Skin Myths

An essential part of my job is to educate clients on skin health, skincare products, and numerous cutaneous, therapeutic options available.  While most consumers have become increasingly well versed in products (antioxidants, ingredients) and treatments (lasers, fillers, spa therapies), a number of myths pervade the marketplace.  Sometimes, the myths are so prevalent that they become part of the accepted and common skincare wisdom.


THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT PARABENS AND THEIR POTENTIAL INVOLVEMENT IN BREAST CANCER CENTERS ON THE FOLLOWING CLAIM:  Parabens behave like estrogen, and increased exposure in the body to such substances increases the likelihood of suffering from various cancers.  However, the belief that parabens act like estrogen relies on a single published paper from one group reporting in vitro research that show traces of parabens in breast cancer tissue.  More numerous studies have been published that maintain the safety of parabens, none of which substantiate the controversy.


 Parabens have an extensive history of safe use in consumer products, foods, and beverages, and play a critical role in the defense against disease and infection by, at low concentrations, preventing fungal and bacterial contamination.  Parabens are recognized as safe by the World Health Organization, as well as government agencies throughout the world.  In the United States, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review expert panel (an independent body of internationally recognized medical and scientific experts in safety evaluation) recently reviewed parabens and concluded that they are safe for use in cosmetic products.

With a track record of safety and efficacy as preservatives and antibacterial agents, parabens are a safer choice than some alternatives that have not been investigated to the same degree.

Mineral Oil is comedogenic.

Mineral oil has developed a bad reputation in the world of skincare, accused of clogging pores and negatively impacting the quality of the skin.


Mineral oil is a common ingredient used in cosmetics, as it is a lightweight ingredient that is odorless, tasteless, and has not been shown to cause allergic reactions.  Mineral oil has been used in European skincare products widely.  In the United States, its questionable status is because of the fact that main sources have classified it as comedogenic.  However, the level of comedogenicity seems to be related to the grade of the product used.  Indeed, there is industrial grade mineral oil, which is used as a machine lubricant and not of the quality required for skincare products.  Cosmetic grade mineral oil, however, is of a purer quality and has not unequivocally been demonstrated to negatively impact the skin.

Fragrance in cosmetics is bad for your skin.
(My personal preference is little to no fragrance but the above is a myth)

The consumer media has taken a strong stance against the use of fragrances in skincare products and cosmetics.  A recent perusal of various magazines and an online search on the subject yielded strong anti-fragrance positions.

  • Synthetic fragrances are the number 1 skin irritant.
  • Fragrances cause more allergic contact dermatitis than any other ingredient.
  • It is estimated that 5.72 million people in the United States are allergic to fragrance.

It should be noted that these facts apply to fragrances, not to skincare products containing fragrances.


  • Less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is allergic to fragrances.
  • Some of the most popular over the counter facial skincare products in the U.S. contain fragrances.  (Estee Lauder, Lancome, Olay)
  • A recent report on skincare identified a key consumer need:  71 percent of consumers want more sensations from products, i.e. appeal to the five senses.

Furthermore, numerous clinical studies support the benefits of scent, which include:

  • People who wear scents are perceived to be more attractive and even slimmer.
  • Fragrances can boost self-esteem, reduce stress, and enhance memory, and increase efficiency and accuracy.
  • Fragrances are important in neurological and general well-being, aromas act on the region of the brain that is responsible for memory and emotion.

Finally, the question of concentration is essential to this debate.  Indeed, the fragrance concentration in skincare products rarely exceeds 0.5 percent, versus up to 30 percent in a perfume.  A skin reaction to perfume will not necessarily react to cosmetic products containing a small concentration of fragrance.


Acne-prone skin types should use benzyl peroxide daily on the entire face.
(Boy, this is my favorite myth)

Benzyl peroxide is one of the most common, and most effective, ingredients in a variety of anti-acne products.  The “benzyl” propels “peroxide” into the follicle, releasing oxygen and killing the anaerobic P. acnes bacteria responsible for acne lesions.


While benzyl peroxide does effectively kill the bacteria that are known to cause acne, the side effects are an increased presence of oxygen free radicals, which may affect endogenous cells and lead to accelerated skin aging.  Indeed, peroxides and other oxygen metabolites are not strictly selective for bacteria and can also alter the host’s cells.  The best recommendation for acne-suffering clients is therefore, to use benzyl peroxide products sparsely, selectively, and exclusively on acne-prone areas (i.e., not on the eye contour or corners of the mouth).

It should be noted that to address this problem, some manufacturers have added antioxidants to their benzyl peroxide products.  However, the concept is flawed.  Antioxidants prevent the optimal functioning of the benzyl peroxide, while the latter, in turn, prevents the antioxidants from functioning effectively.  The results:  Users will suffer from both acne and wrinkles!


Oily skin doesn’t need hydration.
(My pet peeve)

Many people think that oily skin’s worst nightmare is a hydrating or moisturizing product.  The misinformed believe that oily, acne-prone skin types need harsh, stripping products to remove excess sebum and diminish sebum production.


A vicious cycle is created by the use of astringent products, as the skin’s natural response is to overproduce sebum to counteract the stripping effects: oily skin, harsh detergent products, oilier skin, and so on and so forth.

The key to treating oily skin optimally is to achieve a balance between not enough sebum and excess sebum production.  This is best achieved with non-comedogenic, lightweight moisturizers that will hydrate the skin, but do not increase oiliness.  A favorite ingredient is jojoba seed oil, which is close to human sebum in chemical composition, and thus acts as both hydrator and a sebum regulator.


SPF products are enough to protect the skin from sun damage.

Wear an SPF product, in particular with a high SPF factor (30+), reapply it regularly, and you be completely safe from ultraviolet-induced sun damaged, whether from UVA or UVB rays, right?  Not really.


First SPF terminology is primarily a measure of UVB protection, and does not apply to UVA rays.  Furthermore, most ingredients used in SPF products available on the U.S. market do not block the entire ultraviolet spectrum.

SPF filters work in one of two ways:  they either absorb UVAs (320 to 400 nm) and UVBs (290 to 320nm), or they reflect these nefarious rays.  The more popular metallic ingredients such as zinc or titanium are examples of ingredients that facilitate the reflection of light.  Zinc protects from rays ranging from 290 to 380 nm, whereas titanium protects from rays ranging from 290 to 340 nm.  Neither protect from 380 to4400 nm range (UVA rays).

The solution: always complement SPF protection which, let’s be clear, is absolutely essential) with antioxidant protection.  Indeed, antioxidants such as green tea effectively neutralize the free radicals that are created from incomplete reflection or absorption of nefarious ultraviolet rays.  As such, antioxidants are the skin’s second line of defense and when combined with SPF products enable the most effective sun protection.  Specifically, always apply an antioxidant product underneath your SPF product.


Wrinkles are the primary sign of skin aging.

With the emergence of cosmeceuticals, the rise of photo-rejuvenation treatments, and increased popularity of injections, the focus of anti-aging therapies has been wrinkles.

Wrinkles are indeed a key sign of skin aging, caused by changes in each skin’s layers.  However, should a 70 year old, wrinkled client undergo a facelift, her wrinkles would be gone, but she would sill not look 40.  Why not?


While wrinkles are a key sign of skin aging, there are four other tell-tale signs that should be targeted by any comprehensive rejuvenation treatment regimen.

  • A yellowish coloration of the skin
  • Brown spots (a.k.a., age spots)
  • Increased redness and broken capillaries
  • Increased roughness of the skin

The colored aspect of aged skin (both red and brown) as well as its rough texture is as important as wrinkling when diagnosing aging skin and recommending the best treatment options.  Wrinkles should be treated but also uneven pigmentation and skin tone. 

The optimal therapeutic modality, in terms of both skincare regimen and treatment program, should be highly customized to the individual.


Anti-aging treatments are for the face only.

Spa goers and skincare consumers typically spend more time and money on products and treatments to rejuvenate their faces than their body.  The widespread belief is that one’s face is what gives away one’s age.  Or is it?


Most women reveal their age with their neck, décolleté, and hands…The skin of the neck, arms, hand and décolleté (and scalp for many men) is as exposed to ultraviolet radiation as the face and needs as much, if not more, protection.  Most anti-aging products that are adequate for the face will also be good for these exposed body parts.  Treatments to the neck, décolleté, hands and arms should be done on a regular basis to prevent the appearance of brown spots, wrinkles and other signs of skin aging.  Anti-aging products for the body are now prevalent, ranging from body lotions that contain antioxidants to body washes that are based on an exfoliant.


Skincare is for women only.

Signs of skin aging affect women only…a more mature woman is considered “old”, whereas an older gentleman with wrinkles, brown spots, and white hair is considered “wise and rugged” (think Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery).


Skin cancer is not picky in terms of gender, and affects men and women indiscriminately.  Protection from sun damage and ultraviolet rays is as important for men as it is for women.  As such, a sound skincare regimen, which includes antioxidant moisturizers, sun protection, and products based on other rejuvenating ingredients, is necessary if men are to age not only gracefully, but also safely. 


Organic products are always the best skincare choice.

There has been an increase in interest for alternative therapies like yoga, natural wellness, organic skincare products and organic foods, as well as more holistic approaches to well-being.  And rightly so:  the American Academy of Nutrition recommends the extensive consumption of fruits and vegetables as a better alternative to cancer prevention and micronutrients, antioxidants and/or vitamins in oral supplement form.


The truth is not too far from the myth…natural and organic ingredients are safe, and a holistic approach to wellness is a positive development in the skincare field.  However, all these natural ingredients have to be formulated, enhanced, and preserved so that we many use them safely and efficiently.  The optimal therapeutic modality, in terms of both skincare regimen and treatment program, should be highly customized for each individual, and should blend medical and scientific treatments or medications with natural, organic, and holistic approaches to wellness.  The most effective, therapeutic approach will be a synergistic one: nature and science hand in hand.