20 Beauty Myths

In this Special Report:

  1. Products claiming to replace Botox or dermal fillers really work.
  2. Your age is an important consideration when shopping for skin care.
  3. Hypoallergenic products are better for sensitive skin.
  4. Age spots are simply a fact of getting older.
  5. You'll eventually outgrow acne.
  6. Makeup causes acne
  7. If a company says their skin-care product works, it does.
  8. Always look for collagen and elastin in anti-wrinkle products.
  9. Everyone needs an eye cream.
  10. There's a product out there that eliminates wrinkles.
  11. Expensive cosmetics are always better than inexpensive ones.
  12. Mineral oil is the worst skin-care ingredient around.
  13. Natural ingredients are better than synthetic ones.
  14. It's good when your products cool or tingle on skin.
  15. Blackheads relate to cleanliness and can be scrubbed away.
  16. You can control oil skin with the right products.
  17. Have dry skin? Drink more water!
  18. Moisturizer applied at night must be labeled "night cream."
  19. Your skin adapts to products you use and eventually stop working.
  20. Use the products you like, regardless of what they contain.

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, there is a lot of it is either inaccurate or just plain wrong! 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!

Myth: There are skin-care products that work like Botox or dermal fillers.

Fact: No skin-care products can work like Botox or dermal fillers because the ingredients cannot reach their targeted areas.

There is absolutely no research showing that any skin-care product can even remotely work in any manner like Botox or like dermal fillers (such as Restylane or Aretcoll) or like laser resurfacing. Regardless of the ingredients or the claims for skin-care 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 skin-care products can do the same is a complete waste of money. There has never been a single skin-care product that has ever put a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist out of business!
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Myth: Your age is an important consideration when shopping for skin care.

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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Myth: Hypoallergenic products are better for sensitive skin.

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.

To "imply" is never the same as "fact," and in this situation it is patently untrue that products labeled "hypoallergenic" are any better for sensitive skin! There are absolutely 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. A company can label their product "hypoallergenic" because there is no regulation that says they can't, regardless of any proof, and what proof can they provide given there is no standard to measure against. That being said, it's no surprise that there are plenty of products labeled "hypoallergenic" that contain problematic ingredients and that could indeed trigger allergic reactions. Unfortunately, the word "hypoallergenic" gives you no better understanding of what you are or aren't putting on your skin.

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Myth: Age spots are are simply a fact of getting older.

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.

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Myth: You'll eventually outgrow acne.

Fact: If only that were true, lots of people's skin-care 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?

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Myth: Makeup causes acne.

Fact: Probably not. There is no research indicating that makeup or skin-care 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 skin-care products, and it was never repeated or considered useful in any way. Still, women do experience breakouts after using some skin-care products. Such breakouts can be the result of an irritant or an inflammatory response, a random skin reaction, or a result of problematic ingredients unique to a person's skin type. That means you have to experiment to see what might be causing your breakouts. There is no information from medical research or the cosmetic industry to help or point you in the right direction. And it is critical to know that terms such as "noncomedogenic" and "non-acnegenic" are meaningless. The cosmetics industry uses these terms to indicate that a product is less likely to cause breakouts, but there is no standard or regulation set to categorize this labeling. Any product can make this claim, even pure wax or vegetable shortening.

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Myth: If a company says a product works, it does.

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!

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Myth: Always look for collagen and elastin in anti-wrinkle products.

Fact: Collagen and elastin in skin-care 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.

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Myth: Everyone needs an eye cream.

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.

Even if there were ingredients that were special for the eye area, that isn't evident in eye-area products; their formulations are random, with no consistency in the industry. All cosmetics companies put whatever ingredients they want to into their eye products (and usually give you half as much but charge you twice as much as the same product for your face). The ingredient label on these "specialty" products more than proves the point. Eye creams are a whim of the cosmetics industry designed to evoke the sale of two products when only one is needed.

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Myth: There's a product out there that eliminates wrinkles.

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. Skin-care 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 antiwrinkle 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.

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Myth: Expensive cosmetics are better than inexpensive. 

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 skin-care 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.

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Myth: Mineral oil is the worst skin-care ingredient around.

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!

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Myth: Natural ingredients are better for skin than synthetic.

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.

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Myth: It's good when your products cool or tingle skin.

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.

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Myth: Blackheads relate to cleanliness and can be scrubbed away.

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. 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.

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Myth: Oily skin can be controlled with the right products.

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.

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Myth: Dry skin? Drink more 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?

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Myth: Moisturizer applied at night must be labeled "night cream".

Fact: The ONLY difference between a daytime and nighttime moisturizer is that the daytime version should offer sun protection of SPF 15 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.

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Myth: Your skin adapts to products you use and eventually stop working.

Fact: Skin doesn't adapt to skin-care 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.

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Myth: Use the products you like, regardless of what they contain.

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.

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About the Experts

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 helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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