skincare myths i used to believe

Raise your hand if you’ve fallen victim to at least one skincare myth in your lifetime.

(Wow, that’s a lot of hands!)

In the three-ish years since I’ve made the decision to actually give a damn about my skin, I’ve learned many lessons about skincare, the most illuminating of those being that it’s really nothing more than chemistry.

That’s great news if you like chemistry, or have a natural knack for science.

And then there’s me! The one with the Fluffy Liberal Arts Brain who was told by the science chair in high school not to take chemistry in order to keep my GPA (and perhaps the school building) intact. The one who barely made it out of most science classes thanks to hours of study sessions and generous teachers who graded on a curve because they never wanted to see me again.

My primary goal in developing a legitimate skincare routine was to stop the breakouts and dryness I had been encountering. Fortunately I never dealt with any severe skin issues growing up, just typical teenage acne. But when those pimples from my teen years persisted well into adulthood, along with flaky skin and post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation, I eventually reached a point when I thought, “You know, maybe I need to do more than use cleansing wipes and skin-stinging astringent after all.”

Thanks to the scientists who have been gracious enough to share what they know on Instagram plus the influencers who do their due diligence, I’ve been made aware of the skincare myths I had been blindly believing as truths. Because of them, I’ve become a much more discerning consumer while striving to educate myself before slathering any old product on my face. I’ll admit that I’m not 100% on-point with this and occasionally forget to even glance at the ingredient list (oops), but I’m in a much better place now than I was years ago — both in terms of skin condition and knowledge.

But let’s take a humiliating trip down memory lane, shall we? What were these skincare myths I clung on to so dearly?

The 5 skincare myths I used to believe

Myth #1: Pores can open and close

This is something I had believed for the longest time. When I was younger and battling pimples, I would turn my shower into a sauna to “open” my pores (and release all those naaaaasty toxins!) then follow-up with a cold washcloth on my face to “close” them off from all the bad stuff.

View this post on Instagram

I see this all the time people talking about shrinking their pores by using hot water and closing them with cold water but this simply isn’t possible There are no muscles connected to the pore so there is no way for them to open and close. The size of pores is largely down to genetics and there is not much you can do to change that. He only muscle that can be found is the arrector pili which causes goose bumps by pulling the hairs up on your skin but it doesn’t have anything to do with your pores and tightening them. When you see an enlarged pore it doesn’t mean it’s open it most likely means it’s congested with dead skin cells and hardened sebum however you can fix this by using something like salicylic acid which can penetrate the pore lining and flush everything out making the pore appear smaller. While there are products out there that can blur and temporarily tighten the skin there is nothing permanent out there that can change the size of pores. . . . . . #bbloggers #beautyblogger #scottishbloggers #skincarejunkie #beautyblog #glasgowblogger #skincare #beautyguru #beautyjunkie #beautyblog #beautyblogger #scottishbloggers #shinyhappybloggers #skincare #wakeupandmakeup #skincareaddict #skincarecommunity #skincareingredients #skincareroutine #skincarescience #pores #porecleansing #porecleaner

A post shared by Andrew | Skincare Blogger (@theskincaresaviour) on

But…pores don’t have muscles, so they can’t open and close. I first came across that tidbit via The Skincare Saviour‘s post above. Healthline backs it up by saying:

Pores cannot be opened or closed. They also cannot be made smaller. Often, when people say they wish to open their pores, what they’re referring to is a deep cleaning to remove excess oil and debris. This may make open pores look as if they’ve shrunk or closed.

So unfortunately for me, I can’t do anything to permanently close up or tighten my giant pores. However, here’s hoping that this glycolic acid serum I’ve recently started using does right by me and tames those overactive sebum producers on my face.

Myth #2: Sunscreen is for summer days on the beach only

Yep, unless I was lazing on a beach in the middle of July, I would not even think about applying sunscreen. Why would I have to? If I’m just driving in my car to Wendy’s on a sunny day in the middle of November then back home I’m good, right?

Until I got into skincare — specifically Korean and Japanese skincare — I never gave much thought to how much of a role sunscreen plays in slowing the aging process. To me, sunscreen was something to slather on to avoid burning. But that’s only part of it.

View this post on Instagram

New video on my top 7 sunscreen and SPF myths, including this myth, which I've had a lot of requests for ☀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ While some sun exposure is good (for vitamin D and nitric oxide production, which are greatbstb), the evidence for sunscreen being harmful with regular use is very weak. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ There's also the fact that wearing sunscreen is very effective for decreasing skin cancer and skin aging. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ More details in my video – link in bio and stories! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #spf #sunscreen #skincare #skincaretips #beautytips #skincaretip #skincarescience #beautyscience #antiaging #antipigmentation #pih #beautuber #instabeauty #sunprotection

A post shared by Michelle Wong – Beauty Science (@labmuffinbeautyscience) on

First off, I am super pale so I was already doing myself a disservice by neglecting non-beach sunscreen for the longest time. Plus, as Lab Muffin Beauty Science explains, regular sunscreen use can decrease the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

Eventually, I became acquainted with the PA rating system on Asian sunscreens, which measures protection from UVA (aging). Here in the United States we use the term SPF Broad Spectrum, which indicates protection from both UVA and burn-causing UVB.

I also came to learn that if I’m putting stuff like glycolic acid on my face, sunscreen is an absolute must as acids can lead to photosensitivity. Fortunately, I have reached a point in my life where I have a favorite daily sunscreen.

Myth #3: If it sounds science-y and I can’t pronounce it, then it must be bad

This is a prime example of fearing the unknown. One of the first MediHeal masks I ever used contained a long list of ingredients with words I could barely pronounce, which made me wonder if I was putting good things on my skin.

View this post on Instagram

I get it – you don't want harsh chemicals in your skincare. Most people think that when they get a product that says "chemical-free", that means the product is all natural and there are no chemicals in it. But this is a lie! Why? Because everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical. The food you eat is a chemical. We are made out of chemicals. But when a product says "chemical-free", it does tend to be more natural. Is this safer? Not necessarily. Just because an ingredient is natural, doesn't mean it's safer. For example, chamomile is soothing because of the chemical bisabolol. But chamomile also contains chemicals that are allergens which can cause a bad rash. The dose also matters. For example, vitamin C is an amazing ingredient. But high doses of it are toxic to humans. Bottom line: Always check the ingredient label! What do you think of "chemical-free" skincare products? Share your thoughts in the comments!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #skincare #skincaremyths #skincareproducts #skincarescience #skincarenerd #skincareobsessed #skincareaddict #skincareblogger #instaskincare #bbloggers

A post shared by Skincare Blogger & Coach (@beautifulwithbrainsofficial) on

Do you know where would we be without dihydrogen monoxide? Dead, because that’s the scientific term for water. As Beautiful With Brains explains, everything is a chemical. Thus, any brand that touts “chemical-free” items is full of it.

And just because a layman’s term may not be used on an ingredient list doesn’t automatically make said ingredient bad or scary. And yes, long scientific terms still scare the hell out of me sometimes. But I’ve learned that there are plenty of resources out there that will help decode “intimidating” words like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, which is just a form of darling ingredient vitamin C.

By the way, natural ingredients aren’t always better, either. You know what else is natural? Arsenic. You don’t want to be rubbing that all over your face now, do you? Aside from that, the only other time an ingredient should be feared is if you personally have a bad reaction to it, natural or synthetic.

Myth #4: I’m so oily, I can do without moisturizer

I am an oily gal. When I was younger I would dabble with moisturizers whenever I would come across dry patches on my forehead. But I would use a moisturizer more like a spot treatment for those rough patches while neglecting the rest of my face.

View this post on Instagram

Hi friends, ⁣ ⁣ Choosing the right moisturizer seems so easy. All we need is something that will reduce trans-epidermal water loss. Right? Well, yes. But with the amount of moisturizers that exist today, it's just such a daunting task. Why? Because there are just way too many options. So, the MOST important thing is to read the ingredients list.⁣ ⁣ Let's recap some of the most important ingredients for your skin type. ⁣ ⁣ Oily: Look for gel-based moisturizes as these formulations have less occlusives. You want to look for water-based ingredients such as Hyaluronic acid and Glycerin. Emollients such as ceramides and linoleic acid are good for almost all skin types. ⁣ ⁣ Dry: Look for cream-based moisturizers as these formulations contain more occlusives and emollients to help trap water in your skin. Helpful ingredients include Oleic Acid, Mineral Oil (SAFE to use), Dimethicone (helps trap water by forming a silky layer on your skin, Shea Butter (very soothing). ⁣ ⁣ Normal/Combination skin: These skin types can use almost any type of moisturizer. However, I'd say focus on gels and lotions as they are light weight and light weight moisturizers will almost always be less irritating than something that is heavy on the skin. Note – avoid all fragrances to achieve the best results. ⁣ ⁣ Sensitive/inflamed skin: This skin type needs extra care. That means you need to look for soothing, hydrating and anti-inflammatory ingredients. These include: aloe vera, soy, allantoin, bisabolol, colloidal oatmeal. ⁣ ⁣ It's always important to listen to your skin. If you ever feel like a moisturizer is causing you any type of irritation, discontinue use and try out a different one. ⁣ ⁣ Note – the ingredients mentioned in this post may or may not be beneficial for your skin type. Skincare is all about trial and error. Do what works for you 🙂 ⁣ ⁣ I hope this post was helpful. Kindly feel free to let me know if you have any questions! 🙂

A post shared by Science of Skincare & Makeup (@skinchemy) on

Well, wouldn’t you know that oily skin especially needs to be moisturized. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “When your skin becomes dry, your body makes more oil.” So all that oil my porous face is producing? It’s overcompensating for the fact that it’s actually dry. I can’t win, huh?

The type of moisturizer you use is important. As Skinchemy’s useful chart shows, my oily self would benefit from gel-type moisturizers. I’ve had luck with watery gel-type formulas from the likes of TonyMoly and Clinique, though when I become drier in the wintertime, I seem to make do with Dr Jart’s Ceramidin Cream just fine. Of course, everyone is different, but it’s good to know where to start.

Myth #5: Avoid those terrible cancer-causing parabens

When I first entered the skincare community, one of the first myths I came across was that parabens are bad. They cause cancer. If you don’t want cancer, use products that are paraben-free and you’ll be fine.

Honestly, I didn’t know what parabens even did other than apparently make people sick, so I did my best to avoid products that had any variation of them.

View this post on Instagram

⚠️🚨⚠️ PLEASE READ THE WHOLE CAPTION! In a paper published in 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine, a very reputable medical journal, a group of doctors described case reports of 3 boys with unexplained prepubertal gynecomastia. Gynecomastia is the enlargement of breast tissue in boys. Adolescent gynecomastia is common and transient, but prepubertal gynecomastia is rare. As it turns out all 3 boys were using products with parabens. Further in vitro cell studies on breast cancer tissue showed that the parabens increased markers of estrogen receptor binding in a similar way to estradiol. They were also able to show that the parabens suppressed androgenic activity. Just 0.025% of the paraben caused similar, if not more, gene expression as estradiol in the breast cancer cells. Later topical studies have shown that the parabens are able to penetrate into the bloodstream when applied to the skin. Now ⚠️🚨⚠️ what if I told you that I just LIED to you, and the actual chemicals studied were Lavender Oil and Tea Tree Oil? Yup! These case studies of gynecomastia were thought to be linked to the use of lavender oil and tea tree oil, and the breast cancer cell studies that showed estrogenic and antiandrogenic effects were done with small concentrations of lavender and tea tree oil. Now what if I told you that animal studies, for example, a rat uterotrophic assay showed no estrogenic effects from lavender essential oil. What if I told you that more than 170 papers cited the paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine as evidence that lavender and tea trea oil were estrogenic – without adding to the evidence? What if I told you that some researchers are thinking the results were due to false-positives? That the material in the cups used to study the cells could have influenced the results? Does the way that you think about these things change when it's a "synthetic", "toxic", or "natural" product? What biases are at play consciously or unconsciously? Does this bias influence where you search for information, does it influence what information you regard and remember? DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa064725, 10.1016/j.reprotox.2013.09.010

A post shared by Stephen Alain Ko (@kindofstephen) on

Eventually, I learned what parabens actually do. Per the United States Food and Drug Administration:

Parabens are a family of related chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. Preservatives may be used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, in order to protect both the products and consumers.

But wait, isn’t saving our skincare products from mold and bacteria a good thing? In this instance, are we trading one short-term negative effect for another one in the long-term?

When I initially saw the above post from Kind of Stephen, it made me rethink my aversion to parabens. So I looked into it some more. As it turns out, the studies that have led to this anti-paraben movement were flawed and/or blown out of proportion. In my circles, it seems a lot of people have come around on this, but it hasn’t stopped skincare companies from pushing paraben-free products to this day.

Other skincare myths we used to believe

I recently posed a question to my Instagram followers about the skincare myths they used to believe.

Ludovica (@vicismaname) told me that she once thought that she “needed to wash [her] face more than others because it was so oily.” (Based on what we learned about oily skin earlier in this article, that’s absolute hogwash.) A dermatologist once prescribed her a cleanser that was “insanely drying” and thus left Ludovica’s sensitive skin in a bad state. Fortunately, with the help of a gynecologist she was able to deduce that many of her skin issues were hormonal, and she bid adieu to those harsh cleansers.

Meanwhile, Dyangku (@my.seoul.sister) shared a tidbit I actually followed in my teen years: “Toothpaste can make pimples disappear!” I know some teen magazine prompted me to dab some Crest on my zits before bed in hopes they’d be gone the next morning. It’d usually do nothing, or leave my skin in worse condition (along with my pillows).

Other common answers I received: if your skin feels like it’s burning you’re doing it right (no); you don’t need sunscreen outside of summer (big no); and oily skin doesn’t need moisturizer (nope).

“I know that I know nothing.”

Of course after a very science-heavy post I felt the need to switch gears to philosophy.

Obviously, I know things. I certainly know a lot more now than I did even a year ago when it comes to skincare. It’s a reason I opened this blog.

But ultimately, there is still so much that I don’t know, especially when it comes to the science behind skincare. I’ll admit that I am proud of myself for developing an interest in a subject I was told to avoid as a student. But you don’t have to be beholden to such things in adulthood. You can pursue whatever the hell you want!

“I know that I know nothing.” To apply it to my situation, I realize that I am by no means an expert in skincare science. But I have to be willing to learn, and in doing that I have to admit my ignorance when it comes to a lot of this stuff.

And of course, once I have learned something I believe in sharing the wealth. I wrote this post so you don’t succumb to the same mistakes I did.

I was naive when I first ventured into skincare. In some ways, I bet I still am. But I’m doing what I can to inform myself and draw my own conclusions. Hype and fear-mongering is sadly a big part of this industry/community, and much of it is either unfounded or still too early to call.

Remember that knowledge is power. Do your research. If you’re not a scientific mind (like me!), follow accounts and blogs that can break down these topics in a way that’s easy to comprehend. (The ones I’ve linked in this post are great places to start!)

Delving into the nitty-gritty of skincare can be overwhelming, especially for those who aren’t well-acclimated in chemistry. But if there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that the skincare community is more than happy to help you figure it all out.

Now over to you…

What skincare myth(s) did you used to believe? What was your a-ha moment in realizing it was all bunk? Share your stories in the comments.

Queen of Wrong Style posts contain affiliate links; purchases you make through these links may result in a small kickback for the site. Learn more here.

I am not a professional. All opinions are my own. 

Featured image by Noah Buscher on Unsplash.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.