A dermatologist and a cosmetic chemist debunk 19 skin-care myths

Michelle Yan,Hiatt Woods
  • A cosmetic chemist and board-certified dermatologist debunk 19 of the most common myths about skincare.

  • They explain how drinking water doesn't necessarily make your skin look better and how you can't really shrink your pores.

  • They also debunk the idea that acne is only a puberty problem. In fact, adult acne is quite common and treatment usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks for results to show.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Claire Chang: "The more you wash your face, the better."

Ni'Kita Wilson: Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. "You don't need to exfoliate." Pssh.

Chang: [laughs] Oh, man.

Wilson: Oh, I love this one. Myth: "If you feel a tingling or burning sensation, it means the product is working."

Chang: Oh, my gosh. I had to say, "No!" when I saw this myth.

Wilson: My name is Ni'Kita Wilson, and I'm a cosmetic chemist.

Chang: And my name is Dr. Claire Chang, and we're here today to debunk a few myths about skin care.

Wilson: Let's get started!

"Drinking extra water will make your skin look better."

Wilson: Ooh, take it away, Dr. Chang.

Chang: Although drinking an adequate amount of water is important for your overall health, there's actually no scientific evidence that drinking extra water goes straight to your skin or that it can improve your skin hydration. Excess water is most likely just filtered out of your body through urine.

Wilson: I can personally attest to the extra water just passing through.

Chang: Our next myth:

"Your skin will get used to the products you use, and then they'll stop working."

Wilson: Oh, I love that one. It's not a matter of your skin getting used to the products. A product can only do but so much. There comes a point where those ingredients have done all they could possibly do for your skin.

Chang: If you've noticed a huge improvement when you first started using a product and then notice less improvement over time, just like Ni'Kita said, it may be because over time we reach a plateau in which your skin's visibly improved, and at this point the ingredients are still working, but they're maintaining a new normal.

"The order in which you use your skin-care products doesn't matter."

Chang: Order definitely matters. In general, you should apply your products thinnest to thickest, and those with the active ingredients should go on first.

Wilson: Agree 100%. If you have a water-based serum, it's going to be hard-pressed to fight its way through those barriers that we created in the cream in order to get into the skin to work. So definitely thinner, more active first, and then build up heavier later.

Chang: So, I recommend doing a cleanser first, then a toner, essences or ampoules, then do your thicker moisturizers and your creams, then your facial oils, then your sunscreen, and then your makeup.

"Pores can get smaller."

Wilson: Oh, nope. Your pores do not get smaller.

Chang: There is also a circulating myth going around that cold water can shrink the pores, but this is just a myth. Wilson: Your pores are the same size. What can happen is your pores could swell up, you know, oil can bring dirt, debris, dead skin cells can get in there and swell. They get engorged, you know, from all this stuff that gets stuck in there, and then when they're cleaned out, they just get back to the normal size. But the walls can also get compromised, and so they can kind of lean and become weak. And that also could change the appearance of how your pores look.

"You don't need to moisturize your face if it's oily."

Chang: This is definitely a myth. There is a difference between skin oil and skin hydration. So, skin hydration is the water content or the moisture levels of the skin, whereas skin oil is the sebum content. So, sebum is secreted by your facial oil glands or sebaceous glands, and it helps protect the skin barrier. But sebum can contribute to that oily, greasy look on the face, so people don't like it. The important thing to remember is that oily skin can become dehydrated and have a low water content, so moisturizing is still important. I advise that you use the right moisturizers, oil-free moisturizers that are noncomedogenic. Also look for lightweight lotions rather than thicker creams. The lotions have a higher water-to-oil content, whereas creams have a higher oil-to-water content. Most recently I've been using Sulwhasoo, which is a Korean brand. S U L W H A S O O.

Wilson: You didn't know this was going to be a spelling bee too, did you?

Moisturizers our experts recommended:
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel 
Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewal Cream
Cerave Daily Moisturizing Lotion

"You don't need to wear sunscreen, even when it's cloudy."

Wilson: You need to wear sunscreen when it's cloudy, when it's sunny. The only time you don't need to wear sunscreen is when there is no sun. It's night. Just because you can't see the sun, the UV rays are still there. They're still present. And it's the UV rays that are doing the damage. And it doesn't matter what your pigmentation load is, you need sunscreen. I recommend 30 and above, because if you're using 15 and then using a little bit, you're not going to get the level of protection that you need.

Sunscreens our experts recommended:
EltaMD UV Clear
Black Girl Sunscreen 
Olay Sun Shine Control Serum Facial Sunscreen SPF 35

"The more expensive the product, the better it works."

Chang: Absolutely false. Many of the products that I use and that I recommend are very affordable and found in the drugstore. I say that the efficacy of the ingredients and the formulation matter a lot more than the price.

Wilson: I agree. You know, as a chemist, I want you to buy the most expensive product we make. [laughs] But the reality is, it really does get down to the ingredients and what you're looking for. You can go to the drugstore and you can pick out really great products that can really help you and really make a difference in your skin care.

Drugstore products and brands our experts recommended:
Urban Skin RX 
Honey Pot
Differin Gel

High-end products and brands our experts recommended: 
Skinceuticals LHA Cleansing Gel
Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense
Obagi
Tata Harper

"The more you wash your face, the better."

Wilson: Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Your face is not that dirty. You know, you wash it in the morning, you wash it at night. You don't have to overdo it. Actually, the more you wash your face, your skin could be worse off. One, you are getting rid of the microbiome. You're throwing that all off balance, and when you do that, you compromise your skin barrier, and when your skin barrier is compromised, that can lead to irritation, sensitivity.

Chang: Over-washing your face, especially with harsh soaps or scrubs, the ones with those beads in it, can really dry out and irritate the skin. I just recommend washing your face twice a day, and then also after sweating heavily, because sweat can clog the pores and irritate the skin further.

Cleansers our experts recommended:
Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Foaming Facial Cleanser
CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

"You don't need to exfoliate."

Chang: [laughs] Oh, man. Everyone can benefit from some gentle exfoliation. Exfoliating can help renew and brighten your skin, even your skin tone, de-clog pores. It helps in anti-aging, and it can actually improve the absorption of other topicals you're putting on your skin.

Wilson: I love exfoliation. I love it for every reason you just named. And for me, again, because I have very oily skin and acne-prone and also hyperpigmentation, exfoliation really helps.

Chang: You're reminding me I need to go exfoliate today. [both laugh] If you're using a very gentle exfoliant, you can do it every day. If you tend to have sensitive skin or you're using a higher concentration, you might want to limit it to two times a week, even one time a week, and then if you're using in-office kind of chemical peels and going to a facialist or your dermatologist, you may want to limit it to every two to four weeks, because they're using much higher concentrations of chemical exfoliants.

Wilson: I can't end this without giving a shout-out to Dr. Dennis Gross and his AHA/BHA pad. Beautiful, beautiful.

Exfoliators our experts recommended:
Glytone line of products
Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads
Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution 

"You need to use a lot of skin-care products to get good skin."

Wilson: Again, as a cosmetic chemist, I wish that were true. You don't need to use a lot of products, you just need to find the right products that work for your skin needs.

Chang: Sometimes, actually, using too many products can do more harm than good.

"If you feel a tingling or burning sensation, it means the product is working."

Wilson: Oh, I love this one.

Chang: I had to say, "No!" when I saw this myth. I was just like, "Ah!" I always say actually your daily skin care should typically not be uncomfortable at all. And if it is, it's a sign that your skin cannot tolerate the product.

Wilson: It's not always good to ask someone, "What are you using?" and then go and buy it, because your skin may not have the same tolerance level as theirs, so you may have a different reaction.

Chang: And I know a lot of people who try to use the best, the most effective ingredient, and they try to kind of stand through it. They want to persist because they want to get their skin looking shiny and wrinkle-free. But your skin, again, is different from all of those people out there, and it may not be able to tolerate it, so you want to find the right product for you.

"Acne is only a problem during puberty."

Wilson: [laughs] Can someone tell my skin that, please? You could have not had acne during puberty, and all of a sudden, as you enter 30s or 40s, you all of a sudden start to get it. You know, your hormones are changing, and I'm a living, breathing testament that that is not the case.

Chang: Adult acne may be persistent from puberty, but a lot of times it's late onset in patients who've never had acne before. The reasons for acne in adulthood are genetics, hormones, clogged pores, inflammation. Stress can definitely worsen acne. Certain diets can worsen acne, including, you know, high-sugar, high-carb diets. Pregnancy can sometimes trigger acne. I definitely had acne during my pregnancy. Cosmetics, too. It's nice to really kind of localize where the acne is, because those might be triggers that you can remove and see if your acne gets better by removing those triggers. You just want to be patient with it. Remember that any treatment for acne can take six to eight weeks to work, so you just really want to stick to it, unless of course you're getting that burning, tingling, or irritation from it.

"Dark undereye circles are always due to a lack of sleep."

Chang: They can be actually due to a lot of different issues, and everyone's different. So, sometimes it's due to lack of sleep and puffy eyes. In other patients it might be due to, you ate a salty meal the night before or had some alcohol and it's causing swelling, but it also may be due to genetics. A lot of patients have dark undereye circles, even since they were younger. Allergies can also cause dark undereye circles, so if your eyes are itchy and you're rubbing it all the time. Or, as we all mature, we lose fat in our cheeks and our undereye area, and that can create a contrast and a shadowing effect.

Wilson: Knowing the cause really is the key to finding the best way to go about treating it.

"You shouldn't use eye creams unless you have wrinkles."

Wilson: [sighs] No. Actually, I know a lot of younger people who are using eye creams as more of a preventative measure, because they're trying to prevent their skin from drying out. They're trying to keep the skin elastic.

Chang: Ni'Kita, I think you said it beautifully: Prevention is key in skin care, and the eye area is often the first area to show signs of aging. Actually, late 20s, early 30s is when you start losing collagen.

Wilson: I have to go tell my daughters to start using a cream. [both laugh] Ha!

Eye creams our experts recommended:
Neocutis Lumiere Eye Cream:
Origins GinZing Refreshing Eye Cream
Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Eye Cream
It Cosmetics Confidence in an Eye Cream
Tula Revive & Rewind Revitalizing Eye Cream

"Serums and oils are a waste of money."

Chang: No! Serums are actually what I spend the most money on.

Wilson: Right.

Chang: Serums are highly concentrated with active ingredients like antioxidants and hydrating factors that really benefit your skin. Serums really are what's doing the brunt of the work.

Wilson: Agree 100%. You can budget your cleanser. You can budget your moisturizer and even your sunscreen, but where you should think about spending the bulk of your budget should be on the thing that's going to give you the biggest treatment, and that's the serum.

Chang: There's a huge range of skin issues that serums can really help with.

Serums our experts recommended:
Skinceuticals CEF
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum
The Ordinary Niacinamide
No.7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum
Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum
La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum and Anti-Aging Concentrate

"You can't get rid of dark spots."

Wilson: Ha! You can get rid of dark spots.

Chang: I do this every day at work.

Wilson: It takes time, it takes discipline, and it takes you truly, truly being committed to understanding the source and why you're getting your dark spots.

Chang: Dark spots often have a component of deeper pigment in the skin, and that's where laser treatments come in. Brown spots can always come back, and you can get new brown spots. So sunscreen is the most important thing you can do to help prevent and treat dark spots.

Wilson: One thing about skin of color is we were always told that, you know, lasers are not good for our skin because it'll end up causing more dark spots. Have they improved the technology now where somebody like me can come to you and say, "Hey, Dr. Chang, how about these spots?"

Chang: It is true that skin of color is a little bit more sensitive to laser, and the reason is that there is more pigment in patients in skin of color or darker skin tones. There are resurfacing lasers that are lower in energy and gentle but can help improve brown spots over a series of treatments.

Wilson: I'll make an appointment with you as soon as we wrap this up. [both laugh] What do we have here?

"Losing weight will help get rid of my cellulite."

Chang: Ah. So, cellulite, it's one of the most common complaints I see, but one of the most difficult to treat. You have to remember that cellulite is not just a condition of excess fat or being out of shape, and, in fact, I see cellulite in all weight groups. We don't know exactly what causes cellulite, but it can be associated with genetics, hormones, and then lifestyle can also play a key component. On a more biological level, cellulite is due to poor circulation, it's due to inflammation, so, again, a lot of reasons why people get cellulite. Physical activity may actually help a little bit with cellulite by increasing circulation and blood flow, but weight loss in and of itself may not improve your cellulite.

Wilson: When it comes to the beauty industry and products to solve it, there's no silver bullet in a cream or serum can give to you, and I've seen some of the most in-shape women have cellulite.

"If you don't get eczema as a kid, you won't get it as an adult."

Wilson: I don't believe that to be true. [laughs]

Chang: I actually just saw several cases of new adult eczema patients this past week, so it's very common. Eczema is especially common in adults who actually have work-related contact. So healthcare workers, construction workers, or hairdressers who wash their hands frequently or come into contact with a lot of chemicals. Eczema is managed primarily by a really good skin-care routine. Dry, irritated skin can make you more prone to eczema, so you want to make sure you're hydrating and moisturizing very frequently.

"K-beauty only works for East Asian customers."

Wilson: That's not how skin works.

Chang: K-beauty is definitely not just for Asian skin. You have to keep in mind that in terms of ethnicity, though, there are slight differences in terms of pigmentation and moisture levels between ethnic groups. The basic structure of the skin and the aging processes that the skin goes through is essentially the same, no matter what your ethnicity. Differences in distinct skin types, oily skin versus dry skin versus sensitive skin, is likely more significant than ethnicity when it comes to skin care.

Wilson: I created my products, and I was looking at certain things. Like, I know in Black skin, the level of ceramides is lower than in any skin types, so I include ceramides. Overall, anybody can use the products. If your skin doesn't need it, it won't use it. If there's one thing people should take away from all these myths, it's just know your skin. I believe in having a relationship with your skin. You know, you're in a relationship with another person, you know what makes them happy. You know how to push their buttons. Have that same relationship with your skin, and then a lot of these things you won't have to rely on. You will know what works for your skin.

Chang: Be patient. Skin care always takes time. And if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. Ask your dermatologist or ask your physician. Really just choose a good skin-care routine that will take you over long term and work well with your skin.

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