With so many miracle cleansers and rejuvenating creams on the market, it can be tough to find the right regimen for your skin. No one wants to waste money on products that don’t work. I recently had an amazing facial, but wondered if my technician was recommending her products because they work or because she makes money from them.
Paying for skincare lines that don’t work is frustrating. However, there’s a much more serious concern, and that’s skincare products that actually harm your skin. I had the chance to speak with some seasoned dermatologists about products on beauty counters and pharmacy shelves right now that we should all stay away from.
Just about every physician I spoke with talked about the risks of harsh scrubs. Many of the exfoliating scrubs on the market contain tiny beads meant to slough away dead skin cells. However, these beads can do much more than that.
“Scrubs containing microbeads give uneven exfoliation and also damage the environment,” Cosmetic Dermatologist and Medical Director of Juverne Sonam Yadav told me. “Homemade scrubs are safer and prescription retinoids give better, smoother exfoliation while clinical treatments can give significant visible resurfacing.”
Charcoal masks don’t look like a good idea. I’ve never thought of coal and skincare in the same sentence, but these masks are gaining popularity. They are meant to clear away dirt and leave you with fresh, new skin. However, not all dermatologists are on board with this trend.
“Another trend I just cannot get behind: adhesive black charcoal masks,” said Dr. Yadav. “While some masks may be okay for self pampering while you run errands around the house, they don’t quite meet my stringent needs to recommend them.”
Dr. Yadav cautions against mixing up any DIY face mask that contains harsh ingredients, such as charcoal powder or glue. According to Dr. Yadav, these ingredients actually peel off “essential oils, skin cells, sebaceous filaments, fine hair.” Not only will this be painful at the time, but your skin will be paying for it down the road. “In this one case, no pain is your gain. This can damage your skin seriously.”
Fruits and nuts
A diet high in antioxidant-rich fruit and good fats like nuts will give us naturally glowing skin. However, don’t try rubbing those ingredients on your face. “I recommend my patients stay away physical exfoliants and facial scrubs, particularly products made from ground nutshells and fruit pits,” Cosmetic Dermatologist at the Center for Dermatology and Aesthetic Medicine in Chicago, Faiyaaz Kalimullah told me. “The particles in these scrubs often have jagged edges that are quite sharp, as a result, they actually cause thousands of microscopic tears that damage our delicate facial skin.”
Dr. Kalimullah explained that these types of products are just too harsh and end up leading to skin irritation. “As an alternative, I recommend using chemical exfoliants,” said Dr. Kalimullah. “Rather than physically scraping off the top layers of skin, these products use mild chemical solutions to gently exfoliate the skin.”
Look for chemical exfoliants that contain glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that occurs naturally in milk and fruit sugars. “AHAs like glycolic acid have the added benefit of being collagen stimulators, that can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” shared Dr. Kalimullah.
Check the label on your favorite skincare products and look for simple alcohol as one of the ingredients. We usually think of alcohol as bad for our skin. Just think of your crazy fun college roommate who is now looking years older due to her party girl ways. Alcohol shows up in face products because it can dry out the oil that may lead to acne. However, there are better ways of going about that.
“Simple alcohols are often found in toners and astringents, particularly those marketed to patients with oily or acne-prone skin,” Dr. Kalimullah told me. “While alcohol does indeed immediately degrease the skin and leave a mattifying finish, it’s also very irritating and actually strips the skin of its natural moisturizing factors.”
To compensate, our skin actually becomes more oily and prone to acne in the long run. “As an alternative, I recommend gentle, fragrance-free, water-based toners, preferably ones formulated with antioxidants (like vitamin C and E, retinol, or green tea extract),” said Dr. Kalimullah.
As a mom, I’ve heard of the wonders of cocoa butter during pregnancy. Like everyone else, I wanted to avoid stretch marks like the plague, so I smeared that stuff all over me. On the plus side, I avoided those dreaded stretch marks! However, turns out cocoa butter may not be the best choice, especially on your face.
“It may help add a sheen to the skin, but it absolutely is comedogenic, causes blackheads and whiteheads, precipitating or worsening acne,” board certified Dermatologist in Stamford, Connecticut Robin Evans told me. “Always use noncomedogenic moisturizers if your skin is acne prone — good choices are Oil of Olay and Clinique moisturizers.”
Products classified as comedogenic are known to clog pores, which can lead to blemishes. A thick substance like cocoa butter just doesn’t let your skin breathe.
Hydrocortisone cream can be used to clear up irritated or severely dry skin. However, it’s not safe for all of your skin. Dr. Daniel Ladd, a board certified dermatologist in Austin, Texas strongly recommends against ever putting hydrocortisone cream on your face.
“Whatever facial breakout or rash you might be experiencing please do not use this over the counter product,” he cautioned me. “It typically only relieves redness temporarily and with longterm use it very often causes stubborn skin problems like thinning of the skin, perioral dermatitis, or steroid acne.”
Dr. Evans agrees. Stay away from putting any steroid creams or gels on your face, unless you’ve discussed it with your physician first. “Don’t use over the counter topical steroids on the face unless specifically recommended by your dermatologist,” said Dr. Evans. “Overuse can cause rashes including perioral dermatitis, can precipitate glaucoma if used on eyelid skin excessively, and worsen certain types of skin conditions.”
Gel or roll-on deodorant
Now I fully expect you to ignore this one, but I feel I have to tell you that dermatologists are not fans of traditional deodorants and antiperspirants. Antiperspirants are great for blocking your sweat glands, but they end up blocking your pores as well.
“Using gel or roll on deodorants clog the pores and ultimately can lead to signs of acne,” Beverly Hills Celebrity Dermatologist Harold Lancer told me. “Use a powder deodorant as a healthy alternative!”
I cannot even begin to tell you how much dermatologists dislike one of the popular facial scrubs on the market. Doctor after doctor brought this one up, concerned about its dangerous effects on skin. Licensed Master Aesthetician with Virginia Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center Tiffany Crews and Dr. Brian Johnson, medical director and board certified dermatologist, were most concerned. “St. Ives Apricot Scrub would be a product that dermatologists wouldn’t suggest patients to use,” Crews told me. “It has a high amount of alcohol, which causes dryness and irritation to the skin resulting in increased skin sensitivity. Also, the granules are crushed apricot seeds that are harsh, coarse, and uneven that create tiny microscopic tears in the skin, causing the skin to potentially become compromised.”
Like any other scrub that boasts its natural components like fruit seeds or nuts, know that those little particles could cut your skin each time you use it. Dr. Lancer agrees. “The granules or specific grains that make up this scrub are particularly large, hard and sand like,” he explained. “They are the most damaging because they are too abrasive for the face’s skin.”
Crews recommended choosing a scrub that is gentler on the skin. An exfoliating cream or wash with bamboo beads will give you the exfoliation you want without the harsh injuries to your face. Bamboo beads are also biodegradable, so you can feel good about them swirling around your shower drain. Crews and Dr. Johnson recommended their Alchemy Aesthetic Institute Get the Glow Scrub to help shed dull skin while protecting your face.
Board certified Dermatologist H.L. Greenberg reminded me about a particularly bad product for dermatologists. It may go without saying, but it’s important to remember just how bad tanning oil is for your skin.
“There’s no need to tan your skin, or to get it darker for the sake of being dark,” said Dr. Greenberg. “Embrace your skin color and avoid the tan — not only does sun or tanning bed light put you at increased risk for skin cancer, but it damages your skin and makes you look older with wrinkling and ultimately destroying the elastic tissue in your skin (think a rubber band in the sun).”
Dr. Greenberg’s only alternative to tanning oil? “Put on sunscreen,” he said. “I prefer zinc oxide or titanium dioxide physical blockers as they reflect rather than absorb the sun’s rays.”
You know what cheap lotion looks and feels like. It’s thin and watery, and ends up leaving your hands feeling greasy rather than moisturized. Not only are these lotions ineffective and a waste of money, they may actually dry out your skin.
“Most lotions are oil in water and don’t moisturize well at all,” explained Dr. Greenberg. “Recently, I stayed at a hotel with lotion like the aforementioned and my skin just felt dried out, because when the water from the lotion evaporated, my skin was left more dry as the natural moisturizing factor (NMF) was reduced because the lipid or fat layer was not re-applied by this lotion. I like creams better than lotions because they provide more moisture as they are usually water in oil and have a thicker consistency and restore the body’s NMF.”
Next time you’re choosing a lotion at the store, look for thick creams and forget the watery stuff.
Cellulite-reducing creams can sound pretty tempting. Forget stressing in your bathing suit or doing a million squats every day. Just slather on this miracle cream, and you’ll be looking good! However, sometimes if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Cellulite is a complex biologic process that no cream can fix,” Savana Urban Spa Dermatologist Kathy Taghipour told me. “There are lots of brands trying to hide this truth but most of the times these products can cause skin dehydration, even pigmentation. If you decide to fight against cellulite, consult a specialist first.”
Skip these creams altogether. Not only will you be wasting your money, but they could actually discolor your skin.
Much like the harsh scrubs and exfoliants, dermatologists are not fans of facial brushes. These brushes are also too harsh to expose your skin to every day, and we can often overdo it without realizing it. “When it comes to exfoliating you should not be using a facial brush/cleanser,” Dr. Yelena Yeretsky, internationally renowned physician specializing in anti-aging and aesthetic medicine and founder of Clinique YFT, told me. “People tend to overdo it so you should leave that to the professionals.”
Dr. Yeretsky recommends sticking with exfoliants with tiny beads, the smaller the better to prevent scratches. “You should be using a gentle and elegant exfoliator and immediately apply moisturizer and eye cream right after,” she explained.
These brushes can be especially harmful and irritating if you already have sensitive skin. “While these trendy tech cleaners have many benefits they are not suitable for any type of skin,” said Dr. Taghipour. “If you have rosacea or couperose this is not the solutions for you. You must use cream-based products and do a gentle wash with your hands.”
Go the natural route
Health educator and founder of The Choosy Chick Margot White recommends women stay clear of any face washes or treatments with harsh chemicals.
“It is not necessary to use harsh ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide (for acne) and retinyl palmitate (for age defying properties),” White told me. “Personally speaking, I was able to eliminate the need for a prescription antibiotic gel for some hormonal breakouts I had been experiencing with the use of two products from our boutique.”
White suggests the Magic Organic Apothecary’s Daily Cleansing Ritual with all green ingredients, such as tea tree oil and bamboo fiber. Make sure to always pay attention to the labels on your skincare products. If you’re not sure about one of the ingredients, ask your dermatologist or ditch it for the natural alternative.
When in doubt, see your dermatologist
When it comes to your skin, it’s best to talk with your primary doctor or dermatologist before starting any new regimens. If you notice a new irritation or mark, get it checked out before hitting the pharmacy and guessing.
“If you have a rash and have a plan to go to a dermatologist, better to avoid self-treatments which may worsen your condition or make it harder to make a diagnosis,” Dr. Evans told me. “For instance using an over the counter topical steroid for a rash that turns out to be a fungus (ringworm) infection will make the fungal rash much worse. Likewise self-treating what is a fungus infection of the skin with an over the counter topical antifungal cream will make testing that the dermatologist would like to do to confirm the diagnosis harder to interpret.”
Just make the call and book the appointment. Your skin will thank you!