Let's Finally Debunk These 3 Major Skin Care Myths — From A Cosmetic Chemist Duo
I often talk about how there's a lot of nuance in skin care—very rarely is advice universal. But don't take my word for it, take an actual scientist's: "Skin care isn't an exact science," says cosmetic chemist Victoria Fu, who cofounded Chemist Confessions with fellow cosmetic chemist Gloria Lu.
This is why it's so important to get personal with your own skin. "We can get into the nitty-gritty details of ingredients all we want, but that doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to use it in your own routine. That's why I think it's so important to learn how to implement, improve, and troubleshoot your own skin care routine for your skin type," Fu continues. And Lu agrees: "It's empowering for someone to be comfortable enough with their skin that you know what it needs every day."
This is what we discuss in today's Clean Beauty School. And part of our convo was to break down common skin care myths and misconceptions. Here, some examples the duo sees all the time.
Don't assume higher percentages are better — or will work for you.
One of the biggest skin care trends we've seen in the last several years is the focus on ingredient percentages. And while it's a good thing that brands are being transparent about their formulas, more isn't always better.
"It used to be that the consumer wasn't thinking about percentages or 'Oh is this ingredient at an efficacious concentration?'" says Lu, noting this meant brands could get away with barely dusting actives in the formulas. "But now it's gone too far in the other direction. The train has derailed so fast and so hard! Now we're telling customers, 'No, hold on—you don't need that high of a percentage!'"
And this is especially true of ingredients that could potentially cause irritation: "There is no reason you need to be putting 4% retinol on your face every night. There is no reason you should be looking for 30% glycolic acid for everyday use," says Fu.
Oil-free claims aren't regulated — and therefore may not be super helpful.
There are a lot of terms that aren't regulated in the beauty space—clean, natural, dermatologist-approved, hypoallergenic, sensitive skin safe, the list could go on and on. I believe that these terms can be helpful if the brand is clear about how they define and understand them.
And one such claim that isn't regulated is "oil-free," notes Fu. "I definitely have issues with the oil-free claim. In a lot of cases I think it's not helpful to the consumer because it's not a regulated claim and this means that per brand, it could mean anything," she says.
You would think that there would be only one way to define such a claim (you know, the formula is devoid of oils). But as Fu explains, that's not the case. Oil-free could include several different parameters: "It could mean just silicone emulsions, it could mean that the ingredient list simply doesn't have the word 'oil' in it; there are a lot of ways to define that," she says. "Plus there are good oils that can be really beneficial for oily skin, so I think that term just leads people further astray."
Most products need preservatives and proper testing to ensure those preservatives work.
If you want a water-based product (i.e., lotions, serums, treatments, and most cleansers) that you can keep around for more than a few days without the risk of growing mold or bacteria, then that formula needs preservatives. That's just the truth of the matter.
However, which preservatives are used (and how much) can vary depending on several unique factors. "Final packaging, how the consumer will interact with the product, formula type, and water content all matter when looking at preservative systems," says Lu. "It's not like there's a set dose of preservatives that work for everything. That's why it's so important for brands to do the proper tests—because at the end of the day, cosmetics aren't regulated in this sense and can launch without doing this."
Rest assured that most brands (especially the major ones who may face a lawsuit) already do this. However, if you have concerns, check in with the brand—some have even started detailing which tests they do and what their preservation systems are.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.