Building a skin care routine can feel like a difficult science. There’s always a new product that’s being touted as The Thing to solve all of your skin woes… until another thing #WorthYourMoney comes to really, truly solve all of your problems.
If you’ve wandered the beauty aisles recently wondering why CBD is suddenly in EVERYTHING, and if it’s worthwhile to pay more for a serum that says hyaluronic acid in bold, sit down and strap in. We’re myth busting beauty marketing to keep your skin safe.
Alpha hydroxy acids (or AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (or BHAs) are commonly recommended for exfoliating, which helps your skin shed dead skin cells.
When used properly, this can have some great benefits like fading acne scars and brightening up a dull complexion. But like all good things, too much can lead to some serious problems. Overexfoliating can dehydrate your skin.
Hadiyah Daché, licensed esthetician, sees this a lot in her clients. According to Daché, look for irritation, itchiness, redness, or inflammation. “It can lead to breakouts,” she says, “especially if you are already acne prone.”
Daché points out that while some labels might recommend daily use, these directions often assume you’re using the other products from that brand. If Sephora is where you spend your extra bucks, chances are you’re using products from all sorts of different brands.
Not sure if your skin is over exfoliated? Make an appointment with a skin care professional. If you can’t do that, take a break with the acids and slooowly ramp back up to 2 to 3 times per week (max).
OK, don’t let our first busted myth make you afraid of acids, especially hyaluronic acid (HA). If you’ve noticed more brands gassing up hyaluronic acid on their labels, it’s because this ingredient is the hype machine for plumping your skin.
Hyaluronic acid is present in most of your body’s tissues and like many other body things, its production slows with age.
If you think your wrinkles and elasticity loss are more of a dehydration issue, HA might just help. Either as injectable fillers (often lips) or more commonly, topical serums, which adds moisture and keeps it in your skin.
Pro tip: If you’re using a HA serum, use a face mist before and after. HA works by drawing moisture from somewhere, anywhere. Which means if the air is dry… Well, you don’t want HA dehydrating your skin. For extra protection, seal that face with some oil.
Brands love to tell you that they’ve left out the scary sounding ingredients. And you’ve probably heard more than one influencer talk about how they prefer natural ingredients over anything else.
While that’s a nice sentiment, picking out quality skin care goes much deeper than natural vs. lab made (aka synthetic).
The truth is that “natural” has absolutely nothing to do with safety.
Daché often has clients that ask for natural and “clean” beauty products, and what she’s learned is that they usually mean “chemical free” — which in itself is misleading.
“I’m always reminding them that everything technically is a chemical, ” she says. “So you need to be more specific about the types of chemicals that you maybe want to avoid.”
If you want natural preservatives, note that your skin care budget may balloon. “When you’re using natural preservatives in a product, that product tends to have a much, much shorter shelf life.” Daché says. That doesn’t make the product bad, but it does mean that you’ll need to replace products (that are often more expensive) more quickly.
For others, they feel better about using things straight from the source. Unfortunately, a kitchen skin care routine can’t do a lot of heavy lifting.
“When you’re in your kitchen mixing together, you know, apple cider vinegar, honey, and clay… that’s not even penetrating the skin in the same way it would if it was formulated in a lab,” Daché says.
Lab-created skin care is specially formulated to penetrate your skin. Chemists may use extractions from ingredients like turmeric and apple cider vinegar in products, but you won’t get the same results directly from the source.
Natural isn’t all good or all bad. But, unless you’ve been trained to formulate botanical skin care products, it’s best to stick to products made in a lab and that work for your skin and budget.
The truth is, we just don’t know. There’s a lot of evidence that CBD can help with pain and anxiety, but there’s no conclusive research that CBD can help with acne, wrinkles, and other common skin concerns.
“There isn’t anything in CBD that is going to dramatically improve your skin. It’s not going to smooth wrinkles. it’s not going to fade any hyperpigmentation. It’s mainly there for wound healing,” Daché says. “That means if you have a lot of inflammation on your face it’ll kind of help calm it a little bit, but other than that it’s not really doing much in your skin care.”
However, this hasn’t stopped brands from jumping on the trend and adding CBD to their formulas, often with a prime markup. If CBD is acting like a siren’s call and you can’t find verified before and after photos, we suggest skipping it for ingredients that have more evidence.
For the sake of our wallets, we wish this were true. This would mean that the drugstore alternatives with similar formulas to the pricey high-end brands were always the better choice.
According to Daché, what really matters is where the product is sourced from. “Every manufacturer gets their source material from different places and the source is kind of what determines the integrity of the ingredient.”
Some people have used sites like INCI Decoder to find cheaper products with similar ingredients to pricier versions, but shopping only with the formula in mind can cause you to miss an important part of the picture.
Brands are required to list their ingredients, but not where they got the ingredient from. “The difference in quality from the source is probably what’s reflected in that price,” she says.
There’s a lot of skin care information on the internet, and while there’s no harm in getting advice from @skincarequeen32, you run the risk of getting conflicting, confusing, and downright wrong information.
For truly “fast” and “reliable” tricks, the best use of your money is seeing a dermatologist or licensed esthetician. Instead of buying and trying a bunch of different products (and potentially getting allergic reactions or burns), a professional can help you get to the bottom of your skin probs.
Make a list of your skin care concerns before you go. Not only will this help save time, it can help you stay on track and remember to ask all your questions.
Emily Gadd is a writer and editor who lives in San Francisco. She spends her spare time listening to music, watching movies, wasting her life on the internet, and going to concerts.