The main part of my job as a beauty journalist is to speak to a wide variety of skin experts in a bid to demystify the ever-confusing world of skincare. Like many things in life, when it comes to what’s good and what’s bad for our skin, there is an abundance of conflicting information. And while this has been true for years (brands can find a study that proves anything if they just look hard enough), a new rise of skinfluencers on social media creating easily digestible content has thrown another spanner into the works, inciting more confusion. The truth is, despite speaking to dermatologists, facialists, and clinical aestheticians every single day, even I’m confused.
While there is a whole bunch of questionable advice out there that could have skincare experts debating for days, there are recurring pieces of false information on social media that they are growing increasingly frustrated over, and as a result, I am, too. Crucially, it is important to remember that in skincare, there is no one-rule-fits-all answer to anything. However, experts argue it’s important to have a basic understanding of the extra information that often gets left out. So in a bid to help debunk some of the skin-shaming myths doing the rounds right now, I reached out to some of the most straight-talking skin experts in the game to uncover the social media skincare lies that rile them up the most.
Myth: Drinking More Water Is the Secret to Glowing Skin
Truth: Your Skin Is Likely Dry for Other Reasons
Keeping hydrated is important when it comes to every aspect of our health, including our skin, but drinking excessive amounts of water won’t solve all of your skin issues. Aesthetic doctor Barbara Kubicka explains, “There is a common belief that dry skin is usually a symptom of general dehydration. If you exercise a lot or drink a lot of caffeinated drinks and alcohol, dehydration could contribute, but most cases of skin dryness are down to other things like dry air, wind, or cold temperatures.”
It turns out, in the grand scheme of things, water intake isn’t always the thing to prioritise first. It’s just the easiest thing for us to deal with. “Yes, drinking water is important to the health of the skin, but equally as important is getting a regular supply of essential fatty acids in your diet from nuts, avocado, and salmon, for example,” says Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and co-founder of Mortar and Milk.
You can drink enough water and still experience dry, lacklustre skin. Providing you’re drinking the NHS-recommended six to eight glasses of fluid a day, your skin is likely dry for other reasons. “If you already drink water and your skin feels dry, apply topical products like hyaluronic acid serums, light moisturisers, and barrier creams when you go outside,” says Kubicka.
This statement is possibly one of the most high-profile skincare myths of all time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something that people are still preaching. With natural skincare brands often plastering the words “paraben-free” over their packaging, we have been led to believe that the parabens in our skincare are somehow toxic and bad for us. However, any evidence of this is unproved. “Parabens are very useful for preserving skincare products. They have been claimed to cause an increase in certain hormones and potentially increase the risk of breast cancer. However, the evidence for this is very loose,” says Benji Dhillon, MD, cosmetic surgeon and co-founder of Define Clinic.
While the proof for the claims is lacking, the key point is that, even if parabens are toxic, the level at which they are used in skincare is negligible. “Too much water is toxic as well,” says Marshall. “You are actually more likely to intake parabens through preserved food than you are beauty products. Because formulators have moved over to preservatives that haven’t been tested as much, we have actually seen mould and bacteria in some newer formulations.”
Myth: Burning Means It's Working
Truth: Burning Means You Need to Wash It Off Immediately
If any product is making your skin burn and turn red, it’s actually a sign of serious irritation and potential long-term damage. The truth behind this statement, as always in skincare, hangs on a fine line. Dhillon explains, “Sometimes, tingling is associated with products working. Some tingling is good; too much is bad. When tingling starts to feel like burning, this causes inflammation, leading to sensitivity and, in the worst-case scenarios, may actually burn the skin.”
So what products should we expect tingling from? “Usually, very active ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (in particular, glycolic) will cause a tingling sensation. With that said, not all active ingredients (like vitamin C) will or should have that effect. If your skin goes slightly pink, it should be okay, but when it turns red or burns, it indicates the product isn’t suitable for you,” says Kubicka.
Myth: Decent Skincare Has to Be Fragrance-Free
Truth: It's All About the Levels and Your Skin Type
Nothing will divide a room of skin experts more than the debate around fragrance in skincare. While some beauty buffs argue fragrance is a perfectly fine and enjoyable addition to products, others say it should be avoided at all costs. “I think fragrance should be a personal choice. Of the brands I recommend to clients, one uses fragrance. I am yet to have anyone react to them, but that’s not to say someone could. Some clients really enjoy that sensorial experience, and I think that’s okay,” says Marshall.
More recently, there has been a growing stigma around skincare products that contain fragrance, with those who enjoy and promote fragranced skincare being shamed on their feeds. The truth about how harmful fragrance is to skin, however, sits somewhere between the two. “It depends on your skin type. For sensitive skin, I would say avoid using skincare with fragrance in it, as it can cause irritation. Test the smell of a product, and if you can distinctly tell it is fragranced, just be cautious about using it if you are prone to sensitivity,” says Dhillon.
Myth: There's No Need to Cleanse in the Morning
Truth: We Should Use a Wash-Off Cleanser Morning and Night
High up on the list of myths that really rile expert is the number of clients who skip their morning cleanse in fears of it being too aggressive. “This is one of my biggest pet peeves. The amount of sweat, sebum, pollution, and dead skin cells that accumulate on our sheets is pretty dramatic,” says Marshall. So why do people think it’s not necessary? In short, the myth goes that if you cleanse deeply enough in the evening, doing the same thing again in the morning could be disrupting your skin’s natural balance.
However, experts are keen to preach that the benefits of a morning cleansing dramatically outweigh any negatives. Marshall explains, “The number of acne cases I have cleared up as a result of someone not washing their sheets regularly (once a week in hot water), not cleansing in the morning, or not using a flannel to remove their cleanser is shocking. (Splashing your face with water isn’t enough.)” The key teaching here is to always cleanse in the morning with a gentle cleanser and remove with a warm flannel.
Myth: Everyone Should Be Using Retinol
Truth: Retinol Should Be Approached With Caution
Head to any skincare page on Instagram and they will all tell you that retinol is a must-use ingredient if you want your skin to stay looking healthy and youthful. However, while retinol is a very impressive, powerful ingredient, its universal appeal has been dramatically inflated. Kubicka reveals, “Retinol isn’t good for everyone. Sure, some amount of retinol is okay, but for those with very delicate, dry skin, you should proceed with caution.” In fact, for some with particularly sensitive skin, finding the right retinol product can not only prove costly but can also lead to long-term skin damage along the way, especially if you’re repeatedly using products that are too strong.
If you have sensitive skin but really think you could benefit from using retinol, look for weak, introductory formulas and use them once every two weeks. Eventually, your skin will build some resistance, and you may be able to increase your dosage.