3 At Home Beauty Treatment Myths – BUSTED!

Skin Care

As the natural beauty trend continues, increasing numbers of women find themselves at the kitchen sink rather than the drug or department store.  While this may seem beneficial, there are some internet rumors circulating that simply are misleading.  Here are a few:

1.  Doesn’t Work for Cellulite = Mix 1/2 cup coffee grounds with 2 tbsp. olive oil, put in microwave for 10 seconds, wrap in plastic wrap and apply to the skin

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...
Coffee contains caffeine, which in turn has theophyllines that have been shown to shrink fat cells. Unfortunately, putting coffee in olive oil will not allow theophyllines to penetrate the skin as well as other delivery systems.

This is false for two major reasons.

First, olive oil is an occlusive agent.  When caffeine is mixed with olive oil, its active components (theophyllines) will not be able to penetrate your skin very well.  If caffeine was placed in, say, a butylene or propylene glycol solution (the same solution used in transdermal patches), the theophyllines from caffeine can penetrate into the skin (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 1990), temporarily dehydrating fat cells, making them shrink in size and appear less visible (Vanderbilt University, 2006).  Olive oil is simply a lousy delivery system, and this will not occur as readily.

Ice cubes in a tray
Cold, not heat, has been shown to kill fat cells. Unfortunately, you can cause real damage if you try to do this at home. If you are interested in cold therapy for cellulite, the real method is Coolsculpting by Zeltiq, done by a licensed practitioner.

Second, applying warmth to cellulite – like coffee beans wrapped in plastic wrap from a microwave –  has never been shown to do anything but make your skin temporarily red and swollen.  However, in a clinically-controlled environment, very cold conditions can cause your fat cells to undergo apoptosis (cell death), and your lymphatic system later removes them from the body.  This is the basis of a process known as Coolsculpting.  [Read more:  Coolsculpting:  Does It Really Freeze Off Fat?]   Of course, you can’t do Coolsculpting at home, but this is something to keep in mind!

Bottom Line:  Keep your coffee beans in the grinder.

2.)  Doesn’t Work for Wrinkles:  Soak 5 almonds in milk overnight, grind the almonds into a paste, add 2 tbsp honey to the paste, apply to your face.

A glass of milk Français : Un verre de lait
Milk contains lactic acid, which is superb for the skin. Unfortunately, milk also contains DHT (androgens), which can stimulate oil production in the skin. Better: Use hormone free milk. Best: Use a concentrated lactic acid product, like Lac-Five or prescription Lac-Hydrin.

This one gets a big fat what from me.  Yes, almonds are rich in calcium and iron and low in fat – but what does that have to do with your skin?!  Five of the six most proven topicals in skin care are nowhere to be found in almonds, and by that I mean retinoids, niacinamide, alpha hydroxy acids, peptides, and sunscreen.  You may get a touch of antioxidants here, but nowhere near as many as if you use an antioxidant concentrate serum or moisturizer.

As for milk, only apply milk to your face if it’s hormone-free.  The DHT (androgens) in regular milk have been associated with increased oil production and acne (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2008).  If it’s hormone-free, milk is OK – it contains lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid proven to simultaneously exfoliate and condition the skin.  However, there are sources of lactic acid much more potent than regular milk, such as prescription Lac-Hydrin.

Bottom Line:  Almonds are best when ingested, not when applied topically.  Milk should never be used on the face unless it is hormone-free.

3.)  Doesn’t work for undereye circles = Crush up mint leaves

English: Part of a mint
Mint’s scent is soothing and calming. Unfortunately, unlike cucumber, mint has a higher irritant potential that does not make it suitable for undereye skin. Better: Use cucumber slices or tea bags. Best: Use eye creams designed for undereye circles, like Lumixyl Revitaleyes.

This does not work.  For the record, studies show dark circles are aided best with vitamin A and vitamin K in combination if the cause of the dark circles is hyperpigmentation.  The best treatments if the cause is blood pooling under the eyes are sleeping on two pillows (watching the neck) and using Haloxyl® , an agent that releases the bilirubin and iron in blood.  (We recommend Lumixyl Revitaleyes).

Why don’t we like mint?  First of all, mint is a known irritant that causes chelitis and contact allergy in some people (Austraslian Journal of Dermatology, 2008).  Second, while mint contains some antioxidants and vitamin A (Discovery Health), it’s not a highly concentrated dose of either.  While its scent soothes and relaxes, this is best kept away from the eyes and used as a perfume, deodorant, or spray.

Bottom Line:  Save the mint for your toothpaste or as a pick-me-up in your tea.

Bottom Line

Beauty products can be fun because the consumer gets to experiment with a slew of different ingredients.  And to believe that the keys to beauty exist in your kitchen sink – what could be better?

Unfortunately, scientists have already isolated the active components of most fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and heart-healthy oils and concentrated them in your skin care products. And if you seek natural, organic, and largely chemical-free products, those are available with concentrated ingredients as well.

My qualms about the whole thing are that consumers are wasting their time and money on some of these home remedies, and also putting themselves at real risk for irritation and/or allergic reaction.  While methods like cucumber slices or tea bags on the eyes can temporarily work, any beauty expert tell you these methods aren’t as effective as the best eye creams on the market.  Similarly, products on the shelf usually undergo rigorous testing by dermatologists and skin scientists before you purchase them- but when you’re at the the kitchen sink, you’re the formulator and the test subject.

So unless you want to treat your skin like a lab experiment, I would stray far away from any home remedies.  At the very least, do a patch test first on a small bit of skin to test your reaction, and stop taking beauty advice from anyone without a medical or scientific degree, an aesthetician’s license, or years of experience with skin care. I don’t mean to be harsh – but I feel as though the beauty industry is taking a downturn as we are ignoring the advice of MD dermatologists and PhD-level scientists specializing in cosmetic science to mash up produce and apply it to our faces, without any regard to irritant potential because it’s “natural”.  Cost is not an excuse either – there are many sensational products available for $20 or less.

What are your thoughts on home remedies?    Let’s discuss!

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  • Thank you!
    I have a question about milk: How do you know if it’s hormone-free?

  • Cara

    I use a combo myself – a few basic drugstore products, one higher-end one that I really like that has anti-oxidants, and my own shea-butter-coconut oil moisturizer. I’ve found that a few home remedies DO work, but I can certainly see why you mentioned the ones above as examples. My favorite home skin remedy is my ground-up oatmeal, honey and aloe vera mask with a drop or two of lavender oil in it. This, along with applying my shea butter combo did really help soothe and heal up a bad skin reaction that I had from using an AHA serum that was simply too aggressive for me. For a makeup remover(prior to using my cleanser) I use extra-virgin olive or coconut oil – both work well for me. I do have reactive skin, so I do have to be careful with products in general and go with lower strengths of any actives, or simply use them in a cleanser(AHA comes to mind, and works well that way for me) However, if there are effective actives around that don’t trash one’s skin, I’m all ears!

  • George Li

    As a cosmetic (sunscreen) professional, your blog is my first source to read everyday–scientific, seasoning and inspiring. As Rolah metioned, keep doing please, and even after your MD…

  • Dearest Nicki! As a fellow medical student, and dermatology lover, I totally agree with you when you say home treatments will always come to short compared to their beauty product equivalents. Having said that, I must admit I have tried quite a few “kitchen counter” treatments myself with rather good results! One being the famous yoghurt mask (obviously due to lactic acid) as well as a honey-lemon-scrub thing I threw together once and that I let stay on my skin for a while also effective due to the citric acid. I don’t know if these treatments eventually will be more harmful than beneficial, but I just wanted to let you know that I’ve tried and tested some that weren’t all that bad!
    I love your blog btw! Your a great inspiration to me! Maybe one day we’ll meet at a conference or something, after our MD’s. 🙂

  • Alex

    Excellent post! Great example that just because something is “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you!

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