Friday, March 16, 2012

3 Red Flags that Your Skin Care "Expert"...Isn't

Now let me preface this by saying: I'm not perfect. I make mistakes, and I certainly don't know everything. I benefit from the knowledge that I've collected over years of experience, but sometimes Google is my best friend. Being that science is an ever-evolving enterprise, I can and will revise my opinions should new findings illuminate a subject in a previously unexpected way.

You see, I don't just write a beauty blog, I read them too. A lot of them. I've done good time behind the makeup counters, and in front of it training associates. There are plenty of skin care experts out there, both on the internet and in the wild. However, I've also seen plenty of people applying the term "expert"... loosely, shall we say? Knowledge is an open pursuit, experts and "less-perts" can come from the very same makeup counters, cosmetology schools and universities. So, how can you tell which are full of knowledge and which are just full of themselves? Here are my red flags- the giveaways that will make me instantly leave a web-page or tune out a beauty advisor.

1. Tells you your skin type without asking what you're currently using:

Skin is a temperamental organ. What you use (or don't use) on it can make a big difference in the way it behaves. Using a cleanser that's too harsh can make normal skin seem dry. Treating breakouts over-aggressively can actually make skin oilier. Much as a doctor would ask what medications you're currently on before diagnosing a mysterious illness, any skin care expert worth her salt should inquire about your routine before making any suggestions. This may not overtly mean asking for a product list, but it does warrant a conversation beyond "I see you have blemishes, so you must have oily skin- use this".

2. Tells you "chemical free" is the way to go:

Simply put, everything is chemicals. We are. Air is. Water is. There is absolutely no product you could possibly put on your face that's even remotely "chemical free". Someone who says such things is showing that they have very little idea how the skin functions, because guess what? It has to do with chemicals. To induce any change in the skin, a chemical reaction has to take place.

Of course, I'm aware that most people using terms like "chemical free" are supporting products that are supposedly more true to their original state than their less lab-engineered "chemical" counterparts. Lest you chalk it up to semantics, however, be aware: there's no proof that "natural" products are any safer or more effective than lab-altered ones. Take lavender as an example: components in the herb have been shown to have antioxidant properties and to increase collagen and ceramide content in the skin- all good things. Unfortunately, lavender also contains compounds that are known skin irritants, photo-sensitizers and cytotoxic agents (that means cell-death). So what's a skin care formulator to do?

Easy. Modern science allows us to take lavender into a lab and essentially extract the helpful components while leaving the bad ones behind. Now, some people would prefer to see lavender oil (irritating cell death) rather than ursolic acid (helpful, lab-isolated compound) on their ingredient list, but which ingredient's results would you rather see on your skin?

3. Tells you to drink more water:

This one is tricky. The myth has been spread far and wide; I've even seen dermatologists perpetuating it. Nonetheless, myth it is. Dry skin isn't just lacking water; it's deficient in sebum- the skin's natural oil. I can't put it any more simply than dermatologist Cynthia Bailey: unless you're severely dehydrated (as in hospital-stay proportions) "drinking water won’t fix dry skin any more than taking a bath will quench your thirst."

Just because this is a particularly pervasive myth doesn't mean experts repeating it should get a free pass. To me, anyone sharing this tidbit of info is proving that they're only repeating what someone else has told them, rather than doing their own research on the subject. That makes me worry that they're just selling or reprinting some company's press release, and that doesn't sit well with me.

So, there you have it. Not a long list, but instances that make my eyes roll time after time. I'm sure that there are a few that I'm forgetting here, but we'll save those for another installment!


Sileny said...

These are all very good tips and I can't tell you how much I agree with #2. It irritates me when I hear people make the implication that all natural = better. Not really, at least not in my case and in the example you provided.

I want to point out something about #3: water consumption does have an effect on your skin. When I was dehydrated my skin started flaking like crazy and it did get dried out. BUT, my skin is normally oily, so I still agree with you that because someone has dry skin, it doesn't mean they don't drink enough. Their genes just aren't wired to produce sebum as much as me.

Sileny said...

Addendum: Oops, I just read the part about hospital dehydration. So I have nothing to add!

Unknown said...


Glad we're on the same page :) I don't know when I started to get so annoyed with the natural=better myth, but it's been quite a while. My go-to anecdote about it has always been "poison ivy is all natural, but I'm not gonna slather that all over my face".

As far as drinking water issue, you're absolutely right- dehydration (as well as malnourishment) can definitely have an effect on the skin. As I'm sure you know, those conditions are far rarer than dry skin; current studies are even calling the "drink 8 glasses" a day guideline into question. Evidence shows that most adults have adequate water levels from other liquids in their diet, as well as from the natural water in the foods we eat. Go figure!

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