Updated 1/8/18. Let me start by saying that so much skin advice is simply not true. I don’t know why these myths are perpetuated, but I can tell you that with my 30 years of hands-on experience as an esthetician, working with the skin day in and day out, taking skincare courses at UCLA and the continuous research I do, I need to clear these up—once and for all. You demand knowledge and you’re definitely going to get it with this one. Read on for 35 of the most common skincare myths I hear and solutions for getting your skin smooth, clear and healthy so it can look and feel its best.
Note: It’s a long post but hang in there; it’s filled with really important info. Enjoy! (These myths are not in any particular order.)
1. “When I read an ingredient label and see the word ‘alcohol’ listed, this must mean the product is drying and should be avoided.”
Not true. Alcohols have many different uses and not all are drying. For example, did you know that vitamin E is an alcohol? Alcohols can be humectants, solvents, emulsifiers, surfactants, and antioxidants. Examples of commonly used alcohols that are beneficial to the skin are tocopherol (vitamin E/ free radical fighting antioxidant), cetyl alcohol (product thickener), and stearyl alcohol (emollient). You DON’T want your skincare products to contain evaporative alcohol, like SD Alcohol 40 or denatured alcohol. These can be found in serums and toners and will be very drying.
2. “It’s normal for my skin to feel tight after I have washed it.”
Not true. If the skin feels tight after washing, it is a sign that the skin has been stripped of all its water. This can immediately cause dead skin cell buildup on the skin’s surface. To repair it, you must apply moisturizer to restore the moisture that you just removed—which makes absolutely no sense. Bar soaps (even if it’s one that your grandmother with beautiful skin swears by or one made with goat’s milk from some exotic location, or even one that’s homemade) are the biggest culprit of dehydration. Cleansers that bubble up and have a high lather like a shampoo are also absolute no-nos. The most important part of your entire routine is what you cleanse with, as this makes or breaks the rest of your routine. Use only sulfate-free, non-drying cleansers for a thorough and comfortable clean. Recommended cleanser: Moisture Protecting Cleanser
3. “All cleansers dry out my skin so the gentlest option is to just wash with water.”
Not true. If every cleanser you wash with STILL leaves your skin feeling tight and dry it’s because you’re letting your skin be bare for too long after cleansing. This causes moisture evaporation through a process called osmosis. After cleansing, you must IMMEDIATELY start using your next product, like a toner, serum or moisturizer. If you leave your skin naked for more than 1 minute, it will start to dehydrate as the air draws out moisture. Perform your skin care routine quickly so that moisture stays in your skin—where it belongs. One exception is if your moisture barrier is damaged. Find out if this is the cause of your dryness.
4. “Using any kind of oil in skincare products is really bad and will definitely cause breakouts and clogged pores.”
Not true. When a breakout-prone person picks sees a skincare ingredient with the word “oil” in it, she usually won’t buy that product. Most people think oil is guaranteed to increase the likelihood of acne. What’s important to understand is that virtually all creams and lotions use a form of oil or emollient to make the product slip across the skin. While not all oils are comedogenic or pore-clogging, some ingredients are definitely known to be more comedogenic than others.
It’s best to avoid:
- mineral oil
- isopropyl myristate
- isopropyl palmitate
- petrolatum (or petroleum)
When reading an ingredient label and trying to determine if the product is suitable for acne-prone skin, it’s really best to focus on using products for your specific skin type. More than likely, these products will be formulated without pore-clogging ingredients. Check out skin types #1 – #4.
5. “An SPF 70 will give twice the protection as an SPF 30.”
Not true. Did you know that SPF 30 offers only 4% more sun protection than an SPF 15? And an SPF 45 offers only 2% more than an SPF 30? The higher up you go, that percentage lessens. The FDA has proposed to ban anything higher than an SPF 50 because manufacturers of high sunscreen numbers can’t prove that their products offer more protection. Sadly, it’s just marketing.
It’s really not the SPF number that matters—the real secret to protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is to reapply sunscreen often and generously. Another must is finding a sunscreen that you like the feel and weight of, one that you will commit to using faithfully and will apply with a heavy hand. (Actress Sofia Vergara swears by this lightweight one to keep her skin youthful-looking and beautiful.)
6. “I don’t get facials because I hear they’ll cause my skin to break out afterward.”
Not true. If you are getting a professional facial appropriate for your skin type it should not encourage breakouts. However, there is one exception. Sometimes people with many clogged pores and blemishes can experience a slight post-facial purging effect due to manual extractions. This is actually considered to be a good thing because it’s Mother Nature’s way of clearing out the pore once and for all. An experienced esthetician can best determine if this will happen. Read 10 benefits of getting a facial.
7. “I always tell my teenage daughter not to eat greasy foods since this causes acne.”
Not true. Many people have heard this from time to time, but there is no evidence that foods like french fries increase breakouts. Greasy foods aren’t healthy food choices, but they shouldn’t cause breakouts. If you’re prone to breakouts, there is one food group you should try to avoid, and that’s dairy. Specifically, chin and jawline breakouts are commonly linked to the consumption of dairy products. Read more about why dairy can cause acne.
8. “I can’t really do much to change how my skin will age. It’s all genetics.”
Not true. Good genes definitely play a role in certain characteristics your skin inherits (oiliness, skin color, thickness, and more), but surprisingly, only 30% of aging is genetics. The other 70% is up to you. Studying how identical twins age has proven this. Twins should technically age in the same way and at the same rate. However, results show they can age quite differently depending on their individual lifestyles (smoking, sun exposure, or other factors). You can see an example of this here. How you take care of yourself and respect your skin and body every day is what really matters.
Also, free radicals are now believed to be the main cause of disease and aging. They contribute not only to wrinkles, but to acne, sensitivity, age spots, dryness, loss of skin elasticity, and skin cancer. By reducing the number of free radicals that your body creates (reducing sun exposure and stress, and getting more rest), and incorporating the daily use of sunscreen, topical antioxidants, and a high antioxidant diet, you most definitely CAN control how fast your skin ages.
Finally, let’s not forget about using a product with retinol or a prescription retinoid several nights a week. This is the ultimate fountain of youth. Read all the amazing benefits of retinol and prescription retinoids.
9. “I don’t need to wear sunscreen in the winter because I’m not outside.”
Not true. While the UVB rays (the ones that cause your skin to burn) aren’t as strong in the winter months, the UVA rays (the ones that cause skin wrinkles and skin cancer) are approximately the same strength year round. This means that UV-induced skin aging happens year round if you’re not protecting your skin.
Did you know that UVA rays can penetrate through windows in your home or office, on the train, bus or in your car? UV rays from daylight (even in the winter) are the #1 reason for skin aging. It’s not genetics, smoking, and, believe it or not, even age. Daylight is the skin’s WORST enemy. Wear sunscreen year round for the best wrinkle prevention ever!
10. “I use suntan beds to get a tan because it’s safer.”
Not true. Suntan beds expose your skin to more concentrated doses of UVA rays (the cancer-causing and skin aging rays mentioned in #9) than you’ll get in direct sunlight. If you are concerned about keeping your skin looking healthy and young, NO TAN is ever considered safe.
11. “My makeup contains an SPF so I don’t need sunscreen in my moisturizer.”
Not true. If you apply a regular non-sunscreen moisturizer to your face and then apply a foundation with an SPF, the sunscreen in the makeup cannot easily penetrate your day cream to effectively coat and protect your skin cells. Plus, people often only apply foundation makeup sparingly (especially in summer when the skin may produce more oil) so a thin coat may not even do that much. For the best protection, make sure your daily moisturizer contains sunscreen and then consider your sunscreen makeup adding in additional protection. Read 12 common makeup mistakes that are harming your skin.
12. “I’m so dry under my eyes. I need the richest, most moisturizing eye cream to help with my wrinkles.”
Not true. Most rich and greasy eye creams typically contain mineral oil, petrolatum, or other oils that have large molecules. Since these types of ingredients are not absorbed easily due to their molecular structure, they simply sit on the surface and can travel into the eyes while you’re sleeping. This can cause excessive puffiness in the morning. Your skin acts as a sponge; it absorbs what it needs and what’s not needed just sits on the surface. Eye creams should be absorbed using specific moisturizing agents that can penetrate deep into the skin but still leave the skin feeling moist and supple. And of course, moisturizing is not the only thing you want from an eye cream. You want to use one that is power-packed with firming ingredients like peptides to help with healthy cell communication and optimal repair. I suggest Total Eye Repair Creme to all my clients. If the skin under your eyes looks dry, then you’ll want to use an under eye exfoliator like Overnight Eye Serum.
13. “I never use a toner because they all contain alcohol and will dry out my skin.”
Not true. Not all toners contain alcohol. An alcohol-free toner will not dry out the skin and will actually provide necessary hydration when left damp on the skin before applying moisturizer.
14. “I never use a toner because they don’t really do much and are considered an unnecessary added step in my routine.”
Not true. I absolutely consider the use of a toner to be a very important part of a good skincare regimen. Toners remove drying chlorines, salts, and minerals found in tap water, give your skin a drink of moisture to support your skin’s natural protective barrier and balance the pH in the skin to keep it in a healthy state. You should leave your skin damp after every cleansing because damp skin is 10 times more permeable than dry skin. This helps deliver the active ingredients of your serum and moisturizer (applied after) deeper within the skin.
Toner formulations are not all created equal and can offer very specific benefits above and beyond what I have mentioned. See my collection of toners to see which one is best for your skin type. Calming, clearing breakouts, giving a glow and delivering much-needed moisture—I’ve got something for everyone.
15. “I’m breaking out a lot so I should be using products formulated for an acne-prone skin type.”
Not true. Skincare lines for acne-prone skin typically fight bacteria and dry out breakouts. While elements of this can be helpful, it can backfire quickly. Not all breakouts are equal, and the frequency of them varies for everyone. For example, a 17-year old boy whose skin is extremely oily and covered in severe acne (more areas of the face have blemishes than not) requires a routine in which every product is relatively strong. But for most people who get some breakouts (but not on the majority of their face), using all acne products can make the situation worse.
Most acne products are drying. Although this is beneficial for healing individual breakouts, these products will over-dry other non-broken out areas. This results in dead skin cell buildup. Newly formed cell buildup then acts as a barrier, trapping oil under the skin and causing more clogged pores and breakouts. Your effort to clear up your skin may actually cause you to break out more. The three most important elements for controlling clogged pores and breakouts are: exfoliation (this will remove dry skin cells to unclog pores and also help fade red, post-breakout marks), disinfecting (it is important to eliminate bacteria to help prevent the spread of breakout as well as to dry up infection), and hydration (water-based moisture for oily skin types to keep cells in a healthy state to discourage dry skin cell buildup).
Here are some of the products that I recommend to my clients to help clear and prevent blemishes and clogged pores.
(Take our Skin Type Quiz to find YOUR perfect routine.)
16. “My vitamin C product makes my skin sting after I put it on, so it must be working.”
Not true. Many vitamin C products use acid forms of the vitamin (like ascorbic acid). These are in fact, acids, which is why some people can feel a stinging sensation on the skin. If you feel a stinging sensation, the product is causing irritation and inflammation. The whole point of using a vitamin C serum in the first place is to reduce inflammation!
Another problem with these acid types of vitamin C is that they are highly unstable and break down every time you open the bottle and introduce oxygen to the product. If your vitamin C starts to turn brown halfway through the bottle, that’s a sign that it is oxidizing and is losing its effectiveness. If you have sensitive skin, using a gentle, no-sting form of vitamin C is always best.
No-sting forms include:
- magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
- tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
- ascorbyl palmitate
- sodium ascorbyl phosphate
I recommend Vitamin C&E Treatment to be used daily underneath sunscreen. Check out this cool experiment where I applied a vitamin C serum to an apple! This is definitely proof that it provides protection!
17. “My skin is oily so I don’t need to use moisturizer.”
Not true. Oily skin doesn’t need heavy and greasy moisturizers. This skin type requires water-based moisturizers to keep skin cells healthy and discourage dead skin cell buildup. In fact, did you know that skipping moisturizer can make your skin even more oily? When your skin doesn’t have the proper water levels, dehydration causes the skin to produce oil. You end up with even oilier skin—the last thing you need or want! All skin types need moisturizer, you just need to find one that’s formulated for your skin type. Take my Skin Type Quiz.
18. “You can shrink your pore size.”
Not true. Many products claim to shrink your pores, but there really is no way to do. It’s far more complicated than this. However, there are TWO WAYS to make large pores appear smaller and you can read them both here.
19. “Making my own skincare products at home using natural ingredients found in my kitchen is much better for the skin than using store bought products.”
Not true. An ongoing trend in skin care, fueled by the popular green and craft movements, is the concept of taking items found in your refrigerator and kitchen and using them topically on the skin. The thought of using something in its natural, unadulterated form seems to be the healthiest, non-toxic way to go—right? But is achieving clearer, healthier and younger-looking skin really as easy as using ingredients found in your kitchen?
Here’s the real truth. When you eat something, your saliva starts to break down the food. It then passes through the digestive tract, and nutrients from the food are distributed throughout the body where they are needed. The skin doesn’t have a similar process as the digestive system; therefore, it isn’t really possible to put food on the face and expect the nutrients to easily enter the skin. Read more of my thoughts about DIY home skin care recipes.
20. “My skin has been really dry lately due to not drinking enough water.”
Not true. While I will always promote drinking water as being good for your health, this is actually the least efficient way to hydrate the skin. Water runs through the intestines, is absorbed into your bloodstream, and is then filtered out by the kidneys. At this point, it will hydrate the cells inside the body. Hydration levels within the skin have very little to do with drinking water but rather what you are doing (or not doing) topically. To maintain proper hydration levels in the skin, use well-formulated moisturizers, serums, masks, and toners. What’s the best moisturizer to use for dry skin? It all comes down to ingredients. Read more about this here.
21.“It’s good to skip makeup or moisturizer once in a while to let your skin breathe.”
Not true. Your skin doesn’t perform the function of respiration, so the concept of your skin breathing is actually false. When it comes to skipping moisturizer, it’s important to know that skin cells are like fish and need water to live. Without it, your cells dehydrate and the health of the skin is compromised. When it comes to skipping makeup, read on to myth #22.
22. “I want my skin to look great so that I no longer have to wear makeup. It’s not good to wear foundation makeup every day.”
Not true. Of course, getting your skin to look its best so you don’t feel like you have to wear makeup is ideal. However, wearing makeup (appropriate for your skin type) actually offers a barrier of protection against harmful UV rays. UV rays from the sun are the #1 cause of aging. It’s not genetics, smoking, and believe it or not, even age. The sun is the skin’s WORST enemy.
Most makeup now contains sunscreen. Even if the label does not indicate an SPF number, most contain UV-protecting ingredients like titanium dioxide. Based on this benefit from wearing makeup, I never leave my skin bare and never suggest my clients do so either. So do your skin a favor and start wearing makeup NOW to protect your skin from wrinkles in the future.
Note: Foundation makeup IS NOT a substitute for wearing a sunscreen as your daily moisturizer. Makeup can simply act an insurance policy to ensure your skin gets the full protection it needs from damaging rays given off by the sun and daylight. I recommend this one to my clients because it’s very lightweight and won’t clog the pores.
23. “Since I have oily skin, I’ll get fewer wrinkles. Yay!”
Not true. People think that the upside of having oily skin is that they will age better. Unfortunately, the reality is that oily skin does age differently than dry skin, but one is not necessarily always better than the other. Let me explain.
Oily skin types tend to have thicker skins (from genetics) and are less prone to dehydration. This means they will have fewer fine, “crinkly” lines, which is a good thing. These skin types have their own built in oil plus more fat cells in the face. BUT instead of fewer fine lines, they will have deeper lines and larger pores. Having larger pores prevents the skin from looking as smooth as someone with tiny pores, and smooth skin is one of the signs attributed to youthful-looking skin.
Dry skins, on the other hand, will have thinner skin and show finer, superficial lines. They also have smaller pores, leading to a smoother, more youthful appearance.
Which type of skin ages best? In my professional opinion as an esthetician, the person who ages the best from genetics is someone who produces some oil, but not too much. This is classified as a “normal” skin type. These skin types have fairly small pores with some t-zone oil production. The skin isn’t too dry so it does not have crinkly, crepiness. It is also not too oily so it does not have deeper lines. Of course, genetics only plays a small part (about 30%) in how someone’s skin will visibly age and the 70% is up to you (good skincare, sunscreen, and healthy lifestyle choices.)
24. “Expensive skin care products must mean they are better.”
Not true. The little-known secret is that cosmetic formulators (like me!) have access to most of the same ingredients and technology that everyone else does. When it comes to how a company prices a product, it has more to do with covering all overhead costs and what demographic the brand serves.
For example, if you look at the ingredient list of La Mer’s famous Creme De La Mer (that sells for $310 for a 2 oz jar), you’ll see the second and third ingredients listed are mineral oil and petrolatum. This means the product contains a high amount of these ingredients. Conversely, if you look at Johnson’s Baby Oil (that sells for $4 for a 14 oz bottle), you’ll see mineral oil listed as the first ingredient. Wow, that’a huge difference in price! The truth is, there’s a market out there for everyone. Consumers need to find a brand they trust with products they love and pay what they feel is fair. And if paying $310 for a product works for you, then go for it. But do know that it’s not necessarily better because of price alone.
25. “You’ll get the best results from products if you stay within the same line.” (Most often heard from a product salesperson.)
Not true. Let’s be real here. Your skin won’t say, “Hey, wait a minute, the moisturizer you just used isn’t the same brand as the cleanser you just used so this won’t work.” The salesperson simply doesn’t want you to go purchase another brand. I believe that as long as you’re getting the desired result from whatever products you’re using, customizing your own routine from different lines is perfectly acceptable. You can mix and match with any brand.
However, let me say this. The vast majority of our new customers say they’ve been customizing their routines by mixing brands, but they simply aren’t getting the desired result. We solved this problem by creating routines for nine different skin types, so you can actually use just ONE line of products that fit all your skin’s needs perfectly.
26. “My doctor prescribed a skin bleach and said that bleaches are the only way to lighten my sun spots.”
Not true. Most bleaching products contain hydroquinone, an ingredient used to fade and lighten pigmented cells. While this can be very effective for fading discoloration, using a topical vitamin C serum is incredibly effective for easing melanin activity, too. For those who prefer not to use prescription medication on the skin due to potentially harmful side effects, consider using a gentler alternative like a vitamin C serum. Read 7 ways to get rid of sun spots and freckles.
27. “I just returned from a beach vacation, and the sun caused my spots and freckles to come out.”
Not true. Did you know that even if you’re really good about wearing a hat and sunscreen, the HEAT alone from UV rays will still make brown spots/pigmentation show up? For years, people thought that “sun spots” were just that—spots from the sun. But newer research indicates that the sun’s heat is enough to stimulate melanin activity. So basically, no matter how diligent you are about re-applying sunscreen, wearing a hat and staying in the shade, you still cannot avoid pigment stimulation. For those of us who live in the warmer southern states, this can be especially frustrating. What can you do? Read here.
28. “Since I already washed my skin the night before and makeup wasn’t on it, there’s no need for me to wash my face in the morning. I can just rinse it with water.”
Not true. It’s important to wash your skin in the morning because while you sleep, your skin is in repair mode. It secretes toxins and sebum, which can prevent your daytime products from working as well. When you wash your skin in the morning, you’re removing these toxins and sebum. You’re also removing your nighttime products so that your daytime products (particularly SPF moisturizer) can more easily permeate the skin’s clean slate. Also, the nighttime products that are on your skin often contain ingredients that are suitable for the night, not the day, such as acids and retinol. Cleanse these from the skin in the morning to avoid reactions or potential irritation.
29. “After I apply sunscreen to my face, I’ll rub whatever is left over on my fingertips on my neck. Therefore, the skin on my neck is adequately protected from the sun. “
Not true. The skin on your neck is not properly protected. As mentioned in other parts of this post, the effectiveness of sunscreen depends on how generously it’s applied. When you’re just rubbing the little bit leftover from the face onto the neck, it’s not enough. Your neck is an extension of your face, so treat it with the same care. Apply a full amount of sunscreen to the face and neck every day.
30. “Whenever I get a blemish, the best thing to do is to quickly apply a drying spot treatment to get it to go away fast.”
Not true. Not all blemishes (cysts, papules, and pustules) are equal, and they need to be cared for differently. When you instantly apply the same spot treatment to all types, you’re actually probably making them worse. If you read this post, I promise you, your blemishes will heal faster than ever.
31. “A skincare ingredient with a long unpronounceable name means it is not natural and unhealthy or unsafe to use.”
Not true. When people see a long word they can’t pronounce, they immediately assume it’s a bad chemical and therefore must be harmful to the skin. Some of my favorite ingredients that you’ll see on our ingredient lists are Pseudopterogorgia Elizabethae (sea whip extract), Dipotassium Glycerrhizate (licorice extract) and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (vitamin C). They sound complicated—but they are oh so good for the skin. Product manufacturers must comply with FDA regulations and list the Latin Binomial name of a plant-based ingredient. This is why you’ll often see long, unknown, complicated-looking ingredients.
32. “The best option for treating cysts is to get a cortisone injection.”
Not true. Of all the different types of acne, cystic acne can be the most frustrating to treat and the most damaging to the skin. The downsides of cortisone injections are that they are expensive, you must spend time waiting in a doctor’s office, and more seriously, the skin can atrophy at the injection site and end up looking sunken. This is usually temporary but can take up to a few months to heal. Every time a needle enters the skin, whether it’s for reducing wrinkles with cosmetic fillers or treating acne cysts with cortisone, there is always a risk.
A safer and less costly option is to apply a product specifically formulated for calming the infection. Anti Bump Solution is one such product that works incredibly well. It has been a miracle worker in my skincare line for 25 years. Anti Cyst uses a purified form of lactic acid along with an advanced delivery system to dissolve and digest the cystic infection and encourage a quicker recovery. Most users find that it heals cysts 50% quicker than when using nothing at all.
Regardless of what you use, it’s SO important to not pick at cysts. Often my clients say “I feel something under there and I want to get it out.” However, cysts are NOT meant to come out to the surface. They develop deep within the skin and heal deep within the skin. It’s a lot easier to conceal a closed bump with makeup than a picked-at, oozing scab. The choice is yours.
33. “I can’t use a retinol product because my skin is sensitive.”
Not true. Sensitive skin types may not tolerate prescription retinoids due to dryness, flaking, and peeling, but a non-prescription retinol should work very well for even the most sensitive skin types. You just have to find one that works for you. It’s important to look for time-release formulas that deliver a slow drip of retinol. That way, you get the benefits without harsh side effects. Time released means the product engages your retinol receptors for 8 hours while you sleep. I suggest Advanced Resurfacing Serum to all my clients—with or without sensitive skin—because it works incredibly well for smoothing lines and wrinkles and restoring a youthful radiance.
34. “There’s not much I can do about preventing my hormonal acne. I just need to live with it.”
Not true. It’s first important to understand WHY you get hormonal breakouts, often during “that time of the month.” Prior to a woman’s cycle, there is more progesterone in the skin. This causes water retention, resulting in puffier looking skin. This, in turn, puts pressure on the pores and creates a narrower pore lining. Additionally, oil can thicken during this time because of hormonal imbalance and an increase of testosterone during the pre-period hormonal shift. When thicker oil is forced through a narrower pore opening, it creates an ideal environment for breakouts. The goal is to start treating the skin before these breakouts to decrease the likelihood of them appearing in the first place. Read ALL the various ways that you can prevent adult hormonal breakouts.
35. “I have broken capillaries.”
Not true. The term “broken” is very misleading. A broken capillary is caused when you get a bruise; the capillaries actually break and get damaged. The tiny red lines that are commonly found on the corners of the nose or cheeks are considered permanently dilated capillaries. They are caused by repeated constricting and dilating; they no longer have the ability to contract and will remain visibly enlarged. The common causes for dilated capillaries are genetics (think an Irish complexion), alcohol, hot showers, frequent nose blowing (allergies), spicy foods, and sun exposure. Read my solutions for capillaries.
Phew! That was a long post! If you’re reading this, you’re someone who is very dedicated to getting his/her skin looking and feeling its best. Bravo to you! I sincerely hope you found this information helpful.
Would you like expert advice from an esthetician? Schedule a virtual consultation to get customized recommendations.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”