It’s myth-busting time again. The field of skin care is often shrouded in mystery and mystique; as it turns out, some of it is just outright harmful. We judge fact or fiction on common truisms in sun protection, cosmetics, and acne treatments.
Sun protection is accepted among the vast majority of dermatologists as the most effective anti-aging substance that you can put on your skin. There is overwhelming evidence that UVA and UVB rays (and to a lesser extent, perhaps other spectrums like visible and infrared as well) cause DNA damage to the skin which contributes to premature aging and increases the risk of various skin conditions including skin cancer.
“I have dark skin; I don’t need to worry about sunscreen”
Verdict: Not true. Having dark skin *will* protect you to some degree from sunburns and premature wrinkles, and reduce the risk of skin cancer. However, darker skin is actually more susceptible to other sun exposure related problems like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or melasma. Sun protection is important for everyone.
“The higher the SPF, the better the protection”
Verdict: Partially true. SPF or sun protection factor is a measurement of the amount of protection from UVB rays that the sunscreen offers. There are two important caveats to remember - First, it provides no information about protection from UVA light, the spectrum that causes skin aging and is present all year. Second, SPF doesn’t scale up - SPF 15 offers 94%, SPF 30 offers 97%. Beyond SPF 30, the same pattern of diminishing returns continues. For a more in depth explanation of SPF, read this article.
“I don’t need sunscreen on a cloudy day”
Verdict: Not true. There are two primary sources of light that we are concerned about: UVA and UVB1. Although a good percentage of UVB light is blocked by clouds, UVA light passes through clouds and windows, and is present throughout all seasons. UVA light does not cause sunburns, but it is responsible for premature skin aging (wrinkles/fine lines), as well as increasing risk of skin cancers.
We all know that cosmetic products often straddle the fine line between good science and good marketing. Even the most frugal and least vain among us are still prone to marketing, and spend some amount of money on cosmetic products. Nothing wrong with some splurging, but it’s important to use common sense when it comes to expectations in cosmetics.
“Expensive cosmetic brands make better products”
Verdict: Sometimes. We have an article about this very topic. In most cases the correlation between product price and product quality is relatively weak as the active ingredients is only a small proportion of the manufacturer’s costs. A large percentage of what you pay for in a luxury brand is the marketing. Most of the high end brands are owned by a larger parent company that owns both a “budget brand” and a “luxury brand” using similar ingredients.
“Botox in a bottle”
Verdict: Just, no. Botox or botulinum toxin is a drug - one that has a neurological effect, freezing the muscles that cause wrinkles. Creams that you can get over the counter are not regulated as drugs - they by definition, cannot alter the structure or function of the body2.
“Exclusive, secret ingredient that illuminates your skin”
Verdict: Nothing wrong with enjoying a high end product, but know the difference between evidence-backed claims and marketing fluff. “Secret” is not good science, and words like “illuminate” that cannot be proved or disproved are essentially meaningless.
Acne is the most common skin condition, but it’s also a very serious skin condition that can cause permanent scarring and diminish quality of life in significant ways.
“Pop a pimple--just don’t do it3”
Verdict: True…the best is to just leave it, as it can increase the risk of scarring. But you’ll probably ignore this advice anyways right? If you must, at least do it right.
- NEVER pop deep firm pimples that are not ready to be popped. The ones that can be popped are the ones where there is a soft, white fluid at the tip.
- Proper hygiene is critical. Remove all makeup, wash your face and hands, and ensure that your equipment (pins, extractors) is sterilized using rubbing alcohol.
- Dab the rubbing alcohol on the pimple, pierce the pimple from side to side into the white pus-area. Once there is a tear, drain the pus gentle, and don’t push it inwards.
- Dry the area with rubbing alcohol. Let the skin rest, and don’t apply makeup for at least an hour.
- If at all possible, just let the pimple heal naturally. Non-cystic pimples should heal on its own within a week, and it’s the safest way to deal with them.
“You can outgrow your acne problem”
Verdict: Probably, but don’t count on it. Acne subsides or at least becomes more tolerable for most people after their teens. However, there are several problems with the idea of “just waiting it out.”
- Adult acne is quite common. There is no guarantee that acne will go away or get better.
- Acne can affect your self-esteem and overall quality of life in various ways. It can also lead to permanent scarring. There’s no good reason to delay treatment.
“I’ll know right away if my acne treatment is working.”
Verdict: False. Unfortunately, acne treatment takes time and patience. It’s important to have realistic expectations on the timeline at which you expect to see improvement - talk to your dermatologist about what to expect and stick to the treatment plan. It’s also not uncommon for the acne to temporarily get worse in during the first few days, when the skin is not used to the medication.
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1The more immediately damaging rays like UVC are blocked by the ozone layer. There is some new research about the potential effects of infrared light and visible light which *are* present, but the evidence is still speculative and relatively unknown. The evidence that UVA and UVB damages the skin and increases skin cancer risk, however, is decades old and well established.