how to explain that magnets stick to the skin (with or without vaccine)

Congratulations, you are now as Magneto, the big bad who attracts iron and metals in X-Men. At least that’s what you tell yourself, if you’ve managed to get a little magnet to rest on your shoulder. Since mid-May, filming yourself sticking small magnetic objects against your arm, or by extension metal objects, has been one of the major trends on social networks: the “Magnet challenge”.

Do anti-Covid vaccines contain chips that “make you magnetic”? This is what all these videos want to (de) show – in the second degree or in the first degree, it depends – which circulate on the networks. The reality is more banal.

Unequal in the face of sticky magnets

As is often the case on the Internet, it is impossible to verify the authenticity of all these productions: nothing indicates that their authors did not rig the experiment. However, some testimonies are credible, such as that of Julien Pain, verification journalist at Franceinfo, who managed to hang a magnet fridge on his partner’s shoulder. The author of these lines was less fortunate: the magnet preferred to obey the law of gravity, crash to the ground, roll at random, and finish the scientific experiment under the sofa.

However, we had respected the operating mode: target the injection point of the messenger RNA vaccine, which was supposed to contain magnetic microchips, according to certain conspiracy theories behind this “Magnet challenge”. Others have experienced a more embarrassing failure, such as Joanna Overholt, an American anti-vaccine nurse, who wanted to demonstrate, on June 9, before the Ohio House of Representatives’ health committee, that her key was now stuck to her neck. In vain, this key traitor having preferred to fall than to adhere.

Vaccines ineffective to magnetize

Alas, according to the experts, it is not one or even two doses of Pfizer that would never allow you to lose your keys again by hanging them on your shoulder: contrary to the myth circulating in conspiratorial networks, vaccines have nothing to do with this phenomenon.

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Julien Bobroff, French physicist specializing in magnetism, who teaches at the University of Paris-Saclay, is categorical: “A vaccine against the Covid-19 which could contain fleas, and which would catch magnets when injected, it is absolutely impossible from the point of view of physics”, he explains to France 24. Thomas Hope, professor of cell biology and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, said the same thing to Agence France-Presse (AFP): ” It’s impossible. There is nothing [dans les vaccins] that a magnet can interact with are proteins and lipids, salts, water and chemicals that maintain pH. “

Kamil Fadel, head of the physical unit at the Palace of Discoveries, explains to the World that the magnetic field has two origins: “An electric current, or at the atomic level the spin of electrons. No other reason is known. [L’idée que les vaccins rendent magnétique], it’s beyond science fiction, it’s outside of physics. “ He also recalls that the power of attraction supposes a certain volume under the skin. “For that to stick, there would have to be something strongly magnetizable in the shoulder, an iron part, a somewhat solid object, rather big”, which would have a hard time passing through the needle of a syringe.

Side effect of oily skin

But then, why do some manage to flank their skin with a magnet? The explanation has nothing to do with the vaccine, or even with the magnet, but with human skin, which secretes sebum. “We have a fatty film on the surface of the skin, which is more or less important. If it hangs, it’s just linked to that ”, explains Christine Lafforgue, researcher in dermatology and pharmacology at the University of Paris-Saclay. This is how the companion of our colleague from Franceinfo was able to place a magnet on his vaccinated shoulder, but also on the other shoulder.

The production of sebum varies depending on the location of the body (we have more sebaceous glands on the face than on the legs), the time of day, the stress and the individual. According to a 2017 study covering 20,012 people representative of the French population, 42% declared having normal skin, 17% combination skin, 24% dry skin and 17% oily skin, which would give them this strange “superpower” to make them adhere to small items.

The phenomenon can also be inhibited: a 25-year-old internet user reports Newsweek, was surprised to find that his supposed magnetic arm was no longer magnetic at all once coated with baby powder. Finally, a seasonal variable can be added. “When it’s hot, the skin grips more, because you have an emulsion form of sebum and perspiration, details Christine Lafforgue. But you’re not going to hang much. Magnets are not heavy. With a surface made for hanging, it’s normal that it sticks. “

Faked videos on TikTok

Excess sebum therefore hardly explains certain videos in which Internet users film themselves with heavier, even non-magnetic objects, such as smartphones. Until this inhabitant of the city of Ulhasnagar, in India, who filmed himself in mid-June transformed into a living china cabinet: on his naked torso, coins, teaspoons, kitchen knives, a metal spatula, and even pots and pans.

“It’s easy to fake, like a lot of other things, explains Kamil Fadel. A few years ago there were videos showing how to cook popcorn or eggs with cell phones. It was purely faking. ” Moreover, as BFM-TV notes, there is no evidence that the Internet users filmed have actually received a vaccine against Covid-19.

Double-sided tape, glue, or even a little saliva may be enough. This is what Emilaaay 442, a TikTok user, allowed herself to believe to believe that a magnet spontaneously stuck to her arm. With success: his video went viral. The woman finally admitted to the deception in another video:

“I wanted to show how quickly rumors and disinformation circulated on the Internet. Some have been fooled, others have not. Now I am part of the problem now. Vaccine or don’t, do whatever you want, but please, whatever you choose, stop believing every video you see on TikTok, Facebook, or YouTube. ”

Another superpower, which would benefit from being more widespread.