The 3 Most Misunderstood Concepts in Skin Care

Skin Care
Confused by Growley-Ferret
Confused, a photo by Growley-Ferret on Flickr.
It seems in every culture, from beauty to fashion to parenting, there are always prevalent misconceptions.  That belief about reading in the dark ruining your eyes? So not true. (Discovery Health, 2011) However, skin care has its own breed of rampant misconceptions, which I felt compelled to straighten out, once and for all:

1. “Putting an ingredient on your skin will make your skin produce more of that ingredient.”

I hear all the time, “Oh, this skin care cream contains collagen!” Well, that’s great. Collagens in skin care products are large 15000-50000 Dalton molecules that are able to effectively moisturize the skin. However, topically applied collagen is too large to fit through the stratum corneum [uppermost layer of the skin], as molecules only 5000 Daltons or less can penetrate the skin (Cosmetic Dermatology). So topically applying collagens will not make your skin firmer or supplement any loss of collagen that occurs with collagen. (Read: How Can I Rebuild Collagen? << FutureDerm.com)

Just like you wouldn’t bake a pie by taking a pre-existing pie, crushing it in a bowl, mixing it together, and placing it in the oven, so you cannot make more collagen by putting collagen on your skin. Same goes for most other proteins as well.

2. “Alcohols in in skin care are bad for your skin.”

I have friends who will not buy any product that has alcohol listed as any of the first three ingredients. Where do these misconceptions come from?! Alcohol, defined as any organic compound that has a hydroxyl (-OH) group on the end, is definitely not always drying or irritating. In fact, there are two alcohols to look for in your skin care, because they are moisturizing: lanolin alcohol and stearyl alcohol.

There are seven total alcohols that are moisturizers, emulsifiers, thickening agents, or stabilizers, which are not irritating to the skin (source: The DermaDoctor SkinStruction Manual):

3. “This ingredient is from a rough area of the world, so it will make your skin more resistant to environmental stressors as well.”

I’m not going to point fingers or name any names, but you’ve heard this one, and I don’t understand how it makes any sense. It’s true plants will evolve certain characteristics in order to withstand elements and ultimately survive. However, it’s not as though millions of years of genetic adaptations are going to translate to you once you open up a bottle and slap some on your skin!

For instance, some plants will produce more pigment when they are exposed to UV light as a protective mechanism. Your skin does the same. However, applying extracts from the plant to your skin isn’t going to make you acquire the plant’s protective mechanisms, nor will it enhance your own natural protective skin-darkening mechanism. The fact of the matter is, many plant extracts reduce skin hyperpigmentation – a desired cosmetic effect, but the opposite of the natural protective mechanism.

It’s also not true plant extracts exposed to environmentally harsh conditions are better than other extracts in protecting the skin from the elements. Truth be told, under stressful environmental conditions, many plants divert energy towards survival, resulting in less growth, as well as less nutritive leaves and extracts.

Bottom Line

Skin care can be confusing. Between the brilliant scientists and the clever marketing, it’s tough to tell fact from fiction. If you ever have a question, please feel free to pass it to us, especially on our Facebook page or Twitter!

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  • Thanks for clearing things up Nicki! There’s nothing that frustrates me like seeing myths perpetuated over and over!

    Confusion over alcohol is such a common one (and one that the beauty industry often preys upon!) I’m sure you’re familar with this, but I wanted to share it with your readers: a little mnemonic to help you remember the ” good alcohols” that Nicki mentions…

    When you SEE alcohol, STEER LEFT.

    SEE= C alcohols
    STEER= Stearyl
    LEFT= Lanolin

    hope this helps…oh, and to add another HUGE myth to the list: Mineral Oil. Despite what many cosmetic brands tell us, it’s a great moisturizer, and is one of the safest, least irritating ones around. Oh, and it’s non-comedogenic (meaning it does NOT clog pores!)

    thanks Nicki!

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