25 Facts About Skin Care Even the Experts Don’t Know

Skin Care
Image source: MaHon, Flickr.

For a girl who loves trivia and books and beauty products, there is nothing better than working at FutureDerm!  Over the past 5 years, I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best in the industry – and picking up a few things along the way!  Here are some of the best skin care facts:

The Skin Care “Nevers”

Skin care products

1.)  Never wear perfume while sunbathing.  It can cause a photosensitive reaction:  dark spots or an itchy rash (Beautiful Skin, 2000).

2.)  Never use retinoids and benzoyl peroxide together.  Benzoyl peroxide will denature retinoids (British Journal of Dermatology, 1998).

3.)  Never apply a self-tanner before going out in the sun.  For one, self-tanner’s active ingredient, DHA, causes 180% more free radicals to be produced than with bare skin when you go out in the sun (Spectrochemica Acta Part A, 2008).  For another, there is no such thing as a “base tan,” and even if there was, self-tanners don’t cause melanin production.  Rather, they essentially temporarily “stain” the skin through a chemical reaction.  [Read more:  How Do Self-Tanners Work?]

4.)  Never apply milk of magnesia to your skin or baking soda to your hair, despite what you have read on the internet elsewhere.  Their basic pH is a proven mess, leading to acne, contact dermatitis, and decreased barrier function (Dermatologic Therapy, 2004) of the skin, and causes porous and fragile hair.  (The DermaDoctor SkinStruction Manual, 2005)

5.)  Never use pore strips.  These tricky little strips stick to the material within your pores, but when you rip them off, it stretches the pores open.  With regular, repeated use, this leads to enlarged pores, leaving you with a nose filled with blackheads.  Ew.

6.)  Never apply vitamin E to a scar.  There is no benefit, and at least one study shows that applying vitamin E may be detrimental to a scar’s appearance (Dermatologic Surgery, 1998).  By thinning the blood, vitamin E may be taking away some of the healing factors crucial to an ideal result.

The “Useless-s”

7.)  Collagen doesn’t work in skin care as anything more than a hydrator.  Collagen is too large to fit through the outermost layer of the skin.  Only molecules 5000 Daltons or less can penetrate the skin, and collagen is three to four times this size (Cosmetic Dermatology).  So in a cream, collagen just binds to water, acting as a hydrator. (Read: How Can I Rebuild Collagen? << FutureDerm.com)

8.)  Same thing with sodium hyaluronate/hyaluronic acid.  Still a potent hydrator, but don’t expect it to have the same effect as when it’s injected.

9.)  Gold in skin care also doesn’t work.  The idea is that the luxurious ingredient inhibits enzymes that degrade collagen (Semin Arthritis Rheum, 1987), but gold in skin care products is in such low concentrations it doesn’t do much.  It does glisten and catch the light, but for $500 and up, please – just buy a bronzer!

10.)  Probiotics are only proven to have an effect if you have reactive skin (Experimental Dermatology, 2009). That is, skin that is sensitive to physical (heat, cold, wind) or chemical changes.  So unless you have particularly sensitive skin, save the probiotics for your intestines.

The “Interestings”

Skin care

11.)  Oil of Olay is not the same now as it was in the 1940’s.  Back then, the South African chemist Graham Gordon Wulff developed it during World War II to aid British Royal Air Force pilots’ burn wounds.  Since the early 2000’s, its strength has been niacinamide, shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, red blotchiness, and skin sallowness (yellowing), and increase skin elasticity (Dermatologic Surgery, 2006).

12.)  Nearly all beauty companies are owned by one of the big eight:  Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, Coty, Shiseido, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, LVMH, or Procter & Gamble.  For instance, MAC is owned by Estée Lauder; Kiehl’s is owned by L’Oréal; Coty owns Philosophy; and Johnson & Johnson owns Neutrogena.  [For more:  Who Owns Who in the Beauty Business?]

13.)  Drinking water doesn’t hydrate your skin.  “Humans aren’t like plants. Our skin doesn’t perk up when we consume water,” says dermatologist Dr. Katie Rodan, of Rodan+Fields fame.  Instead, flaxseed and borage seed have been found to help dry skin, as well as applying emollient-rich moisturizers.  [Read more:  Will drinking water improve skin hydration?]

14.)  We eat ten times more parabens, on average, than we apply through skin care and cosmetics (Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 1998).  Since study after study shows that skin care and cosmetics with parabens are safe, this makes sense to me.  [Read more:  The real dangerous source of parabens – your food?]

The Internet Myths – Reversed!

15.)  With that said, the idea that parabens in skin care products are bad for you is a MYTH.  I think Dr. Kathy Fields, M.D., said it best to me in an exclusive interview:  “There is so much misinformation and hype everywhere out there.  No one wants cancer from a cosmetic, like in the case of the rumors about parabens.  By the way, you see parabens all over the place.  Did you know you just ate a spoonful of parabens?”  Parabens are amongst the most cost-effective antibacterial agents out there.  So long as you are not allergic (and very few of the population is), you’ll be fine.

16.)  Natural or home remedies are somehow better – MYTH.  As we pointed out in this post, limonene, citrus oil, lavender, nut oils, and menthol all have irritant potential. Keep in mind – poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac are each “all-natural,” but I wouldn’t put them on after a shower!

17.)  Where you get your natural ingredients from matters:  FACT.   For instance, different sources of shea butter will produce different concentrations of each fatty acid, and hence varied vitamin E content (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2004).

18.)  Propylene glycol is harmful in skin care and cosmetics:  MYTH.  Propylene glycol is a known irritant in 100% concentration, but in 1% or less (where it’s in cosmetics and skin care), it’s actually pretty great – delivering key ingredients deeper into your skin.  (This is why it’s a key ingredient in many transdermal patches!)  [Read more:  Is Propylene Glycol Harmful in Beauty Products?]

19.)  Alcohol causes free radical release in the skin:  MYTH.  This rumor was caused because ingesting alcohol causes free radical production.  But when you mix alcohols with a bunch of other skin care ingredients, alcohol thins the solution, allowing it to be more readily absorbed in the skin.  Some alcohols are also hydrating, including stearyl, cetearyl, and lanolin.

20.)  Cetaphil is the gold standard of cleansing:  MYTH.  Dermatologists used to recommend Cetaphil all the time, probably because it has a pH between 4 and 5, the ideal slightly-acidic level for cleansing (Dermatologic Therapy, 2004).  But it also contains sulfates, which are drying.  So I prefer the Aveeno Moisturizing Bar (pH also acidic, at 4.9; this is my favorite!), or the Dove Moisturizing Bar (pH neutral, at 7.3).

The Optimals

Sunscreen (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

21.)  Applying vitamins C and E under sunscreen doubles photoprotection (Journal of Investigative Dermatology).   Of course, applying this alone does not have an effect.  So be sure to apply only under sunscreen!

22.)  Pomegranate extract supplements also increases photoprotection (Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 2006).  But, again, be sure to wear sunscreen as well!

23.)  Get rid of any monitors that are large-box CRTs, which emit low levels of UV light.  Instead, switch to all flat-panel monitors.  [Read More:  Can You Get UV Exposure from a Computer Monitor?]

24.)  Retin-A Micro is microencapsulated gel retinoid (tretinoin), whereas Retin-A is in a cream form.  The difference?  Retin-A runs less risk of irritation, is fine for oily skin as well as other types, and can be applied immediately after cleansing.  [Read more:  What’s the Difference between Retin-A and Retin-A Micro?]

25.)  FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol was designed to be like the over-the-counter Retin-A Micro:  microencapsulated 0.5% retinol in a lightweight gel.  Lower risk of irritation, great for all skin types, and can be applied immediately after cleansing.  What’s not to love about that?  🙂  (Yes, I had to mention my own product here!)

Got a fun skin care tip to share?  Let us know!

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  • Awesome list that I am going to share with my readers. How the main beauty companies are all owned by one of the “big eight” is a bit scary though. It makes you wonder sometimes, if there is really any other difference than the logo on the package…

  • This is an AWESOME post, Nicki!! Thank you!!!!!!! xx

  • Awesome post Nicki! But one minor addition – there’s one retinoid that plays nice with benzoyl peroxide: adapalene 😉

  • Fantastic, Nicki! I’m proud to say I knew almost all of these, but of course, a few (like the one about alcohol & free radicals) I learned here in the first place! Thanks for being such a bastion of reason in an industry that is largely fueled by emotional perceptions, myth and marketing!

  • kaye lu

    is a beauty bar safe to use? wouldn’t bacteria form on it? i have the same question as kristina from above!

  • Wow, thanks for this!

  • Eileen

    You and your contributers are doing a wonderful job of educating your readers. I’m appalled by some of the ignorant and misleading advice that is put forth as gospel on some blogs and wish that everyone reading it could be magically redirected to Future Derm.

  • Kandyce

    Thanks, Nicki. Cetaphil is a no-go for me. It’s too thick/creamy…ugh. Some excellent Natural’s http://www.abesmarket.com/natural-products/personal-care.html including the goats milk soap and Belegenza.

  • Kristina

    FINALLY someone recommends something other than Cetaphil! Thanks Nicki!

    Wanting to try the Aveeno Bar.

    But is a bar of soap hygienic? What’s the best way to keep it so it doesn’t get contaminated? Put it in a plastic box, leave it out in the open on a tray, etc….

  • Angela

    You’ve got Retin-A and Retin-A Micro switched around.

    Retin-A Micro in the tube & Retin-A Micro in the pump: You can apply immediately after washing your face. Risk of irritation is significantly lower. Microspheres help the ingredient to slowly diffuse into the skin, rather than applied all at once

    Retin-A: You must wait 20-30 minutes after washing your face before applying. Risk of irritation is significantly higher because it delivers all of the ingredient all at once.


  • Awesome post Nicki!

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