The 7 Most-Shocking Skincare Myths

The mind-blowing things that skincare brands don’t want you to know.


When preparing for standardized testing in school, do you remember how everyone used to say, when in doubt, choose letter C?   Someone, somewhere, decided that option C was more likely than A, B or D to be the right answer, and millions of adolescents (myself included!) blindly followed suit.  Of course, this is utter nonsense, but I’d like to think that the kid who started this myth grew up to be the Chief Marketing Officer for a major skincare brand.


Most people (myself included!) do not have time to dissect the ingredient list of skincare products and understand, for example, exactly what level of salicylic acid a product must contain to be effective in the treatment of acne.  Most of us are blindly guessing when it comes to our skincare products but unlike staring at a row of lettered bubbles of equal size and color on a standardized test, we’re staring at rows of beautifully packaged products with mesmerizing words like “anti-aging,” “nourishing,” “wrinkle-reducing,” or “skin-clearing.”  How do you know which products present the right solutions to your unique skincare challenges and which are just smoke and mirrors?


About nine months ago, a friend and I were in my bathroom looking at the line-up of skincare products next to my sink and she began asking questions about the products that I was using.  I had feeble answers for most of them—this one contains SPF because… sun damage!  This one contains retinol because… wrinkles!  The act of having to actually articulate the rationale behind my skincare routine was startling.  My knowledge of products and ingredients was precarious at best and even more concerning was my understanding (or lack thereof) of how each product properly fits into a well-constructed skincare regimen.  Can I use a Vitamin C serum with a retinol?  Should I apply face oils before or after my night moisturizer?  In the sea of marketing gimmicks, skincare buzzwords and one-off endorsements of “miracle” products, how do you discern the real efficacy of a product and exactly how you should incorporate it into your skincare routine?


That moment was a bit of a wake-up call for me so I began diving deep into the science of skincare and have learned a ton in the last many months.  Starting with today’s post, I’m excited to begin sharing some of my learnings with you, in hopes of creating skincare guides that are practical, digestible and no-nonsense.  After months of research, interviewing dermatologists and pouring over scientific reports, I thought I would kick things off today with the seven skincare myths that I believe will surprise you as many of the things in this list are in direct opposition to what many skincare brands market to consumers.  All of the below information has been verified not only by scientific reports but also by an extremely well-respected board-certified dermatologist who has been practicing for over 25 years.  This dermatologist asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, which I gladly respected, especially in exchange for his candor on these topics.


Having said that, it’s important to note that I am not a dermatologist nor am I a physician of any kind.  You should absolutely consult your own doctors when making decisions about your health and skincare regimen as there is a lot of conflicting research out there about the efficacy of certain products and ingredients.  What works for one person may not work for the next, so it’s important to do your own research based upon your own unique skin characteristics.  I hope that the information I share from my research and product testing will simply offer one perspective in the quest to find what’s best for you.


Without further ado, I give you (in no particular order) my top seven skincare myths:


Shocking skincare myths



Skincare Myth #1:  Foaming Cleansers Are Good For Your Skin


This one shocked me.  We’ve been conditioned to believe that the presence of suds or foam is an indication of a cleanser “working” but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In order for a facial cleanser to foam like shaving cream, it must contain a surfactant.  Surfactants turn your skin alkaline, creating a breeding ground for bacteria (hello, acne).  If you have acne-prone skin, you should especially avoid foaming cleansers like the plague, despite the fact that many foaming cleansers are specifically marketed to people suffering from acne.  To be clear, I’ve read that there are a few companies who have managed to formulate foaming cleansers with a low pH (i.e. acidic and anti-bacterial), but this is rare and most don’t publish the actual pH of their products on the bottle.  So, the safest bet is to avoid foaming cleansers altogether, unless you’re interested in independently testing the pH of your cleanser at home.



Skincare Myth #2:  Natural or Organic is Always Better


This is another super controversial one.  In the movement to eliminate harmful chemicals from the food we eat and many other everyday products, the terms “natural” and “organic” are now widely abused by marketers in an attempt to mislead.  Just because something is natural or organic does NOT mean it is good for your skin.  In fact, there are lots of natural and organic ingredients like mineral oils and certain fragrances that cause serious skin irritation, break down collagen and cause a whole host of other skin issues.  Furthermore, in discussing this with dermatologists, I was amazed to learn that in fact, there are many ingredients developed by scientists (i.e. neither natural nor organic) which are much more potent and effective for skin than natural or organic ingredients.  Of course, there are TONS of natural and organic ingredients that are fantastic, but the main takeaway here is to never simply buy a skincare product because it’s touted as “all-natural” or “organic” AND don’t ever blindly reject another product because it isn’t.  Take a step further and do your due diligence on the ingredients and proven efficacy of the product. 



Skincare Myth #3:  Rub Product Between Your Hands


Labels often instruct you to rub the product between your hands before applying, but according to dermatologists, there are virtually no products on the market that actually require you to rub or warm the product in your hands to prepare or “activate” the ingredients.  In most cases, this is completely unnecessary and totally wasteful, as a large amount of the product will be distributed across your palms and absorbed into your hands.  According to marketing studies, this is typically included in product instructions because consumers become more attached to products that involve these types of “ritual” steps.  Nutty.



Skincare Myth #4:  No Pain, No Gain


I used to think that a burning sensation following the use of a particularly abrasive facial scrub meant that I had really done a good job of removing dead skin cells.  Like many people, I would also feel the tingling sensation of various skin care products or exfoliants and believe the idea that “you can FEEL it working.”  In most cases, this is false.  According to dermatologists, if you’re in pain or experiencing a burning sensation, you’re likely damaging your skin.  You can thoroughly and effectively exfoliate your skin without causing pain.  



Skincare Myth #5:  A High SPF Protects You From The Sun


We all know that Vitamin D is best-obtained through supplements rather than unprotected sun exposure, but there’s a lot of misleading information about sunscreen, specifically what SPF means and how much we need.  To start, it’s important to understand that the sun’s damaging UV radiation is comprised of both UVA and UVB rays.  While most creams and sprays offering sun protection often prominently display their SPF levels, most people don’t realize that SPF only measures protection against UVB rays, and doesn’t measure protection against UVA rays at all.  Moreover, UVA rays don’t cause sunburn—UVB rays do—so by preventing sunburn, products touting high SPF can lead you to believe you’ve been protected from the sun, meanwhile, UVA damage is occurring without leaving any skin-reddening signs.  In reality, UVA rays are extremely damaging because they are a longer wavelength and penetrate more deeply into the skin.  In fact, UVA rays are more responsible for photoaging and are also the primary ray responsible for the development of melanoma.  To prevent against both UVA and UVB rays, you should buy sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and at most 50 (anything claiming an SPF of above 50 is not actually offering any incremental sun protection) AND make sure it also contains UVA-protecting ingredients like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule, and oxybenzone.  Products that protect against both UVA and UVB rays are often called broad spectrum, multi-spectrum, or specifically indicate UVA/UVB protection, so make sure you keep an eye out for those on the label.



Skincare Myth #6:  Mineral Oil Is Good For Your Skin


This is mentioned briefly above, but mineral oil is terrible for your skin and should always be avoided.  Thankfully, mineral oil isn’t included in moisturizers as often as it once was, but I still see it often enough to feel it warranted mentioning in this list.  Mineral oil is a proven comedogenic (i.e. pore-clogging) and unlike plant oils, it offers no benefits to the skin.  However, since we often associate the words “mineral” and “oil” with other healthy, beneficial things (like “mineral water” or “facial oils”) it can be confusing to remember that mineral oil itself is bad for your skin.



Skincare Myth #7:  “I Don’t Have Sensitive Skin”


I’ve always heard friends describe their skin as “sensitive” and just figured that I had lucked out because my skin has never really had any major reaction to anything and I don’t suffer from allergies.  However, in reality, this means that my skin is just a bit better at covering up and internalizing aggravators, and that harmful, sensitizing ingredients are inflicting just as much damage—damage that perhaps will show up as I get older instead of manifesting itself in a rash right now.  Of course, there are skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea where skin is inherently more sensitive, but everyone’s skin is irritated by bad ingredients, regardless of whether you break out in hives or not.  This is why it’s so important to really understand what you’re putting on your skin.



I hope you find this information helpful, but it’s really important to note that you should absolutely always DO YOU.  If you’ve used a foaming cleanser or a mineral oil product for years and are convinced it works for you, then by all means, keep calm and carry on with it.  As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this list is based upon my own research, my consultations with dermatologists and my experience testing products on my own skin.  However, you should definitely make your own mind up about what’s best for you in consultation with your dermatologist.




35 thoughts on “The 7 Most-Shocking Skincare Myths”

  1. Hi Mary, I love your blog but have to take issue with the discussion of SPF. It’s a popular thing to say that SPF over 50 doesn’t matter, but this is only true when you test the percentage of UVB rays blocked in a laboratory setting.

    Blinded randomized controlled studies of the way people actually use sunscreen have shown that higher SPFs do provide significant additional protection. If you are interested, you can read one here in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:

    1. Yes, thanks for sharing! The new study you reference (which was just published in December 2017) was something I looked into at length. Apparently, this study is widely debated in the scientific community right now and many dermatologists are wary of its findings because it contradicts many, many other studies that found anything over SPF 50 (which protects against 98% of UVB rays) to be inconsequential. From what I’ve learned, most dermatologists are waiting for additional studies to corroborate this one before changing what they recommend.

  2. Mackenzie Praytor

    I learned so much in this article! I am trying to amp up my skincare game, and this is a great start. Thanks for taking the time to share your research. Looking forward to the rest of the series! xx

    1. Many facial scrubs are great for the skin, so don’t rule them out altogether! You just want to avoid any that cause noticeable pain or redness — there are better ways to thoroughly exfoliate without doing damage!

  3. Great post Mary! So many influencers rely solely on Instagram for content and no longer produce interesting or high-quality blog content. Thank you for being different! I absolutely love your style (on both Insta and Trove!) but also have such a unique voice, and have one of the most nicely produced corners of the internet in my opinion 🙂

    1. That is so incredibly kind of you. I love instagram, but the blog has always been my primary focus because I feel it’s the place where you can really provide valuable content so I really appreciate you taking the time to read!!

  4. Thank you for mentioning the fact that “organic” and “natural” doesn’t mean “good for you.” People look at me like I’m crazy when I mention that I can’t have facials or buy products with any sort of natural plants (“botanicals”)–the rash is soon coming! My dermatologist always says that it’s not the chemicals in your products, it’s the plants that’ll get you. Probably not true for everyone, but that’s my story. Thanks for your informative post. I read you often, yet rarely comment. Love the blog!

    1. Hi Bonbara

      I too cannot use anything that is botanical because of the plant like substances causing allergies. I also cannot use many SPF products because I’m allergic to titanium dioxide which is in most sunscreen products. Just got to keep out of the sun. Thanks for a great article Mary.

    2. Thank you so much for reading and for your comment! It is SO TRUE. I feel like labeling products “natural” and “organic” are the most prevalent and misleading marketing gimmicks today. Similar to what your dermatologist told you, the dermatologist I interviewed about this topic explained that natural ingredients can be more sensitizing to immune cells because our bodies are designed to recognize organic material. Just like our immune system recognizes and reacts to poison ivy, for example, you are more like to react to natural ingredients than synthetic, pharmaceutical ingredients that are often designed to be more potent and gentler on the skin. Of course, there are droves and droves of natural/organic ingredients that are fantastic, but as I mentioned, simply applying that label doesn’t mean it’s automatically good for you.

  5. Thanks Mary for doing the heavy lifting and research for us! So that we can continue to educate ourselves, are there any trustworthy online resources you relied on that are appropriate to share? And to clarify, is it your understanding that mineral oils are bad, but facial oils are good? I admit that I don’t know the difference! xo JPD

    1. I’ll be sharing more in future posts, but the American Academy of Dermatology is always a great resource. As far as oils–yes, mineral oil (an ingredient in skincare products) is always bad. Facial oil is a category of skincare products that come in many different forms containing all different sorts of ingredients–many of which are fantastic. I’ll be sharing lots of favorite facial oils in future posts, but check out this week’s Monday Memo post for my favorite facial oil by Elemis!

  6. This was an interesting and informative read. Having said that, I still don’t know the best products to use. Finding comparisons online that are not sponsored by one product or another is difficult and many are misleading, can you do a follow up post on the products recommendations by your source?

  7. Great article! I recently switched to a non-foaming cleanser, and it’s a game-changer. I didn’t know about mineral oils; good to know! Lovely website.

    1. I’ll be sharing recommended cleansing products in the coming weeks, but the main takeaway here is to simply avoid any cleansers with “foaming” on the bottle. Now, if a cleanser is not foaming, that’s a good start (and tells us it likely isn’t alkaline!) but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s good. Like all skincare products, some cleansers contain harmful ingredients like sulfates, parabens and a whole host of other sensitizing ingredients. Will share more in posts to come!

  8. Thanks for the info, learned a lot.

    You might want to add hypoallergenic is a marketing term no a medical term. It started with make up, but now I am even hearing it from people with dogs coming at me that they are not a problem even is I am allergic.

  9. Where has this post been all my life?!? The information was so helpful and I love your “no BS” approach. You have such flawless skin, I would love to know what products you use. Do you have any skin care product recommendations?

  10. Excellent post! Thank you so much for your thoughtful research and for sharing your findings with all of us!

    I am looking forward to the next post on this theme and selfishly, I hope that anti-aging is a topic you will cover: I am in my mid-twenties and hoping to add an anti-aging routine, but am completely overwhelmed by the options.

    Love the blog!

  11. Tanks, Mary. My research shows conflicting information about mineral oil; often the myth is that it’s bad for you, so I haven’t made up my mind one way or another. Your statement is very definitive though. What sources are you relying on? I’d like to get on board if it’s as clear cut as all that.

  12. Hi Mary!
    First of all, great post! I’ve been following you for years and must say you have the best style and I love your blog content! In regards to this post, it looks like you’ve done a ton of research behind the science of skin care and I really appreciate you sharing that information with all of us followers. I’m assuming your suggestions for which skin care products to use will be added in time, but I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you something I’ve found recently.
    In my own skin care journey, I’ve recently fell in love with a company called Rodan and Fields. So much so, I became a consultant 2 weeks ago. Dr. Rodan and Dr. Fields are the two Stanford-trained dermatologist who invented Proactive. Last year they became the number one skin care company in North America, with their line of dermatology grade products targeting the most common skin concerns, without having to visit a dermatologist. I couldn’t believe they were the number one skin care company and before recently, I had never heard of them. I’m a nurse in Milwaukee Wisconsin and was introduced to the company by other nurse and doctor friends of mine using Rodan and Fields. In short, these products are simply amazing and have real results. I thought my one good friend had a face lift and just didn’t want to be rude and come right out and ask, “what have you been doing to your face!?”Lo and behold, they were just using Rodan and Fields. I have now been exposed to a entire group of women using these products and been blown away by the company and the results they are producing.
    I’m getting married in August and I finally wanted to commit to a product that would give me clearer and brighter looking skin, and the confidence that comes along with it. So now you’ve heard my story, I wanted to ask if you’re at all interested in trying out these products? I would love to work with you and send some free samples for you to try! They have 4 main regimens but also carry amazing enhancers such as lash boosters, retinal serum, micro needling tool, etc.. The regimens target wrinkles, uneven skin tone, acne, and sensitive skin. Would love the opportunity to work with you , please feel free to to message me with any questions or concerns !
    Thank you for reading,


    Sarah Walton
    Thanks so much for your research-based, informative article! For someone who doesn’t know very much about skin care, I do appreciate this clear information! I am excited to see what is to come!

  14. Great article Mary! Just to clarify on the SPF myth, is a SPF moisturizer excellent if it contains all the ingredients mentioned above (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule, and oxybenzone)? I’m looking forward to future posts, especially if you have recommendations on good daily moisturizers that contain broad-spectrum SPF. Sun protection is my biggest priority when it comes to day moisturizers, and I try to find ones that don’t leave a white film on my face.


    1. And to further clarify (sorry, Monday fog brain!), if a moisturizer contains only one of the above ingredients, does that make it an inferior product? Is it preferable or effective to have all these ingredients included?

  15. After my 30th birthday I decided that I was going to really focus on taking care of my skin and I have been visiting all the popular department stores, Ulta, Sephora, etc. While these places typically sell good makeup products I cannot believe how many “high end” skin care products I have purchased (and returned) that just turned out to be very expensive gimmicks. Everything from a “collagen infused serum” ($75) to an exfoliating gel that makes its users believe that you can visibly see the dead skin coming off when in reality it is just the product itself balling up and giving the illusion of skin ($45). I am so frustrated and never thought that it would be so challenging to find skin care products that are not money snatching hoaxes.

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