From strict dietary restrictions to crazy home remedies and insanely expensive (not to mention insanely tiny) jars of “miracle” products, there are a lot of suspect skin care solutions swimming around out there.
And no one has heard more unfounded, questionable, and downright wrong advice than dermatologists. To help us separate fact from fiction, we asked top docs about the worst skin care advice they’ve ever heard and why it’s bogus.
1. Your behavior is to blame for your breakout.
“People blame themselves and think they’re doing something wrong. But you break out because of factors beyond your control. People think they’re transferring bacteria to their face by touching it a lot or by sleeping on the same pillowcase. Or they blame their diet. But acne is a result of your genetics and hormones. An unhealthy diet and emotional stress can exacerbate acne, but they are not the primary reason for breakouts.”
— Katie Rodan, M.D., co-creator of Proactiv and Rodan + Fields and adjunct clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine
2. All-natural products are safe for your skin.
“In reality natural products are just like other chemicals—some of them are safe, while others are not. In many cases, there is inadequate data for us to be able to base any recommendations on. Poison oak is natural, and that is clearly not something that most people would want to put on their skin. For people prone to developing skin irritation or rashes, plain petroleum jelly is probably the safest product to use.”
— Jennifer Chen, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine
3. The sun is beneficial for certain skin conditions.
“Phototherapy is a treatment performed in a medical clinic with parameters set for safety and efficacy (a particular wavelength of light is used, exposure time monitored, etc.). But I once saw a patient who somehow ended up consulting an owner of a tanning salon near her house, and this person convinced her that routine tanning in the salon would achieve the same purpose for treating a rash. The reality is that tanning beds are highly linked to the development of skin cancer and are not used to treat skin conditions like rashes. Indoor tanning also ages skin rapidly, accelerating development of wrinkles and sunspots, and deteriorating skin tone and texture.”
— Tyler Hollmig, M.D., director of laser and aesthetic dermatology at Stanford Health Care
4. You should exfoliate daily for clear skin.
“Over-exfoliating the skin can strip skin cells not ready to be removed; trigger redness, irritation, and inflammation; lead to raw skin and skin infections; and cause acne as a result of overactive oil gland production. Exfoliation is an integral part of a good skin care routine but should be done gently (not abrasively) and only twice a week. This will help maintain an active skin turnover cycle, keep skin from clogging, and remove dead skin cells and debris in a timely manner.”
— Jessica Weiser, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at the New York Dermatology Group
5. If you have dark skin, you don’t need to wear sunscreen.
“That is an absolute fallacy. All humans have skin; therefore all people need to protect against sun cancer. Everybody needs to wear an SPF 30 every day—rain or shine, January through December—regardless of skin color.”
— Jeanine Downie, M.D., founder of Image Dermatology
6. Beauty products that contain placenta can protect against aging.
“The amniotic sack and the placenta both contain a lot of maternal immunity. It’s kind of a treasure trove of antibacterial proteins, so some people us it for anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties or to pump up collagen. The reality is your body already has plenty of those proteins and the nutrients from the placenta can’t even really get into your skin because the molecules are so big. If you want to stick to the holistic side, licorice root, feverfew, goji berries, and oolong tea all have great anti-inflammatories for skin health.”
— Bobby Buka, M.D., section chief at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and founder of Bobby Buka Dermatology
7. Sun exposure is the best way to get vitamin D.
“Opinons are mixed on this. Some evidence suggests that vitamin D produced in the body by solar ultraviolet exposure may help prevent prostate, colon, breast, and other cancers, as well as bone diseases. However, most dermatologists and cancer groups, including The Skin Cancer Foundation, recommend against any unprotected ultraviolet exposure, as there is strong evidence that this contributes to cumulative skin damage, accelerating aging and increasing lifetime risk of skin cancer. Plus, there are effective and noncarcinogenic ways of supplementing vitamin D through diet and supplements.”
— Justin Ko, director and clinic chief of medical dermatology at Stanford Health Care
8. Eating greasy food will give you greasy skin.
“Your skin won't produce more oil just because you indulge in some greasy food. There is evidence that high-glycemic foods can cause acne because these types of foods cause an insulin spike that results in a hormonal cascade, which ultimately increases the production of skin oils and acne. Certain dairy products have also been linked to acne—more research is needed but hormones in these dairy products may act as triggers. The only way to know for sure if you have a dietary trigger: Eliminate the potential trigger from your diet for at least a month and see if it makes a difference.”
— Sejal Shah, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology
9. Let wounds scab over to help them heal.
“The truth is scabs slow wound healing and lead to increased scarring. That is why we recommend wounds be covered with Vaseline, since moist wounds allow for better wound healing (faster and with less scarring).”
— Christopher Bunick, M.D., assistant professor in the Yale Department of Dermatology
10. Facial steams are a good way to clear pores.
“Steaming actually breaks the capillaries and can exacerbate rosacea. Steam rooms can also be fungus and mold traps. Stay away from steam rooms or steaming as a part of facials. Retinol and glycolic acid pads are the best way to clear pores.”
— Gervaise Gerstner, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
11. You need to buy hypoallergenic products or you’ll have irritation.
“Hypoallergenic has no actual definition in the skin dictionary. All products are hypoallergenic in a sense: Every product that’s on the market goes through irritancy testing, and anything that crosses a line is going to have a change in formulation to minimize that. People who have especially sensitive skin need to look for products that remove known irritants like fragrances or dyes, which are common allergens.”
— Doris Day, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical School