In this Article:
Flip through the pages of your favorite fashion magazine or check out a beauty blog, and you're likely to get a ton of advice. Surprisingly, a lot of it is inaccurate! Ever had someone say that dry skin can be fixed just by drinking more water, or that tingling skin means a product is working? Read on to learn the truth behind these and more myths - and learn what really works!
Fact: No skincare products can work like Botox or dermal fillers because the ingredients cannot reach their targeted areas.
There is no research showing that any skincare product can work in any manner like Botox, dermal fillers (such as Restylane or Aretcoll) or laser resurfacing. Regardless of the ingredients or the claims for skincare products, it just isn't possible. Even Botox can't work like Botox if you apply it topically rather than injecting it into facial muscles—nor can dermal fillers plump up wrinkles when applied topically rather than being injected. When administered by professionals, Botox and dermal injections almost immediately make wrinkles in the treated area disappear. Believing that skincare products can do the same is a complete waste of money. There has never been a single skincare product that has ever put a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist out of business.
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The ads in fashion magazines for these types of skincare products often make claims about how dangerous Botox injections can be. There is nothing scary about Botox (other than the sound of the botulism toxin material used). In fact, the research about Botox's effectiveness and safety is overwhelmingly positive for every disorder they treat with it (and there are many, from cerebral palsy in children to headaches and eye tics). Dermal fillers are nothing to be frightened about, either, though that hasn't stopped many skincare brands from playing on consumer's fear of the needle.
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Fact: Many products on the market claim to be designed for a specific age group, especially for "mature" women; mature usually refers to women over 50.
(So we wonder, does that mean if you are under 50, you're immature?) Nonetheless, before you buy into any of these arbitrary age divisions, ask yourself why the over-50 group is always lumped together? According to this logic, someone who is 40 or 45 shouldn't be using the same products as someone who is 50 (only 5 or 10 years older), but someone who is 80 should be using the same products as someone who is 50...? What you need to know is that age is not a skin type and choosing products based on your age is not a wise way to shop.
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It can be confusing but the truth is not everyone in the same age group has the same skin type. Your skincare routine depends on how dry, sun-damaged, oily, sensitive, thin, blemished, or normal your skin is, all of which have nothing to do with age. Then there are the issues of skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis, allergies, and other skin disorders, which again, have nothing to do with age. What people of all ages need to do is protect the outer barrier of their skin in exactly the same way and avoid unnecessary direct sun exposure (sun protection), don't smoke, don't irritate your skin, and be sure you use well formulated skincare products loaded with antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients. Plenty of young people have dry skin, and plenty of older women and men have oily skin and breakouts (particularly women who are experiencing perimenopausal or menopausal hormone fluctuations).
Turning 50 does not mean a woman should assume her skin is drying up and, therefore, that she must begin using "mature" skincare products—which almost always are just products that are designed for dry skin and are no different from any of the other skincare products for dry skin on the market. For many over 50 (including Paula), it definitely does not mean that the battle with blemishes is over.
Fact: "Hypoallergenic" is little more than a nonsense word. It is nothing more than an advertising contrivance meant to imply that a product is unlikely or less likely to cause allergic reactions and therefore is better for sensitive or problem skin.
The term "hypoallergenic" is meant to imply that a product is unlikely or less likely to cause allergic reactions and, therefore, is better for allergy-prone or sensitive skin types, but it isn’t true. There are no accepted testing methods, ingredient restrictions, regulations, guidelines, rules, or procedures of any kind, anywhere in the world, for determining whether or not a product qualifies as being hypoallergenic (Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, 2004 and Dermatologic Therapy, 2001).
The terms "dermatologist-tested" and "cosmeceutical" are also misleading. "Dermatologist tested" on a cosmetic label is not a good indication that the product is reliable and can live up to the claims. You absolutely should not rely on the "dermatologist tested" claim any more than you should rely on the appearance of a doctor's name on a product's label to indicate you are getting a superior (or "medical-grade") formulation.
If sensitive or allergy-prone skin is one of your concerns, then the #1 thing to look for is products that are free of irritants. The major irritants that show up, and in an astounding number of products, especially in products labeled organic or natural, are fragrance (both synthetic and natural fragrance are equally bad for all skin types), alcohol (isopropyl, SD, or denatured alcohol), and harsh cleansing agents like sodium lauryl sulfate (not sodium laureth sulfate, which is a perfectly mild cleansing agent).
What about "cosmeceutical?" Do companies with this marketing angle really make better products than other cosmetics companies?
The fact is, "cosmeceutical" is just a trumped up word that has no legal or recognized meaning as to what constitutes content versus the content of any "non-cosmeceutical" cosmetic. A quick comparison of ingredient lists reveals that there is nothing any more unique or pharmaceutical about cosmeceuticals than any other cosmetic in the cosmetics industry. Plus, the FDA does not consider the term "cosmeceutical" to be a valid product class, so the term isn't regulated. You should view it merely as a marketing term, and nothing more. Anyone can use that term to represent their brand's identity (U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 2014).
Fact: First, the term "age spot" is really a misnomer. Brown, freckle-like skin discolorations are not a result of age; they are the result of years of unprotected sun exposure.
Sun spots can show up at any age, from the freckles sprinkled across a child's nose to smooth, flat brown discolorations you may see as early as your mid-20s. At any age, treating sun-induced brown discolorations doesn't necessarily requite a specialty product, but it does take proven ingredients (like hydroquinone, niacinamide, and forms of vitamin C) plus daily sun protection to make a noticeable, lasting difference (Journal of Pathology, 2007 and Experimental Dermatology, 2014).
It is frustrating that the number of skincare products claiming they can make skin whiter or lighter more often than not contain no ingredient that can have any significant, or even a minor, impact on melanin production (melanin is the brown pigment in skin). In addition, even when the product does contain an ingredient that can have an effect, it usually contains such a small amount that it won't help at all. Finding products that stand a good chance of working isn't easy, but one thing we know for sure: sun protection is vital if you truly want to lighten these spots.
Because unprotected sun exposure is the primary trigger for most brown, freckle-like skin discolorations, the primary way to reduce, prevent, and possibly even eliminate skin discolorations is diligent, daily application of a well-formulated sunscreen (Journal of Pathology, 2007 and Experimental Dermatology, 2014).
(Be sure not to forget the back of your hands and your chest—and be sure to reapply every time you wash your hands, because sunscreen does wash off.)
No other aspect of controlling or reducing brown skin discolorations is as important as being careful about not getting a tan and never exposing your skin to the sun without using a sunscreen rated SPF 15 or more (and more is better if the goal is avoiding discolorations). And make sure that the sunscreen includes the UVA-protecting ingredients of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (which can also be on the label as butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane), Tinosorb, or Mexoryl SX (which can also be on the label as ecamsule) because UVA damage is part of what triggers brown spots (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2005 and Experimental Dermatology, 2014).
Though we rarely express our personal, anecdotal experience (we prefer to rely on scientific studies rather than guess why a positive or negative result is taking place), in this case we will. We have found that using a sunscreen with only titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as the active ingredients has the most impressive results. The difference in our face, arms, and hands has been significant ever since we made that change several years ago. There is some research that supports this personal experience, but we wish there were more science to back it up. We suspect the coverage zinc oxide or titanium dioxide provides (more as a blanket over skin) "blocks" the sun rather then deflects the rays as synthetic sunscreen agents do is why you may get superior results. Keeping the sun from penetrating into skin is the best protection possible for skin.
After the use of sunscreen, hydroquinone has the highest efficacy for lightening skin, and a long history of safe use behind it, more so than any other skin-lightening ingredient. There are other alternatives that show promise for lightening skin, but they have been the subject of far less research and their effectiveness often pales in comparison to that of hydroquinone. It is interesting to note that some of these alternative ingredients when applied to the skin actually break down into small amounts of hydroquinone, which explains why they have an effect. These alternative ingredients include Mitracarpus scaber extract, Uva ursi (bearberry) extract, Morus bombycis (mulberry), Morus alba (white mulberry), and Broussonetia papyrifera (paper mulberry), all of which contain arbutin, which can inhibit melanin production. Technically these extracts contain hydroquinone-beta-D-glucoside (Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2013 and Applied Microbiology & Biotechnology, 2012).
Pure forms of arbutin, such as alpha-arbutin, beta-arbutin, and deoxy-arbutin, are considered more potent for skin lightening, but again, the research is at best limited. Other ingredients that have some amount of research on their potential skin-lightening abilities are licorice extract (specifically glabridin), azelaic acid, and stabilized vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid, ascorbic acid, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate), aloesin, gentisic acid, flavonoids, hesperidin, niacinamide, and polyphenols. However, not much is known about how much of these ingredients is needed in a cosmetic lotion or cream to have an effect. Most of the research has been done in vitro, not on human skin.
To sum it up, there is a very specific game plan you can follow to get the most impressive results; it starts with avoiding sun exposure, daily use of a well-formulated sunscreen (365 days per year), and using a skincare product that contains hydroquinone. In addition, an exfoliant (e.g., AHAs and BHA) can be helpful, and certain laser, intense pulsed light, and radio wave treatments from a dermatologist or plastic surgeon can be extremely helpful. But, and this is an important but: If you don't also use a sunscreen daily you will be wasting your time and money (Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics of North America, 2013 and Facial Plastic Surgery, 2009).
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Fact: If only that were true, lots of people's skincare struggles in life would have been very different. In fact, women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s can have acne just like teenagers, and the treatment principles remain the same.
Not everyone who has acne as a teenager will grow out of it, and even if you had clear skin as a teenager, there's no guarantee that you won't get acne later in life, perhaps during menopause. You can blame this often-maddening inconsistency on hormones! What is true is that men can outgrow acne, because after puberty men's hormone levels level out, while women's hormone levels fluctuate throughout their lifetime, which is why many women experience breakouts around their menstrual cycle. What about the association between acne and food, stress, and over-cleaning your face?
There are actually lots of myths about acne; following are among the most common:
Myth: Acne is caused by eating the wrong foods.
Fact:This is both true and false. The traditional foods thought to cause acne, such as chocolate and greasy foods, have no effect on acne, and there is no research indicating otherwise.
The sugar connection rears its ugly head again, as research has shown those who regularly consume a high glycemic diet (high in sugar and/or simple carbohydrates) seem to develop acne in greater ratios than those who consume a low glycemic diet. However, just as with chocolate, fried foods, and dairy, this is not a cause of acne so much as it is possibly a supporting factor; for example, lots of dairy foods such as yogurt and ice cream are loaded with inflammation-triggering sugar (Nutrients, 2010).
Studies have found a connection between the consumption of milk and exacerbation of acne. However, the majority of the research demonstrates that the of naturally occurring hormones in milk affects the balance of acne-causing androgens (male hormones) in our bodies, which makes dairy perhaps the strongest of dietary factors that can influence breakouts, for some (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2005 and 2008).
Myth: If you clean your face better you can clear up your acne.
Fact: Over-cleaning or scrubbing your face can actually make matters worse.
Acne is caused primarily by hormonal fluctuations that affect the oil gland, creating an environment where acne-causing bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) can flourish. Don't confuse scrubbing or "deep cleaning" with helping acne, because it absolutely doesn't. Over-cleansing your face triggers inflammation that actually makes acne worse.
Inflammation and its resulting irritation, whether internal or external (for this discussion externally it would be due to the use of irritating ingredients, hot water, overusing scrubs, etc.), is practically a guarantee you will see excess production of oil, larger pores and more acne breakouts (Experimental Dermatology, 2009 and Dermato-Endocrinology, 2011).
What really helps breakouts is using a gentle cleanser so you don't damage your skin's outer barrier or create inflammation (both of which hinder your skin's ability to heal and fight bacteria) and using gentle exfoliation. An effective exfoliating product that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid can make all the difference in reducing acne and the red marks it leaves behind (American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2012).
Myth: Stress causes acne.
Fact: Generally, it is believed that stress can trigger acne, but no one is exactly sure how that works, and there is conflicting research.
While it never hurts to reduce angst and worry in your life, stress as a causative factor for acne is hard to pinpoint. Plus, the way to treat acne doesn't change because of the stressors in your life (British Journal of Dermatology, 2015 and Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 2007).
Myth: Toothpaste works to prevent or quickly heal a pimple.
Fact: Absolutely not true! This would be funny if so many people didn't believe it.
None of the ingredients in toothpaste can have a positive effect on acne or change a blemish once you have it, and actually it can make matters worse. The bacteria in your mouth are not related to the bacteria in your pores that cause acne (P. acne). And although the fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate in your toothpaste can help fight bacteria in your mouth, on your skin it actually can cause pimples and redness in the areas with which it comes in contact. This is known as perioral dermatitis. The other ingredients in toothpaste might offer minimal abrasive properties, but they provide nothing that a gentle rubbing with a washcloth doesn't provide far better. Another issue for skin is that the flavorings added to toothpaste present additional problems that you should avoid.
Fact: Probably not. There is no research indicating that makeup or skincare products cause acne, and there is no consensus on which ingredients are problematic.
In the late 1970s there was some research performed on rabbit skin using 100% concentrations of ingredients to determine whether or not they caused acne. Subsequently, it was determined that this study had nothing to do with the way women wear makeup or use skincare products, and it was never repeated or considered useful in any way. For much more on this complicated subject, see our Expert Advice article on the topic.
Fact: In the world of skin care, there is an entire business known as claim substantiation, and it definitely does not equate to legitimate scientific research at all.
Laboratories, including those at some respected universities and colleges, are expert at setting up a study so that the results support whatever the label or advertisements say that a product can do. One important thing that many consumers and physicians aren't aware of, and this includes lots of physicians who are involved in these dubious (often completely bogus) studies, is the question, "Under what conditions were the studies performed?" This is critical to know!
For example, in a skincare study to establish whether or not a product gets rid of wrinkles, the subjects participating often begin by washing their face and then stripping it clear with alcohol. They then take the "before" photos and measurements (e.g., wrinkle depth, skin tone, and water loss, among other parameters). With that starting point, it's hardly surprising that the "before" situation is much worse than the "after" results. What would the results have been if the subject had started by using a gentle cleanser, a good moisturizer, and a sunscreen (e.g., effective ones different from those being tested)? Or, were the effects of any other products compared to those of the product being tested; perhaps dozens of other products could have performed as well or better.
During the more than 30 years we've been doing this, we have asked every cosmetics company whose product or products we've reviewed to show us their "study," and in all those years, we have received only 5 of these studies (and NONE, and we mean NONE, of those 5 studies proved the claims the companies were making). There are lots of ways to use pseudo-science to create proof for a claim that, in reality, has very little to do with science and everything to do with marketing. Insist on published, peer-reviewed research, not meaningless clinical studies (or perhaps the cosmetic companies will begin publishing these clinical studies so we can know the details rather than being asked to take their word for it)!
Fact:Collagen and elastin in skincare products can serve as good water-binding agents, but they cannot fuse with your skin's natural supply of these supportive elements.
In most cases, the collagen molecule is too large to penetrate into the skin. But even when it is made small enough to be absorbed it cannot bind with the collagen existing in skin, and there isn't a shred of research indicating otherwise. What does exist are myriad studies showing that collagen is a very good moisturizing ingredient, which is great for skin, but not unique or the only formulary option.
It is important to point out that even if you were to take the collagen that is used in medically administered dermal injections and rub it on your skin, it wouldn't be absorbed, and it wouldn't change wrinkles by bolstering the existing collagen. There is even less research showing that elastin has any benefit when applied topically. In fact, research has shown that once elastin fibers in our skin are damaged they are very difficult to repair (in adulthood, elastin doesn't regenerate or increase production as collagen can).
Keep in mind that even if collagen or elastin could be absorbed, and even if it could combine with your existing collagen or elastin, without controls you would just keep adding collagen and elastin to your skin, and eventually it would stick out in places you wouldn't want it to (after all a doctor can inject only so much collagen into your face before you end up with overblown lips and a face that doesn't move naturally). Protecting your skin from sun damage, daily exfoliation with a well-formulated AHA or BHA product, and treating your skin to a range of ingredients (antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, and skin-repairing ingredients) that it needs to look and feel younger will protect its natural collagen supply and allow it to build new collagen (something that healthy skin loves to do and does quite well under the right conditions).
Fact: There is no evidence, research, or documentation validating the claim that the eye area needs ingredients different from those you use on your face or neck area or décolletage.
Any product loaded with antioxidants, emollients, skin-repairing and anti-inflammatory ingredients will work wonders when used around the eye area. Those ingredients don't have to come from a product labeled as an eye cream or gel or serum or balm—they can come from any well-formulated moisturizer or serum.
Whatever product you put around your eye area, regardless of what it is labeled, must be well formulated and appropriate for the skin type you have around your eyes. You may prefer using a specially labelled eye cream, but you may also do just as well applying your regular facial moisturizer and/or serum around your eyes.
If the skin around your eyes is drier than the rest of your face, that doesn't mean you need a special eye cream. Instead, you simply need to treat your eye area with a more emollient, fragrance-free facial moisturizer. A well-formulated serum is another great option to use around the eyes (it doesn't need to be labeled "eye cream"). The same is true for eye gels or serums.
Fact: Regrettably, there is no magic potion or combination of products in any price range that can make wrinkles truly disappear or prevent them. Daily use of a well-formulated sunscreen (and never getting a tan) are the two best things you can do, but there's more that helps, too!
The wrinkles you see and agonize over (not to be confused with fine lines caused by dryness, which are easily remedied with a good moisturizer) are the result of cumulative sun damage and the inevitable breakdown of your skin's natural support structure. Skincare ingredients, no matter who is selling them or what claims they make for them, cannot replace what plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists do. There are literally thousands of anti-wrinkle products being sold and we buy more of these than almost any other beauty product. But despite this onslaught of products, plastic surgeons and dermatologists are not going out of business.
Don't take this to mean that there aren't skincare products that can help improve skin, because there absolutely are, including sunscreen, exfoliants (AHAs or BHA), moisturizers loaded with antioxidants and cell-communicating ingredients, retinoids (components of Vitamin A), and numerous others. But, most skincare products don't perform according to the exaggerated claims on the label; if they worked as promised, then cosmetics companies wouldn't be launching new antiwrinkle products every few months, with ever-more miraculous-sounding claims (Journal of Pathology, 2007 and Dermato-endocrinology, 2012).
Fact: The absolute truth is that there are good and bad products in all price categories. It's all about the formulation, not the price.
The amount of money you spend on skincare products has nothing to do with the quality or uniqueness of the formula. An expensive soap by Erno Laszlo is no better for your skin than an inexpensive bar soap such as Dove (though we suggest that both are potentially too irritating and drying for all skin types). On the other hand, an irritant-free toner by Neutrogena can be just as good as, or maybe even better than, an irritant-free toner by Chanel or La Prairie (depending on the formulation), and any irritant-free toner is infinitely better than a toner that contains alcohol, peppermint, menthol, essential oils, eucalyptus, lemon, or other irritants, no matter how natural-sounding the ingredients are and regardless of the price or claim. We've seen lots of expensive products that are little more than water and wax, and inexpensive products that are beautifully formulated. Spending less doesn't hurt your skin, and spending more doesn't help it. Again, it's all about the formulation, not the price.
Fact: This recurring, foolish, misinformation about mineral oil and petrolatum is maddening because it isn't accurate.
Although mineral oil does originate from crude oil, this oil is as natural as any other earth-derived substance. Moreover, lots of ingredients are derived from awful-sounding sources, but are nevertheless benign and totally safe. Salt is a perfect example. Common table salt is sodium chloride, composed of sodium and chloride, but salt doesn't have the caustic properties of chloride (a form of chlorine) or the unstable explosiveness of pure sodium. Mineral oil is actually a great ingredient for dry skin (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2012).
Cosmetics-grade mineral oil and petrolatum are considered the safest, most nonirritating moisturizing ingredients ever found. Yes, they can reduce the amount of air that comes in contact with skin, and reduce its impact on skin, but that's what a good antioxidant is supposed to do; they don't suffocate skin! There are several studies showing that mineral oil can help heal and moisturize skin quite effectively (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2012 and Food & Chemical Toxicology, 1996).
The confusion around mineral oil is also caused by some cosmetics companies and people who use the information about non-purified mineral oil as a scare tactic. The mineral oil used in skincare products is certified as either USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or BP (British Pharmacopeia). This is the type that's used in skincare products, and it's completely safe, soothing, and healthy for skin. It does not contain impurities that harm skin in any way, though the oily texture of mineral oil doesn't make it a favorite ingredient of those with oily or breakout-prone skin—though mineral oil is not known to clog pores because it remains on the surface of skin, protecting it from dryness (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2012 and Food & Chemical Toxicology, 1996).
Fact: Whatever preconceived notion someone might have or media-induced fiction someone might believe about natural ingredients being better for the skin; it's not true. There is no factual basis or scientific legitimacy for that belief.
Not only is the definition of "natural" hazy, but the term is loosely regulated, so any cosmetics company can use it to mean whatever they want it to mean. Just because an ingredient grows out of the ground or is found in nature doesn't make it automatically good for skin; and the reverse is also true, just because it is synthetic doesn't make it bad.
"Consumers should not necessarily assume that an 'organic' or 'natural' ingredient or product would possess greater inherent safety than another chemically identical version of the same ingredient," Dr. Linda M. Katz, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Cosmetics and Colors (New York Times, November 1, 2007). "In fact, 'natural' ingredients may be harder to preserve against microbial contamination and growth than synthetic raw materials."
"But people should not interpret even the USDA Organic seal or any organic seal of approval on cosmetics as proof of health benefits or of efficacy," said Joan Shaffer, USDA spokeswoman. The National Organic Program is a marketing program, not a safety program. Steak may be graded prime, but that has no bearing on whether it is safe or nutritious to eat.
Ideally, the skincare products you choose should contain a mix of beneficial natural and synthetic ingredients. When properly formulated, these ingredients work in harmony to give your skin the best that natural and synthetic have to offer, and you'll see the difference.
Fact: This sensation is your skin telling you it is being irritated, not helped.
That familiar tingling sensation is actually just your skin responding to irritation, resulting in inflammation. Products that produce that sensation can actually damage your skin's healing process, make scarring worse, cause collagen and elastin to break down, and increase the growth of bacteria that cause pimples. Ingredients such as menthol, peppermint, camphor, and mint are counter-irritants. Counter-irritants are used to induce local inflammation in an effort to reduce inflammation in deeper or adjacent tissues. In other words, they substitute one kind of inflammation for another, which is never good for skin. Irritation or inflammation, no matter what causes it or how it happens, impairs the skin's immune and healing response. And although your skin may not show it or doesn't react in an irritated fashion, if you apply irritants to your skin the damage is still taking place and is ongoing, so it adds up over time (Experimental Dermatology, 2009 and Dermato-Endocrinology, 2011).
Fact: Blackheads may make skin look dirty, but they are unrelated to dirt.
Blackheads are formed when hormones cause too much sebum (oil) to be produced, dead skin cells get in the way, the pore is impaired or misshapen, and the path for the oil to exit through the pore is blocked, creating a clog. As this clog nears the surface of the skin, the mixture of oil and cellular debris oxidizes and turns, you guessed it, black. But you cannot scrub away blackheads, at least not completely. Using a topical scrub removes the top portion of the blackhead, but does nothing to address the underlying cause, so they're back again before too long (Experimental Dermatology, 2009 and Dermato-Endocrinology, 2011).
Instead of a scrub, try using a well-formulated BHA (salicylic acid) product. Salicylic acid exfoliates inside the pore lining, dissolving oil and dead skin cells that lead to constant blackheads. Paula's Choice offers a broad selection of BHA products to help eliminate blackheads and provide numerous other benefits.
Fact: Possibly, but right now this is mere conjecture, involving an extremely complicated and difficult-to-understand process.
Oil production is triggered primarily by androgens and estrogen (male and female hormones, respectively), and altering hormone production topically is not something available in the realm of cosmetics. However, the sebaceous gland itself also produces active androgens, which can increase sebum excretion. What can happen is that stress-sensing skin signals (think skin inflammation and irritation) can lead to the production and release of androgens and cause more oil production, which can clog pores. That makes topical irritation and inflammation bad for skin, but that still doesn't affect the production of hormones inside the body (Experimental Dermatology, 2009 and Dermato-Endocrinology, 2011).
What you can do is use a retinoid (vitamin A or tretinoin) to improve the shape of the pore so that the oil can flow more evenly and prevent clogging. There is some research that niacinamide in skincare products can help, but no one is quite sure why. You also can avoid making matters worse by not using products that contain oils or thick, emollient ingredients. You can absorb surface oil by using powders, mattifiers, or clay masks, although avoid masks that contain irritating ingredients. How often you should use a mask depends on your skin type; some people use one every day, others once a week. These types of mask may be used after cleansing, left on for 10-15 minutes, and then rinsed with tepid water.
Fact: Ironically, dry skin is not as simple as just a lack of moisture. And, surprisingly, drinking more water won't make dry skin look or feel better.
The studies that have compared the water content of dry skin to that of normal or oily skin show that there doesn't appear to be a statistically significant difference. And adding more moisture to the skin is not necessarily a good thing. If anything, too much moisture, like soaking in a bathtub, is bad for skin because it disrupts the skin's outer barrier (the intracellular matrix) by breaking down the substances that keep skin cells functioning normally and in good shape. So how does dry skin happen?
What is thought to be taking place when dry skin occurs is that the intracellular matrix (the substances between skin cells that keep them intact, smooth, and healthy) has become depleted or damaged, bringing about a rough, uneven, and flaky texture that allows water to be lost. But adding water won't keep that moisture in skin unless the outer barrier is maintained or repaired. To prevent dry skin, the primary goal is to avoid and reduce anything that damages the outer barrier, including sun damage, products that contain irritating ingredients, alcohol, drying cleansers, and smoking. All of the research about dry skin is related to the ingredients and treatments that reinforce the substances in skin that keep it functioning normally (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2003 and 2000).
As for drinking lots of water each day, if all it took to get rid of dry skin was to drink more water, then no one would have dry skin and moisturizers would stop being sold. Keeping your liquid intake up is fine, but if you take in more water than your body needs, all you will be doing is running to the bathroom all day and night. The causes of and treatments for dry skin are far more complicated than water consumption (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2003 and 2000).
Fact: The ONLY difference between a daytime and nighttime moisturizer is that the daytime version should offer sun protection of SPF 25 or greater.
What you often hear cosmetics salespeople say is that the skin needs different ingredients at night than during the day. They usually state that skin does more repair work at night, so needs more "nourishing" ingredients to assist this nightly renewal process. Well, let us tell you: If that's the case there isn't a shred of research or a list anywhere of what those ingredients should be. Skin is repairing itself and producing skin cells every nanosecond of the day, and night. Helping skin do that in as healthy a manner as possible doesn't change based on the time of day.
Skin needs a generous amount of antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, and skin-identical (repairing) ingredients all day and all night. For daytime wear, unless your foundation contains an effective sunscreen, it is essential that your moisturizer feature a well-formulated, broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher. Well-formulated means that it contains UVA-protecting ingredients, specifically titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (also called butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane or Parsol 1789), Tinosorb, or Mexoryl SX (ecamsule) and includes antioxidants. Regardless of the time of day, your skin needs all the current state-of-the-art ingredients it can get. Saving these ingredients only for nighttime use is cheating your skin of the benefits it could be gaining during daylight hours, too!
Fact: Skin doesn't adapt to skincare products any more than your body adapts to a healthy diet.
If spinach and grapes are healthy for you they are always healthy, and they continue to be healthy, even if you eat them every day. The same is true for your skin, as long as you are applying what is healthy for skin (and avoiding negative external sources such as unprotected sun exposure) it remains healthy. You may see skin stop improving as much as it initially did, but that stands to reason: If you were using products with irritating or drying ingredients and then switch to brilliantly-formulated products, your initial improvement is going to be much more impressive than what you'll see months later, when skin is maintaining its new-found healthy, younger appearance.
Fact: Lots of people have problems with their skin because they often like what isn't good for skin.
For example, you may like getting a tan, but that can cause skin cancer and most certainly will cause wrinkles and skin discolorations. You may like smoking cigarettes, but that will cause collagen breakdown and will cause the growth of unhealthy, malformed skin cells. You may like that daytime moisturizer you are using, but if it doesn't contain sunscreen it leaves your skin wide open to sun damage. Or you may like that moisturizer that comes packaged in a jar, but most state-of-the-art ingredients, especially antioxidants, plant extracts, vitamins, and cell-communicating ingredients like retinol, deteriorate in the presence of air.
That means jar packaging will not keep these ingredients stable, and so you would be short-changing your skin soon after the product is opened (think about how long a head of lettuce lasts in your refrigerator). What it takes to help your skin be at its best and to function normally and really fight wrinkles or acne or any other skin problem is far more complex than just using what you "like." This doesn't mean that you shouldn't like what you use, but do take the time to select from among products that are truly healthy and beneficial for skin. That is, take the time to read the ingredient list, because you can't determine the benefits intuitively.
The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.
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