30 Common Skincare Myths, Debunked

I know 30 myths to bust seems like an awful lot, but believe me, there could have been lots more. I struggled on which ones to include that would be the most helpful. What women are led to believe about skincare and makeup could fill volumes. We are incessantly bombarded with these myths disguised as truths, and like any brainwashing procedure, it takes effort and facts to get to what is really possible and what is worth your time and money. 

So these 30 myths represent a snapshot of the typical erroneous information you get from cosmetics companies that end up hurting your skin and budget because they are a poor way to make decisions about the products you buy.

Table of Contents

1. Myth: There are skincare products that really are better than Botox or better than dermal fillers.

Fact: Over the past few years cosmetics companies have positioned their skin-care products by claiming that they can compete with or even outdo medical corrective procedures such as Botox. 

The ads in fashion magazines for these types of skin-care products often make claims about how dangerous Botox injections can be. There is nothing scary about Botox (other than the sound of the botulism toxin material used). In fact, the research about Botox’s effectiveness and safety is overwhelmingly positive for every disorder they treat with it, and there are many, from cerebral palsy in children to headaches and eye tics.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no research showing that any skin-care product can even remotely work in any manner like Botox, or like dermal fillers such as Restylane or Artecol, or like laser resurfacing. Regardless of their ingredients or the claims these skin-care products make, it just isn’t possible. 

Even Botox can’t work like Botox if you apply it topically rather than injecting it into facial muscles. Nor can dermal fillers plump up wrinkles when applied topically rather than being injected. When performed by professionals, Botox and dermal injections make wrinkles in the treated area disappear almost immediately. Believing that skin-care products can do the same is a complete waste of money. 

There has never been a single skin-care product that has ever put a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist out of business! It makes sense, then, even with the increasing number of products claiming to be better than Botox, that there were more Botox injections and dermal filler injections performed in 2007 than ever before—millions and millions of them.

2. Myth: Dermal fillers such as Radiesse and Restylane are completely safe and are the best filler options available.

Fact: Absolutely not true! First, there are more than 30 dermal filler materials being used, and many of them are even more beneficial and definitely longer lasting than Radiesse and Restylane. 

Although dermal fillers do work beautifully to fill out depressed areas of the face, such as the nasal labial folds that extend from your nose to your mouth, deep lines between the eyebrows, and marionette lines along the sides of the mouth, they do pose risks. The advertising for these two products, and the repeated mention of them in fashion magazines, have led consumers to believe that these work flawlessly. 

There are definitely problems (albeit infrequent) associated with these fillers, and with all of the more than 30 fillers currently being used. These problems and adverse events are primarily granulomas and nodules, which are lumps or hard spheres that may occur under the skin. Although these sometimes must be corrected with surgery, for the temporary fillers the adverse events do fade with time while the semi-permanent fillers can stay in place for far longer periods of time. The trade-off is duration versus risk, and the decision is yours.

Please don’t take this information to mean you shouldn’t consider using dermal fillers to successfully treat wrinkles (millions of successful treatments have been performed); it’s just that you should be fully informed before you make any decision about any product or procedure you are considering. One more thing: there are absolutely no skin-care products that can work in any way, shape, or form like a dermal filler.

3. Myth: You should choose skin-care products based on your age.

Fact: Many products on the market claim to be designed for a specific age group, especially for “mature” women; mature usually refers to women over 50.

Before you buy into any arbitrary age division when choosing skin-care products, ask yourself why the over-50 group is always lumped together. According to this logic, someone who is 40 or 45 shouldn’t be using the same products as someone who is 50 (only 5 or 10 years older), yet someone who is 80 should be using the same products as someone who is 50. If you think that doesn’t make sense, you’re right.

To clear up the confusion, what you need to know is that skin has different needs that is based on skin type, not on age. Not everyone in the same age group has the same skin type. Your skin-care routine depends on how dry, sun-damaged, oily, sensitive, thin, blemished, or normal your skin is, all of which have nothing to do with age.

Then there are the issues of rosacea, psoriasis, allergies, and other skin disorders, which again have nothing to do with age. What everyone needs to do is protect the outer barrier of their skin in exactly the same way—avoid unnecessary direct sun exposure (sun protection), don’t smoke, don’t irritate your skin, and do use state-of-the-art skin-care products loaded with antioxidants and skin-identical ingredients.

Some skin disorders, diseases, and functionality problems are associated with older skin, but whether they appear or not depends on the woman and her particular skin. They are not universally true of older skin because even these specific maladies can occur in younger people as well (such as ulcerated skin, wounds that don’t heal, itchy skin, and thinning skin). In addition, none of these problems have anything to do with “normal,” daily skin-care needs; whatever your age, a healthy skin-care routine for your skin type can do wonders.

Turning 50 does not mean a woman should assume that her skin is drying up and that she must therefore begin using “mature” skin-care products. After all, those are almost always just products that are designed for dry skin and are in no way different from any of the other skincare products for dry skin on the market. Besides, for many women over 50 (including me), it definitely does not mean that the battle with blemishes is over. Let me just reiterate this: There are no products designed for older women that address any special needs other than dry skin!

4. Myth: Products labeled as “hypoallergenic” are better for sensitive skin.

Fact: “Hypoallergenic” is little more than a nonsense word. In the world of cosmetics, this term is nothing more than an advertising contrivance meant to imply that a product is unlikely or less likely to cause allergic reactions and therefore is better for sensitive or problem skin. 

To “imply” is never the same as to state a “fact,” and in this situation, it is patently untrue that products labeled “hypoallergenic” are any better for sensitive skin! There are absolutely no accepted testing methods, ingredient restrictions, regulations, guidelines, rules, or procedures of any kind, anywhere in the world, for determining whether or not a product qualifies as being hypoallergenic. 

A company can label their product “hypoallergenic” because there is no regulation that says they can’t, no matter what proof they may point to—and what proof can they provide given there is no standard to measure against? 

Given that there are no regulations governing this supposed category that was made up by the cosmetics industry, there are plenty of products labeled “hypoallergenic” that contain problematic ingredients and that could indeed trigger allergic reactions, even for those with no previous history of skin sensitivity. The word “hypoallergenic” gives you no reliable understanding of what you are or aren’t putting on your skin.

5. Myth: “Dermatologist tested” on a cosmetics label is a good indication that the product is reliable and can live up to the claims.

Fact: You absolutely should not rely on the “dermatologist tested” claim any more than you should rely on the appearance of a doctor’s name on a product’s label to indicate you are getting a superior formulation.

There are many misleading and deceptive aspects to the term “dermatologist-tested” as it’s used on a label, but at the top of the list is that this claim does not tell you what dermatologist did the testing, what he or she tested, how he or she performed the testing, or what the results were. That is, they don’t tell you what they found with their supposed testing; they just tell you that they tested it. 

Without all of the testing information and results, there is no way to determine what it means. More often than not it just means that a cosmetics company paid a doctor to say that it’s a good product (and there are lots of doctors on the payroll of lots of cosmetics companies). Or they could actually have performed a test, but only on six people, or used testing methods that guaranteed a positive outcome, which happens more often than you’d think. But that hardly provides results you can rely on. 

Dermatologist-tested is nothing more than a marketing gimmick because people like to believe that doctors have the consumer’s best interest at heart. In the world of cosmetics, however, that is not always the case.

6. Myth: Cosmeceutical companies make better products than cosmetics companies.

Fact: The term “cosmeceutical” is, sad to say, a false advertising gimmick created by dermatologists to suggest that their “cosmeceutical” products are somehow better than other products in the cosmetics industry.

What pathetic chicanery and deceit! At the very least what you should expect from the medical world is a scientific fact, not these fictitious, sales-oriented machinations. When you hear the word “cosmeceutical,” you’re supposed to think a product is a blend of cosmetic ingredients and pharmaceutical-grade ingredients and, therefore, it must be better for your skin—right? The fact is, “cosmeceutical” is just a trumped-up word that has no legal or recognized meaning; it definitely has nothing to do with what the product may contain versus the content of any “non-cosmeceutical” cosmetic. 

A quick comparison of ingredient lists reveals that there is nothing more unique or pharmaceutical about cosmeceuticals than any other cosmetics in the cosmetics industry. Plus, the FDA does not consider the term “cosmeceutical” to be a valid product class, so the term isn’t regulated. So you should view it merely as a marketing term, and nothing more. Anyone can use that term to represent their brand’s identity.

Organizations like the American Academy of Dermatology have muddied the issue even further by stating “Dermatologists know how to use cosmeceutical ingredients and can advise their patients about the best ways to achieve healthy looking skin” (Source: AAD, www.aad.org). I read dermatology journals every month, and I’ve been to enough dermatology conferences to know that is absolutely not true. 

They haven’t a clue. But even more to the point, dermatologists don’t agree on what makes one product a cosmeceutical and the other not. Depending on who you talk to, products containing retinol (or other retinoids, which are part of the vitamin A molecule), hydroquinone, or certain botanicals such as green tea, soy, pomegranate, curcumin, or grape, are the gold standard. But all these ingredients are available for use by all cosmetics companies—and indeed they show up in all kinds of products and often not in the ones labeled cosmeceutical.

Another description tossed around maintains that a cosmeceutical contains an ingredient that performs some kind of special action on the skin. However, all of those ingredients can be used by any cosmetics company, regardless of their designation or where they’re applied.

According to the AAD, “the answer to whether or not cosmeceuticals really work lies in the ingredients and how they interact with the biological mechanisms that occur in aging skin.” But again, that’s true for any cosmetic. Even doctors can be seduced by their own hype so they can sell skin-care products and market them as something different by using a coined, misleading term.

7. Myth: Age spots are best treated with specialty skin lighteners, whiteners, or products claiming to get rid of brown skin discolorations.

Fact: First, the term “age spot” is really a misnomer. Brown, freckle-like skin discolorations are not a result of age; they are the result of years of unprotected sun exposure.

You can demonstrate this for yourself: just compare the skin on the parts of your body that haven’t seen the sun (like your backside or the inner part of your arm) with skin on the parts of your body that see the sun on a regular basis. The parts of your body that don’t see the sun will have minimal to no skin discolorations. And keep in mind that the bad rays of the sun also come through windows!

Second, a number of skin-care products that claim they can make skin whiter or lighter more often than not contain no ingredients that can have any significant, or even minor, impact on melanin production (melanin is the brown pigment in skin). In addition, even when the product does contain an ingredient that can have an effect, it usually contains such a small amount that it won’t help at all. Basically, there is no comparison between the effects (or non-effects) of using one of these products and using a sunscreen plus a product containing hydroquinone.

Because unprotected sun exposure is the primary trigger for most brown, freckle-like skin discolorations, the primary way to reduce, prevent, and possibly even eliminate skin discolorations is diligent, daily application of a well-formulated sunscreen. Be sure not to forget the back of your hands and your chest (and be sure to reapply every time you wash your hands, because sunscreen does wash off ).

No other aspect of controlling or reducing brown skin discolorations is as important as being careful about not getting a tan, and never exposing your skin to the sun without using a sunscreen rated SPF 15 or more—and more is usually better. And make sure that the sunscreen includes the UVA-protecting ingredients of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (which can also be on the label as butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane), Tinosorb, or Mexoryl SX (which can also be on the label as ecamsule), because they prevent the UVA damage that triggers brown spots.

Though I rarely express my own personal, anecdotal experience (I always rely on scientific studies rather than guess why a positive or negative result is taking place), in this case, I will share what I do. I have found that using a sunscreen with only titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as the active ingredients has the most impressive results. The difference in my face, arms, and hands has been significant ever since I made that change several years ago. 

There is some research that supports this personal experience, but I wish there were more science to back it up. I suspect the reason why the results may be superior is the coverage zinc oxide or titanium dioxide provides (more like a blanket over skin), “blocking” the sun rather than chemically converting the rays as synthetic sunscreen agents do. Keeping the sun from penetrating into skin is the best protection possible for skin.

Beyond the use of sunscreen, hydroquinone has the highest efficacy for lightening skin, with a long history of safe use behind it, more so than any other skin-lightening ingredient. There are other alternatives that show promise for lightening skin, but they have been the subject of far less research and their effectiveness often pales in comparison to that of hydroquinone. 

It is interesting to note that when applied to the skin some of these alternative ingredients actually break down into small amounts of hydroquinone, which explains why they have an effect. These alternative ingredients include Mitracarpus scaber extract, Uva ursi (bearberry) extract, Morus bombycis (mulberry), Morus alba (white mulberry), and Broussonetia papyrifera (paper mulberry), all of which contain arbutin, which can inhibit melanin production. Technically, these extracts contain hydroquinone-beta-D-glucoside. 

Pure forms of arbutin, such as alpha-arbutin, beta arbutin, and deoxy-arbutin, are considered more potent for skin lightening, but again the research is at best limited. Other ingredients that have some amount of research on their potential skin-lightening abilities are licorice extract (specifically glabridin), azelaic acid, and stabilized vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid, ascorbic acid, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate), aloesin, gentisic acid, flavonoids, hesperidin, niacinamide, and polyphenols. However, no one knows how much is needed in a cosmetic lotion or cream to have an effect, and most of the research has been done in vitro, not on human skin.

To sum it up, there is a very specific game plan you can follow to get the most impressive results; it starts with avoiding sun exposure, daily use of a well-formulated sunscreen (365 days per year), and using a skin-care product that contains hydroquinone. In addition, an exfoliant (such as AHAs and BHA) can be helpful; certain laser, intense-pulsed light, and radio wave treatments from a dermatologist or plastic surgeon can also be extremely helpful. But, and this is an important but: If you don’t also use a sunscreen daily you will be wasting your time and money!

8. Myth: Women outgrow acne; you’re not supposed to break out once you reach your 20s and beyond!

Fact: If only that were true, my skin-care struggles in life would have been very different.

In fact, women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s can have acne just like teenagers, and the treatment principles remain the same. Not everyone who has acne as a teenager will grow out of it, and even if you had clear skin as a teenager, there’s no guarantee that you won’t get acne later in life, perhaps during menopause. 

You can blame this often-maddening inconsistency on hormones! What is true is that men can outgrow acne, because after puberty men’s hormone levels level out, while women’s hormone levels fluctuate throughout their lifetime, which is why many women experience breakouts around their menstrual cycle.

9. Myth: Acne is caused by eating the wrong foods.

Fact: This is both true and false. The traditional foods thought to cause acne, such

as chocolate and greasy foods, have no effect on acne, and there is no research indicating otherwise. However, there is the potential that individual dietary allergic reactions can trigger acne, such as eating foods that contain iodine, like shellfish, although there is an ongoing controversy about that. 

A bit more conclusive is new research showing that milk, especially skim milk, can increase the risk of acne. The same may be true for a diet high in carbohydrates; a high glycemic load can increase breakouts, while a low glycemic load can reduce their occurrence. (Glycemic load is a ranking system for the amount of carbohydrates in a food portion; too many carbs in your diet could trigger breakouts.) Experimenting for a few months to see which of these food groups either hurt or help your skin is worth the effort

10. Myth: If you clean your face better you can clear up your acne.

Fact: Over-cleaning your face can actually make matters worse. Acne is caused primarily by hormonal fluctuations that affect the oil gland, creating an environment where acne-causing bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) can flourish. Don’t confuse scrubbing or “deep cleaning” with helping acne, because it absolutely doesn’t. Over-cleansing your face triggers inflammation that can actually make acne worse. 

What really helps breakouts is using a gentle cleanser so you don’t damage your skin’s outer barrier or create inflammation, both of which hinder your skin’s ability to heal and fight bacteria, along with using gentle exfoliation. 

An effective exfoliating product that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid can make all the difference in reducing acne when used with a topical disinfectant containing benzoyl peroxide. None of these products should contain any irritating ingredients whatsoever, particularly not alcohol, menthol, peppermint, or eucalyptus.

11. Myth: Makeup causes acne.

Fact: Probably not. There is no research indicating that makeup or skincare products cause acne, and there is no consensus on which ingredients are problematic. In the late 1970s, there was some research performed on rabbit skin using 100% concentrations of ingredients to determine whether or not they caused acne. 

Subsequently, it was determined that this study had nothing to do with the way women wear makeup or use skin-care products, and it was never repeated or considered useful in any way. Still, women do experience breakouts after using some skin-care or makeup products (or a random combination of both—I know I do). Such breakouts can be the result of an irritant or an inflammatory response, a random skin reaction, or a result of problematic ingredients unique to a person’s skin type. 

That means you have to experiment to see what might be causing your breakouts. There is no information from medical research or the cosmetics industry to help or point you in the right direction. And just so you know, “noncomedogenic” is a meaningless word the cosmetics industry uses to indicate that a product is less likely to cause breakouts; the problem is no standards or regulations have been set up to describe this category.

12. Myth: Stress causes acne.

Fact: Generally, it is believed that stress can trigger acne, but no one is exactly sure how that works, and there is conflicting research. While it never hurts to reduce angst and worry in your life, stress as a causative factor for acne is hard to pinpoint. Plus, the way to treat acne doesn’t change because of the stressors in your life.

13. Myth: Toothpaste works to prevent or quickly heal a pimple.

Fact: Absolutely not true! This would be funny if so many people didn’t believe it. None of the ingredients in toothpaste can have a positive effect on acne or change a blemish once you have it, and actually, it can make matters worse. The bacteria in your mouth are not related to the bacteria (P. acnes) in your pores that cause acne. And although the fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate in your toothpaste can help fight bacteria in your mouth, and on your skin they can actually cause pimples and redness in the areas they come in contact with. This is known as perioral dermatitis.

The other ingredients in toothpaste might have minimal abrasive properties, but they provide nothing that a gentle rubbing with a washcloth can’t do far better. Another issue for skin is that the flavorings added to toothpaste present additional problems that you should avoid on your skin.

14. Myth: Applying collagen and elastin to skin will add to the collagen and elastin content of skin, which will eliminate wrinkles.

Fact: Collagen and elastin in skin-care products can serve as good water-binding agents, but they cannot fuse with your skin’s natural supply of these supportive elements.

In most cases, the collagen molecule is too large to penetrate into the skin. But even when it is made small enough to be absorbed it cannot bind with the collagen existing in skin, and there isn’t a shred of research indicating otherwise. What do exist are myriad studies showing that collagen is a very good moisturizing ingredient, which is great for skin, but it is neither unique nor the only formulary option. 

It is important to point out that even if you were to take the collagen that is used in medically administered dermal injections and rub it on your skin, it wouldn’t be absorbed, and it wouldn’t change wrinkles by bolstering the existing collagen. There is even less research showing that elastin has any benefit when applied topically.

Keep in mind that even if collagen or elastin could be absorbed, and even if they could combine with your existing collagen or elastin, without guidelines you would just keep adding collagen and elastin to your skin, and eventually, it would stick out in places you wouldn’t want it to, stick out in lumps if too much was absorbed in one place, and plump up your fingers because that’s what you use to apply the product that contains these ingredients. When a physician uses collagen injections to plump up lips and lines on the face, he or she can inject only so much collagen into your face before you end up with overblown lips and a distorted facial expression.

Protecting your skin from sun damage, daily exfoliation with a well-formulated AHA or BHA product, and treating your skin to a range of ingredients (antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, and skin-identical ingredients) that it needs to look and feel its best will protect its natural collagen supply and allow it to build new collagen— something healthy, protected skin loves to do and does quite well.

15. Myth: Eye creams are specially formulated for use around the delicate eye area.

Fact: There is no evidence, research, or documentation validating the claim that the eye area needs ingredients different from those you use on your face, neck area, or décolletage.

Even if there were ingredients that were special for the eye area, that isn’t evident in the labels for eye-care products; their formulations seem to be chosen at random, with no consistency in the industry. All cosmetics companies put whatever ingredients they want into their eye products. 

Typically, they give you half as much but charge you twice as much as the same product being sold for your face. The ingredient labels on these “specialty” products more than prove the point. Eye creams are a whim of the cosmetics industry designed to evoke the sale of two products when only one is needed.

One more point: Occasionally a physician, aesthetician, or someone selling skin-care products will defend their eye creams by telling me that the eye area doesn’t need ingredients that cause irritation. 

Well, I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, but the same is absolutely true for the face, or anywhere else on your body. You shouldn’t be applying formulations with needlessly irritating ingredients—period! That means that all your eye area needs is a well-formulated product, and that can certainly be the same product you use on your face.

16. Myth: There is (or will be) a product out there that really can eliminate wrinkles.

Fact: Regrettably, there is no magic potion or combination of products in any price range that can make wrinkles truly disappear, or prevent them, except daily use of a well-formulated sunscreen (and never getting a tan).

The wrinkles you see and agonize over (not to be confused with fine lines caused by dryness, which are easily remedied with a good moisturizer) are the result of cumulative sun damage and the inevitable breakdown of your skin’s natural support structure.

Skincare ingredients, no matter who is selling them or what claims they make for them, cannot replace what plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists do. There are literally thousands of antiwrinkle products being sold and we buy more of them than almost any other beauty product. Yet as I stated before, despite this onslaught of products, plastic surgeons and dermatologists are not going out of business.

An interesting study in Skin Research and Technology compared the effects of an inexpensive moisturizing face cream with an expensive one in a luxurious jar. Eighty Swedish women ages 35–64 years were randomly divided into three groups: Group A treated their facial skin for six weeks with the expensive cream in its luxury jar, Group B used an inexpensive moisturizer presented in the same luxury jar, and Group C used the expensive cream contained in a neutral jar.

The evaluations were made by the subjects, by a clinically trained observer, and by measuring the skin surface relief using optical profilometry (a method that measures the contours and roughness of surface skin). All the results showed no differences between the three groups related to the effects on wrinkles and smoothness, and there was no assessment of their skin feeling younger or more beautiful. The facial appearance was the same and profilometry showed reduced surface microrelief with all the products.

Don’t take this to mean that there aren’t skin-care products that can significantly help improve skin, because there are, including sunscreen, exfoliants (AHAs or BHA), moisturizers loaded with antioxidants, and cell-communicating ingredients, retinoids (components of Vitamin A), and numerous others. It’s just that anti-wrinkle skin-care products can’t perform according to the exaggerated claims on the label. After all, if they worked as promised then cosmetics companies wouldn’t be launching new anti-wrinkle products every few months.

17. Myth: Expensive cosmetics are better than inexpensive cosmetics.

Fact: The absolute truth is that there are good and bad products in all price categories. The amount of money you spend on skin-care products has nothing to do with the quality or uniqueness of the formula. An expensive soap by Erno Laszlo is no better for your skin than an inexpensive bar soap such as Dove (though I suggest that both are potentially too irritating and drying for all skin types). 

On the other hand, an irritant-free toner by Neutrogena can be just as good as, or maybe even better than, an irritant-free toner by Orlane or La Prairie (depending on the formulation), and any irritant-free toner is infinitely better than a toner that contains alcohol, peppermint, menthol, essential oils, eucalyptus, lemon, or other irritants, no matter how natural-sounding the ingredients are and regardless of the price or claim. 

I’ve seen lots of expensive products that are little more than water and wax, and inexpensive products that are beautifully formulated. And in all price ranges, I’ve seen products come in jar packaging, which is like throwing your money away, since jar packaging can’t keep important, air-sensitive ingredients such as antioxidants stable. Spending less doesn’t hurt your skin, and spending more doesn’t help it. It’s all about the formulation, not the price.

18. Myth: European products, especially from countries like France, Switzerland, and Italy, are formulated better than products from other countries. European women just know how to take care of their skin.

Fact: Having spent a good deal of time in Europe doing presentations to women about skincare and reviewing European cosmetic brands I can say without hesitation that is utterly not true.

The facts are on the ingredient label and European products have all the same problems that cosmetic products have all over the world, including jar packaging, which doesn’t keep air-sensitive ingredients such as plant extracts, vitamins, and many cell-communicating ingredients stable after opening; the use of irritating ingredients or overly drying ingredients; antiquated formulations; and overpriced concoctions that are little more than just wax and water. None of that creates superlative skin care by any definition.

The other notion, that European women take better care of their skin, is a strange ongoing myth. Although European women are not as overweight as American women (actually no country in the world has a bigger obesity problem than the U.S., but that’s another discussion), they do not take better care of their skin. They smoke, they tan, they use poorly formulated products, and they believe the same false claims women all over the world get sucked into believing.

19. Myth: Natural ingredients are better for skin than synthetic ingredients. 

Fact: Whatever preconceived notion someone might have about natural ingredients being better for the skin, or whatever media-induced fiction someone might believe, this is not true.

There is no factual basis or scientific legitimacy for the belief that natural is better. Not only is the definition of “natural” hazy, but the term is loosely regulated, so any cosmetics company can use it to mean whatever they want it to mean. Just because an ingredient grows out of the ground or is found in nature doesn’t make it automatically good for skin, and the reverse is also true: Just because it is synthetic doesn’t make it bad.

“Consumers should not necessarily assume that an ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ ingredient or product would possess greater inherent safety than another chemically identical version of the same ingredient,” Dr. Linda M. Katz, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors stated. “In fact, ‘natural’ ingredients may be harder to preserve against microbial contamination and growth than synthetic raw materials”.

“But people should not interpret even the USDA Organic seal or any organic seal of approval on cosmetics as proof of health benefits or of efficacy,” said Joan Shaffer, USDA spokeswoman. 

The National Organic Program is a marketing program, not a safety program. Steak may be graded prime, but that has no bearing on whether it is safe or nutritious to eat.

20. Myth: Packaging doesn’t matter when it comes to skincare products; I just love products that come in beautiful containers, especially jars.

Fact: Packaging plays a significant role in the stability and effectiveness of the products you use. Because many state-of-the-art ingredients, from cell-communicating ingredients, antioxidants, and plant extracts to skin-identical ingredients, are unstable in the presence of air, jar packaging, once opened, permits air to enter freely, which causes these important ingredients, the very ingredients that make a product most beneficial for skin, to break down and deteriorate. 

Jars also mean you are sticking your fingers into the product, which can transfer bacteria and further cause the great ingredients to break down. Think about how long an unprotected head of lettuce lasts in your refrigerator. 

Or after opening a can or jar of food, how long does it take before becoming a moldy mess? Airtight packaging, or any packaging that reduces the product’s exposure to air, is essential when you are buying the best products for your skin. You should also avoid clear packaging that lets light into the product. 

Light of any kind is a problem because it causes sensitive ingredients to break down. If that isn’t enough to make you reconsider jar packaging, it’s worth noting that The Guidelines on Stability of Cosmetic Products, March 2004, by the CTFA and COLIPA (respectively, the American and European cosmetic governing associations most cosmetic companies in Europe and the US belong to) states “Packaging can directly affect finished product stability because of interactions which can occur between the product, the package, and the external environment. Such interactions may include… Barrier properties of the container [and] its effectiveness in protecting the contents from the adverse effects of atmospheric oxygen….”

21. Myth: Blackheads are caused by dirt and can be scrubbed away.

Fact: Blackheads may make skin look dirty, but they are unrelated to dirt.

Blackheads are formed when hormones cause too much sebum (oil) production, dead skin cells get in the way, the pore is impaired or misshapen, and the path for the oil to exit through the pore is blocked, creating a clog. As this clog nears the surface of the skin, the mixture of oil and cellular debris oxidizes and turns, you guessed it, black. You cannot scrub away blackheads, at least not completely. 

Using a topical scrub removes the top portion of the blackhead, but does nothing to address the underlying cause, so they’re back again before too long. Instead of a scrub, try using a well-formulated BHA (salicylic acid) product. Salicylic acid exfoliates inside the pore lining, dissolving the oil and dead skin cells that lead to constant blackheads.

22. Myth: Oily skin can be controlled externally (from the outside in) with the right skin-care products.

Fact: Possibly, but right now this is mere conjecture, involving an extremely complicated and difficult-to-understand process.

Oil production is triggered primarily by androgens and estrogen (male and female hormones, respectively), and altering hormone production topically is not something available in the realm of cosmetics.

However, the sebaceous gland itself also produces active androgens that can increase sebum excretion. What can happen is that stress-sensing skin signals (think skin inflammation and irritation) can lead to the production and release of androgens and cause more oil production, which can clog pores. These factors make topical irritation and inflammation bad for skin, but that still doesn’t affect the production of hormones inside the body, the primary source for triggering the pore to make too much oil.

What you can do is use a retinoid (vitamin A or tretinoin) to improve the shape of the pore so that the oil can flow more evenly, preventing clogging. There is some research that niacinamide in skin-care products can help, but no one is quite sure why. You also can avoid making matters worse by not using products that contain oils or thick emollient ingredients. 

You can absorb surface oil by using clay masks as part of your skin-care routine (though the effect is completely temporary), but you need to avoid masks that contain irritating ingredients. How often you should use a mask depends on your skin type; some people use one every day, others once a week. Masks of this kind may be used after cleansing, left on for 10–15 minutes, and then rinsed with tepid water.

23. Myth: Dry skin is caused by a lack of water, either by not having enough in skin or simply not drinking enough water.

Fact: Ironically, dry skin is not as simple as just a lack of moisture.

The studies that have compared the water content of dry skin to that of normal or oily skin show that there doesn’t appear to be a statistically significant difference. Healthy skin requires a water content of about 15%, and adding too much moisture, like soaking in a bathtub, is bad for skin because it disrupts the skin’s outer barrier (the intercellular matrix) by breaking down the substances that keep skin cells functioning normally and in good shape.

What is thought to be taking place when dry skin occurs is that the intercellular matrix (the substances between skin cells that keep them intact, smooth, and healthy) has become depleted or damaged, bringing about a rough, uneven, and flaky texture that allows water to be lost. But adding water won’t keep that moisture in the skin unless the outer barrier is maintained or repaired, and again too much water just causes problems.

To prevent dry skin, the primary goal is to avoid and reduce anything that damages the outer barrier, including sun damage, products that contain irritating ingredients, alcohol, drying cleansers, and smoking. All of the research about dry skin is related to the ingredients and treatments that reinforce the substances in the skin that keep it functioning normally.

As for drinking lots of water each day (a beauty tip that refuses to fade away), if all it took to get rid of dry skin was to drink more water, then no one would have dry skin and moisturizers would stop being sold. Keeping your liquid intake up is fine, but if you take in more water than your body needs, all you will be doing is running to the bathroom all day and night. The causes of and treatments for dry skin are far more complicated than water consumption. If anything, though rare, drinking too much water can be dangerous, causing a potentially deadly condition called hyponatremia.

24. Myth: Dry skin causes wrinkles.

Fact: Dry skin and wrinkles are not related. The inseparable association between dry skin with wrinkles continues to endure in the mind of the consumer. Nonetheless, the simple truth is that dry skin and wrinkles are not related in the least. I know that statement may be hard to accept because we’re so conditioned by advertising and product claims to think otherwise, but believing the myth can hurt your skin by inducing you to concentrate on treating your dry skin or loading up on moisturizers hoping it will get rid of wrinkles. It just doesn’t work that way.

Abundant research has made it perfectly clear that wrinkles and dry skin are not related in terms of cause and effect. Extensive studies and analyses have shown that dry skin is frequently a by-product or result of other assaults on skin that are the real cause of wrinkles. In other words, dry skin is primarily a symptom of other factors that cause wrinkles.

If dry skin doesn’t cause wrinkles, what does? Wrinkles are permanent lines etched into the skin from sun damage and internal causes (genetic changes, muscle movement, estrogen loss, and fat depletion). Nowhere, at least outside of ads and product claims, is dry skin ever mentioned as a cause of wrinkles.

Sun damage is by far the most notable cause of wrinkling, which is easily proven by something referred to as the backside test of aging. In other words, compare the areas of your skin that rarely, if ever, see the sun with the parts of your body exposed to the sun on a daily basis. Those areas with minimal sun exposure (such as your backside) are rarely, if ever dry, and they also have minimal to no signs of wrinkles or aging skin. They will also have far more of the firmness, elasticity, and color of “younger” skin because they have not been subjected to years of cumulative exposure to sunlight.

25. Myth: Everyone needs a day cream and a night cream: Skin requires special care at night.

Fact: The ONLY difference between daytime and nighttime moisturizer is that the daytime version should contain a well-formulated sunscreen.

What you often hear cosmetics salespeople say is that the skin needs different ingredients at night than during the day. Yet there isn’t a shred of research or a list anywhere of what those ingredients or formulas should be. Skin is repairing itself and producing skin cells every nanosecond of the day—and night. 

Helping skin do that in as healthy a manner as possible doesn’t change based on the time of day. Skin needs a generous amount of antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, and skin-identical ingredients all day and all night. Think about it like your diet: Green tea, grapes, flax, and all the other aspects of healthy eating are good for you day or night.

For daytime wear, unless your foundation contains an effective sunscreen, it is essential that your moisturizer feature a well-formulated, broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher. Well-formulated means that it contains UVA-protecting ingredients, specifically titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (also called butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane or Parsol 1789), Tinosorb, or Mexoryl SX (also called ecamsule). Regardless of the time of day, your skin needs all the current state-of-the-art ingredients it can get.

26. Myth: Your skin adapts to the skin-care products you are using and you need to change to new products every now and then.

Fact: Skin doesn’t adapt to skincare products any more than your body adapts to a healthy diet.

If spinach and grapes are healthy for you they are always healthy, and they continue to be healthy, even if you eat them every day. The same is true for your skin; as long as you are applying what is healthy for skin it remains healthy. This is especially true for sunscreen and products that contain antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, and skin-identical ingredients

27. Myth: I should just use what I like on my skin, that’s the most important thing. 

Fact: That would be a huge mistake because lots of women often like what isn’t good for them.

For example, you may like getting a tan, but that can cause skin cancer and most certainly will cause wrinkles and skin discolorations. You may like smoking cigarettes, but that will cause skin cells to die and will cause the growth of unhealthy, malformed skin cells. You may like that daytime moisturizer you are using, but if it doesn’t contain sunscreen it leaves your skin wide open to sun damage. 

Or you may prefer a moisturizer packaged in a jar, yet because almost all of the important state-of-the-art ingredients, especially antioxidants, plant extracts, vitamins, and cell-communicating ingredients, deteriorate in the presence of air, the jar packaging will not keep these ingredients stable, so you would be short-changing your skin soon after the product is opened. What it takes to help your skin be at its best and to function normally and really fight wrinkles or acne or any other skin problem is far more complex than just using what you “like.” 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t like what you use, but do take the time to select products that are truly healthy and beneficial for skin. That is, take the time to read the ingredient list and consult reliable reviews of the products you’re considering, because you can’t determine the benefits intuitively.

Think of it like your diet. If you were given the choice between eating what you like, say chocolate cake versus spinach and broccoli, you would eat a lot more chocolate cake than any green vegetable. But we eat the green veggies not so much because we like them but because we have learned they are better for us. It’s impossible to accurately judge effectiveness and value-based just on how you feel about the product.

28. Myth: You should buy all your skin-care products from one cosmetics brand because the products are designed to work together.

Fact: That may be good for the company’s sales, but it doesn’t help your skin and in many cases will only end up causing problems. 

Almost every skin-care line in the world has good and bad products or products that are inappropriate for special skin-care concerns. Lots of companies may have products containing problematic ingredients, some because they use irritating ingredients or ingredients that can’t remotely live up to their claims, others because of what they don’t contain such as effective sun protection or products in stable packaging. Much like shopping for food, you have to pick and choose what works and an entire line may not be suited to meet that need.

29. Myth: If it tingles or feels cooling on my skin it must be doing something.

Fact: Any noticeable sensation, even for a brief period of time, is almost always damaging to your skin. That familiar tingling, cooling sensation is actually just your skin responding to irritation, resulting in inflammation. Products that produce that sensation can actually damage your skin’s healing process; make scarring worse; cause collagen and elastin to break down; cause dry, flaky skin; and increase the growth of bacteria that cause pimples.

Inflammation is the real culprit responsible for wrinkles and skin aging. Whether the inflammation in skin is brought about by the sun, smoking, pollution, or irritating ingredients used on the skin, the resulting reaction generates unpleasant and undesirable side effects ranging from dry, itchy skin to acne; reduced ability for the skin to heal; and collagen destruction. When the skin is being irritated from most any source you end up hurting your skin, not helping it.

A tingling or cooling sensation is a signal that your skin is being irritated and in- flamed. It is being caused by problematic skin-care ingredients that can include overly abrasive cleansers, alcohol, fragrant plant extracts, peppermint, menthol, eucalyptus, and on and on, and their continued use will greatly reduce your chances of having the kind of skin you want.

There are times when cooling ingredients are helpful. Ingredients such as menthol, peppermint, camphor, and mint are counterirritants. Counterirritants are used to induce local inflammation in an effort to reduce inflammation in deeper or adjacent tissues. In other words, they substitute one kind of inflammation for another, which is never good for skin, but can provide relief when itching is a temporary nuisance not abated by gentle scratching. Irritation or inflammation, no matter what causes it or how it happens, impairs the skin’s immune and healing response. 

And although your skin may not show it or doesn’t react in an irritated fashion, if you apply irritants to your skin the damage is still taking place and is ongoing, so it adds up over time.

30. Myth: The product I’m using contains ingredients that are known to irritate skin, like alcohol, lavender, bergamot, and peppermint, but I don’t feel anything, so those ingredients aren’t a problem for me.

Fact: Even though you don’t feel a substance reacting on your skin, that doesn’t mean it isn’t doing damage. For example, we don’t feel the UVA rays of the sun. We can be sitting in the shade or inside next to a window and the sun’s UVA rays are penetrating through, reaching our skin and causing serious, cumulative damage. Whether or not your skin reacts in the short term doesn’t mean the damage isn’t happening beneath the surface, which is why it is so important to always treat your skin gently. Irritating, drying, and sensitizing ingredients cause problems underneath the skin that will take a toll in the long run, whether your skin shows it or not.

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