th, 2013 10:46 AM

      GAH yes Supernatural article please! <3

  • nickz January 4th, 2013 6:57 AM

    I tried to use tooth paste on my pimples but if they are new it wont really make any difference it just sits on the surface but doesn t dry them out.

  • Mary the freak January 4th, 2013 12:21 PM

    This was sooo funny and amazing!!

    About , um, this tooth paste thing, it works perfectly with Herpes. By the way.

    And also, going outside with wet hair makes you sick, but only if you were slightly sick before. That’s my experience.

    I just told my mum this morning breath thing :DD

  • Pearl January 4th, 2013 2:51 PM

    I’ve tried the toothpaste trick and it just doesn’t work for me. Maybe it’s psychological, I have no idea. I love your little myth busting experiments!

  • MissKnowItAll January 4th, 2013 5:52 PM

    kudos to amber for taking these risks for the greater good

  • Pashupati January 4th, 2013 7:24 PM

    Now I’m scared :’(

  • annika January 4th, 2013 8:43 PM

    the only acne scar I have is from toothpaste! STAY AWAY

  • Sister Moon January 4th, 2013 10:35 PM

    if i could tell you how much bloody mary haunted my childhood (and im pretty sure she still pops into my head probably 6 out of every 10 times i go to the bathroom). oh my god

    I guess she was really scary to me because I didn’t know the background story of bloody mary (she was a queen that executed a lot of people for being protestant or something). I kind of imagined her as a person made entirely out of blood. that’s a really gory thing to believe as a child i realize. and then paranormal activity 3 resparked that fear.

    Also I just love cats. If I was ever scared, all I would want is to be holding a cat and i think I’d be ok.

  • Ella W January 5th, 2013 2:01 PM

    You guys, did you know that sleeping on your side decreases the potency of morning breath by 50%!
    True that.
    Great article Amber.

  • starsinyourheart January 6th, 2013 5:56 PM

    I wish toothpaste worked hah :(

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica May 27th, 2013 11:21 AM

    Delightful! When I read “1. Eating a burrito before bed will give you nightmares.” I laughed out loud. (I’ve never heard that myth before.) (Or, I suppose you have proven that it isn’t a myth!) I go to bed with wet hair all the time and I’ve never gotten sick from it… my mom freaks out whenever I go outside with wet hair though! She always makes me wear a hat or something. UGH. Next time I’ll be like “Nuh uh! That’s a myth! Amber proved it!” and she’ll be like “Who’s Amber?” and I’ll be like “Ugh, nevermind. I’m just not wearing this hat.”