Skin-Care Facts and Myths

Rumor has it that chocolate causes acne and Botox prevents wrinkles. But is any of it factually accurate? Doctors weigh in—no sugarcoating allowed.

Photo by Jens Mortensen

Skin-care misconceptions, fallacies, and flat-out wishful thinking are as plentiful as cleansers in a drugstore. Some are long-held beliefs passed down for generations, such as the notion that squeaky-clean is a virtue. Others are convincing for their grounding in “modern technology.” But with help from doctors (and years of research), the truth has at last been separated from the…eh, not so much.

Rumor: Squeaky-Clean Skin Is, Well, Squeaky-Clean

Reality: Overzealous face washing, whether more than twice a day or with products that leave your skin as tight as a drum, can actually cause damage, says Cheryl Karcher, a dermatologist in New York City. “The water-cleanser combo can strip skin of its natural oils and compromise its barrier, which can set you up for irritation and dehydration,” she says. Therefore you should avoid cleansers that contain harsh surfactants, which rid skin of too much oil and leave it so dry that it feels taut—and might just squeak if you dragged a finger across it. Some common surfactants include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS). Instead of these, look for gentler cleaning agents, which may be glucose-based or derived from coconut oil. They can take off makeup but still maintain skin’s suppleness. These include coco betaine, cocamidopropyl betaine, coco glucoside, decyl glucoside, and sucrose laurate. And if you use cleanser at night, a quick splash of cool water alone will suffice in the morning. (However, if you’re a morning gym-goer, you’ll need to cleanse again, since sweat can clog pores.) For midday greasiness, try oil-blotting papers or waterless cleansing wipes.

Rumor: Botox Can Prevent Wrinkles

Reality: Theoretically, yes. But no long-term studies support this claim. “If you relax the muscles that continually contract, you’ll be less apt to see creases over time,” says Fredric Brandt, a cosmetic dermatologist with practices in New York City and Coral Gables, Florida. “But other strategies, like using sunscreen and keeping up proper skin care, are more reliable and certainly less expensive options for fending off wrinkles.” If you still feel compelled to go under the needle, Los Angeles and New York City dermatologist Karyn Grossman advises beginning Botox treatments no earlier than when fine lines first appear, generally in your 30s.


Rumor: Oily Skin Doesn’t Wrinkle as Much as Dry Skin

Reality: The research isn’t definitive, but this supposition seems to make sense. “Oily skin may fend off wrinkles more easily because it tends to be thicker, which affords more natural protection against sun damage,” says Brandt. Ruthie Harper, an internist in Austin, Texas, ties the phenomenon to hormones. “Women with oily skin may have higher testosterone levels,” she says, “which can help protect against diminished collagen levels and, in turn, wrinkles.” But this is not to say that oil-prone skin doesn’t ever look old. And factors such as sun exposure and smoking speed up the aging process and cause wrinkles, regardless of skin type.