We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Snake Oil?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At SmartCapitalMind, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Snake oil is both a legitimate product made from the oil of Chinese water snakes, and a derogatory term for a variety of products that claim to cure ailments but do not. The snake oil salesman, once a common feature in the US and in the UK, was a person who sold silver bullet cures for any illness. Originally, the oil came from China, where it is still used as a medicinal treatment to cure inflammation and arthritic conditions.

Oil that really comes from a snake may actually have some health benefits, especially when it is made from the Chinese water snake. It’s commonly found in pharmacies throughout China and used as a topical treatment for joint pain. It does contain high levels of certain essential fatty acids that have been shown to reduce inflammation. Unfortunately, finding it can be a chore. Rattlesnake oil is available in the US, but it tends to have only about a third of the fatty acids Chinese oil contains. Fish oil would be a better choice.

As traveling salesman peddled snake oil throughout Britain, where it was first patented in the 18th century, and the US, it was noted that most did not sell the real thing. Many products that purportedly had oils from the Chinese water snake contained none, and were instead mixtures of camphor, some form of fat (often beef), and alcohol. The unsavory reputation of these salesmen began to gather steam as most people who bought the stuff found no benefit from using it.

Today, calling someone a snake oil salesman may be another way of saying that the person is particularly good at selling worthless items. There is something smarmy and untrustworthy about such people, although this opinion is not shared in China where real snake oil can be easily purchased. Sometimes in the US, all homeopathic remedies are dismissed with this term, which is a generalization. Some non-traditional remedies are helpful and do have value, though taking them should always be done under the care of a medical professional.

Traveling snake oil peddlers are often a feature of films set in the Old West. W. C. Fields played a fraudulent one in the 1936 film Poppy. Numerous others were just stock characters populating Western films. They are often portrayed as deliberately attempting to fool the public, though some people may have had great faith in the promised results of their remedies.

As with any product, believing that it works can produce results that have nothing to do with the actual product. Attitude about how a product works can make some people feel better, evoking what is called the placebo effect. A good snake oil salesman might have such a quality sales pitch that a few people did find benefit from worthless products. Therefore, the salesperson often escaped being thrown out of towns he visited. Alternately, if he wasn’t so good, the salesman moved on quickly to the next town to avoid people demanding their money back or insisting on violent retribution.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
By anon300071 — On Oct 28, 2012

Can this stuff make you lose weight? If so how do I take it? How many days do I have to take it until I lose 20 pounds?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
SmartCapitalMind, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

SmartCapitalMind, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.