9 Skin Care Myths Debunked

The truth about products, treatments, and what’s right for your regimen.

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on December 02, 2012

Amidst the constant buzz about new, must-have products, the influx of anti-aging treatments, and skin-care advice from every corner, it’s hard to separate the hype from reality.

Here, leading dermatologists give you the facts about some commonly held beauty beliefs.

Myth: Tanning booths are safe as long as they don't contain UVB rays.

You know that tanning in the sun is unhealthy and can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. But what about tanning booths? Tanning booth companies often say that they are filtering out the so-called "sunburn" UVB rays, says Jenny Kim, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California at Los Angeles. But when you go to a tanning booth, you're still exposing your skin to UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin and cause damage that can lead to premature aging and skin cancers.

Myth: The higher the SPF, the better the protection.

There are three kinds of ultraviolet (UV) rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA rays penetrate the skin fairly deeply, altering your pigmentation to produce a tan. UVB rays are the primary sunburn rays. These rays also damage your skin's DNA and cause photoaging, pigment changes, and carcinomas (cancerous tumors). UVC rays are absorbed by the atmosphere and don't make it to the ground.

The SPF on a sunscreen refers to the amount of protection the product offers from UVB rays or sunburns. Many sunscreens, therefore, need to offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Broad spectrum means protection against UVA and UVB. Look for an SPF of at least 15 and one of the following ingredients: mexoryl, oxybenzone or avobenzone (Parsol 1789) for UVA protection, or titanium dioxide.

Myth: You don't need sunscreen on a cloudy day.

Even on a cloudy day, UV radiation from the sun reaches the earth's surface. So make sure you use sunscreen every day and reapply it every two hours as well as after swimming or sweating.

Also, don't fall prey to the myth that you're protected just because you're wearing makeup with an SPF. According to Leslie Bauman, MD, director of the University of Miami Cosmetic Group and author of The Skin Type Solution, you would have to put on 14 or 15 times the amount of makeup that a normal person would wear to reach the SPF on the label of powdered makeup. The same thing goes for foundation and liquid makeup. Make sure you use sunscreen in addition to your makeup.

Myth: Scrubbing your face with soap will keep your skin healthy and acne free.

"When you scrub your face, you're taking off some of the protective oils and barriers, which tends to lead to rashes and even burns," says Sandy Johnson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Johnson Dermatology Group in Fort Smith, Ark. Instead, she says, use a gentle cleanser followed by a moisturizer or sunscreen.

Myth: It's better to get the pus out of a pimple by popping it.

"The truth is, even though it feels really good to release [the pus], a lot of it just goes in deeper," says Johnson. "When it goes in deeper, it causes more inflammation that can lead to scarring and spread under the skin. That's why you'll get another one a few days later close to the first one."

Johnson says it's crucial that people stop picking at their faces. But if you absolutely cannot resist, she says, be sure to do it right. Don't squeeze and pop the pimple. Instead, use something called a comedone extractor -- an inexpensive tool you can purchase at most beauty supply stores. Apply firm pressure with the extractor; then roll it across the pimple to take it out.

Myth: Facials and microdermabrasion are good for your skin care routine.

This is a popular myth, says Bauman, especially with the proliferation of day spas. But, Bauman says, a recent study from India concluded that facials actually cause acne breakouts in 80% of people.

"They feel good but have no long-term skin benefit beyond relaxation," she says. "Like microdermabrasion, which merely sloughs off the top layer of skin, they are a "complete and total waste of money."

Myth: Expensive skin care products work best.

"This is simply not true," Bauman, who uses popular drugstore moisturizers and sunscreen for her own skin care regimen, says. "Many mass market products are better than expensive ones."

Kim agrees. Most active ingredients found in anti-aging creams are similar, she says, whether they are sold by a local store or a fancy boutique. Expensive skin care products can be good, of course. It's just that you can usually get something similar for a lot less.

"If you want to pay for the feel, smell, and package," Kim says, "that's up to you."

Myth: Antiaging products (or "wrinkle creams") can erase wrinkles.

Most wrinkle creams simply hydrate skin, plumping it out and making it look better temporarily. So don't buy into the hype. There is one product that has a solid history and reputation for reversing fine lines, however, Bauman says. That is topical retinoids.

Often sold under the name "Retinol" or "Tretinoin," these creams or drops penetrate the skin and increase skin cell turnover. Studies have shown them to be fairly effective at treating acne, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and reversing the effects of photoaging or sun damage. Some retinoids can be purchased over the counter. For greater strength, ask your doctor for a prescription.

Kim also recommends using an antioxidant cream containing vitamin C but cautions that these creams tend to destabilize very quickly. So they should be purchased from a reputable company.

But be advised, Kim warns: "Nothing is magic."

Myth: Lasers can make you look 20 years younger.

"There are many different types of lasers being marketed, and they all do different things," Kim says. "Some help with sun spots, some help with wrinkles. Some go deep and activate collagen. It's all marketed so much that people think it can make you a completely different person."

She believes that while lasers are much better than they were a few years ago and produce better results with fewer side effects, patients still need to be realistic about what they can actually do. "If you've done intensive damage to your skin, there's only so much we can do," she says.

So what's the bottom line when it comes to skin care tips and anti-aging strategies? Stay out of the sun, say the experts -- and use a good sunscreen every day and throughout the day.

Show Sources


Leslie Bauman, MD, board-certified dermatologist; director, University of Miami Cosmetic Group.

Sandy Johnson, MD, board-certified dermatologist, Johnson Dermatology Group, Fort Smith, Ark.

Jenny Kim, MD, assistant professor of medicine and dermatology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles. "Acne."

CDC: "Skin Cancer."

U.S. Pharmacist: "Minimizing the Dangers of Sun Exposure." "SPF, UVB and UVA Protection Explained."

Skin Cancer Foundation.

AcneNet: "Adult Acne: Effective Treatment Available."

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