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Board-Certified Dermatologist Dispels 7 Common Skincare Myths

Skincare doesn't have to be pricey or time-consuming.


You’ve probably been told that in order to achieve healthy, glowing skin, you must apply many different products in a multi-step routine. But while complex skincare routines do work for some people, simplicity can be just as effective. Plus, a modest routine will save you money and prevent your vanity from being cluttered by various creams, serums, and cleansers. Does simple skincare too good to be true? Here, board-certified dermatologist and author of The Skincare Hoax (Buy from Amazon, $24.99), Fayne Frey, MD, sheds some light on the reason complicated routines aren’t always the answer. Keep reading to see Frey debunk seven common skincare myths.

Myth: You need a silk pillowcase. 

Let’s be clear: there are no valid studies that prove the use of silk pillowcases improve skin or hair health. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase has not been proven to minimize acne breakouts, decrease the formation of facial wrinkles, or prevent split ends on hair. There is also no evidence that sleeping on a silk pillowcase minimizes chemical exposure or adds hydration to the skin. So, enjoy your silk pillowcase — but don’t expect healthier skin or hair if you choose to invest in one, even though they do feel awesome and luxurious.

Myth: You need to drink eight glasses of water a day.

Being adequately hydrated is good for your health and optimizes your appearance. But ingesting too much water, more water than the body can get rid of in a short period of time, can be dangerous. Let’s dispel the myth right now: you do not need to drink eight glasses of water a day. 

Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does make recommendations for daily water intake, they do not give recommendations on how much plain water any individual should drink. Water is consumed by drinking beverages and by eating food; many foods, like fruits and vegetables, have a high water content, as high as 80 to 90 percent, while foods like crackers, pretzels, and walnuts are comprised of less than 10 percent water. About 20 percent of an average American’s water intake is gotten from food, unless their diet is high in fruits and vegetables (in which case, that percentage will be even higher). The amount of water any individual needs is therefore variable, and depends on a person’s age, ethnicity, level of activity, and baseline health. It even varies depending on a person’s location, altitude, and ambient temperature. 

Yes, water is good for you. Yes, you should stay hydrated. But how much water do you really need to drink on a daily basis? Just eat a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy carbs, and let thirst be your guide. 

Myth: Shaving makes the hair grow back thicker.

Shaving does not cause hair to grow back any faster or any thicker. As the hair regrows, the shaved area often feels coarse to the touch or “stubbly” until it reaches a longer length. A single hair fiber is made of a protein called keratin, and the hair itself is non-living and has no biological activity — therefore, this “dead” hair shaft has no way to send information about being cut to the site of hair growth (the hair follicle). So, growth continues as usual. The same is true for fingernails: Clipping a fingernail, composed of the same keratin protein, does not affect the rate of nail growth. 

By examining hair dimension and counts, several studies have concluded shaving has no effect on hair color, texture, or growth rate. In 1928, forensic anthropologist Mildred Trotter published such a study in the journal Anatomical Record, and a more recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology also determined “no significant differences in total weight of hair produced in a measured area, or in width or rate of growth of individual hairs, could be ascribed to shaving.” So, shave away — it won’t cause your hair to grow back thicker.

Myth: ‘Natural’ skincare ingredients are safer than synthetic ingredients.

There is no specific definition for the term “natural” on personal care products. In fact, there are not even established standards or regulatory guidelines for the use of this term on skincare product labels. The word “natural” on a skincare product may imply to the consumer that some or all of the ingredients are derived from a plant source — but it says nothing about the safety of those ingredients. Consumers may think that plant-derived ingredients are safer than synthetic ingredients, but that is not the case. 

Although most consumers can apply skincare products containing “natural” ingredients without any ill effects, allergic reactions to these ingredients are not uncommon. Ingredients commonly used in natural skincare products like tea tree oil, lavender, chamomile and its related family plants — including daisies and ragweed — may cause an allergic reaction in certain individuals. Applying products to the skin that contain sun-sensitizing natural oils like bergamot, lavender, musk, and citrus compounds from lemons and limes may also cause skin irritation, redness, or a rash with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

It’s easy to find a list of “bad” synthetic chemicals, the ones that supposedly cause cancer. The truth is, these sensational claims often base their conclusions on poor scientific studies, and sometimes on no studies at all. Reputable scientists know that whether a “natural” or synthetic chemical causes cancer or any other toxic reaction depends upon the dose of the chemical, not the chemical itself. Water is healthy and natural — but drinking too much water in a very short period of time can be fatal. 

Whether due to folklore, advertisements, or the influence of celebrities and beauty magazines, plant-based “natural” skincare products remain popular. And while plants are a huge reservoir of potentially beneficial compounds, there are few studies to date that demonstrate natural products as being more beneficial to humans. Natural ingredients are not safer than synthetic ones, and skincare products that contain natural ingredients are therefore not necessarily any better than skincare products formulated with synthetic ingredients. 

Myth: You need a separate day and night cream.

Skin ingredients do not know the time of day — so a daily moisturizer that you use once in the morning and again in the evening is all you need. Day creams and night creams are formulated similarly, except that night creams do not contain sunscreen. Night creams are often (but not always) thicker, as most women don’t want to apply makeup over a thick cream in the morning. Night creams are also frequently found in smaller jars and cost more per ounce than conventional daily moisturizers.

Both day creams and night creams are types of moisturizers, and they are almost all water-based: this means they contain humectants that attract water into the superficial layer of skin, occlusives to reduce water loss, emulsifiers to keep the water and oily components from separating, preservatives to prevent mold and bacteria overgrowth, and (typically) a fragrance. So, if you need to moisturize, a daily facial moisturizer that does not contain sunscreen can be used in the morning and the evening. Just don’t forget to apply sunscreen separately every single day, whether you apply a moisturizer or not. 

Myth: You need to exfoliate your skin.

Your skin exfoliates on its own. In healthy skin, older skin cells on the surface are continuously being replaced by new cells produced below. These non-living yet functional cells on the skin’s outermost layer are held together by protein connections, and the shedding of superficial skin cells occurs when the protein connections dissolve away, a process called desquamation. In healthy, hydrated skin, this system works perfectly — and every month, you get an entirely new outer layer of skin. But when the water content of the skin is low, the system is not as effective, skin cells are not released as readily, and the skin appears dry and flaky. Bottom line: Moisturize your skin if it’s dry and let the skin do what it does best, which is exfoliate all by itself. 

Myth: You need to wash your face with a cleanser.

While face washing with a cleanser is a cultural norm, there are no studies that prove individuals with healthy skin benefit from using a cleanser. In fact, neither dermatologists nor dermatological literature have definitive recommendations for how often a person with healthy skin should wash their face or with what products. Several years ago, I surveyed about 500 female patients between the ages of 35 and 70, all with healthy facial skin; fifty percent washed their faces using only warm water, and these same women had beautiful, healthy skin using cleansing routines that took only a couple of minutes during their morning shower. So, use a cleanser if you choose, but know that it’s not necessary.

What’s Next

Skincare clearly isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey, and everyone’s daily routine will vary. We hope that Dr. Frey’s expertise in dispelling these common skincare myths has offered you some reassurance. Caring for your skin doesn’t have to be an uphill battle!

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