We all know that one person. You know, the one who hardly ever washes her face, eats crappy food, doesn’t drink water, doesn’t wear sunscreen…but still seems to have perfect skin. How can that be? Well, genetics do play a role, and it’s certainly possible that that person’s “skincare sins” will ultimately catch up to them. But today I’m here to talk about the most common skincare sins I’ve encountered in my many years in practice. Some of them may surprise you, since the skincare industry itself (even the “green” and “clean” side of it) promotes some of these as GOOD skincare practices (in order to sell you more products).
Well I’m not here to sell you skincare products–my focus is on education, whether the skincare industry likes it or not. Give these a read and let me know what you think!
Here are my top 12 “skincare sins” to avoid
Ever wonder why skincare companies tell you to wash your face twice a day ‘til it’s squeaky clean? It’s because they want you to keep buying new cleansers month after month! However, most people’s skin is NOT as dirty as they think it is. While it is important to remove makeup daily and wash after a workout; at the end of the day, it’s important to not overdo it, and to use gentle products.
Soaps and most of the foaming agents (surfactants) in facial cleansers are too harsh and alkaline for the skin. They also strip away the skin’s natural oils, which the skin needs to help it perform its many important functions. Overcleansing is also one of the worst skincare sins because it damages the skin’s microbiome, which is so important for our skin’s part in immune function. Opt for gentler oil-based or lotion cleansers instead of the harsh foamy stuff! It IS possible to have clean skin without it being squeaky clean or that dry, tight feeling.
2. Only using oils for skincare
Facial oil cleansers, oil-based serums, and balms are very on trend these days–and with good reason! They are nutrient-rich, provide a ton of benefits to every skin type, and most of them do not require preservatives.
However relying only on oils is one of our skincare sins, because doing so can actually dry out your skin, because oils do not hydrate! While they can help seal in moisture that’s already there, oils, butters, and balms themselves are anhydrous in nature. This means that they do not contain any water or humectants, so therefore, they cannot hydrate the skin (anytime you see a brand claim that their oils are hydrating, that is misinformation!).
Healthy, balanced skin requires both water AND oil. So make sure you’re using products that contain both water and oil in your regimen.
3. Using preservative-free products that contain water
“Free from” claims are a big cosmetic labeling trend these days, as so many people want safer products. However, a product that contains water and is labeled as preservative-free is a huge red flag.
The truth is that any product that contains water or ingredients made of water (for example, hydrosols, aloe vera gel, herbal infusions) MUST contain a preservative in order to prevent microbial contamination and be safe. If a water-containing product claims to be preservative-free, it is either not safe, or it is mislabeled (another big red flag).
You can’t always see or smell microbial contamination in a product, and using a contaminated product can cause infection or worse. Not all preservatives are bad, and water-containing preservatives must contain them. By the way, I teach you how to effectively preserve and test professional herbal skincare products in my online Create Your Skincare Pro training. Check it out here.
4. Using skincare products with synthetic fragrances
One of the biggest skincare sins is using products made with synthetic fragrances–and it’s hard, because they can be hard to spot, since labeling laws don’t require cosmetic manufacturers to disclose exactly what kind of scents they use in their products.
Synthetic fragrances (labeled as “fragrance,” “parfum,” or even “natural fragrance”) are the #1 cause of skin, eye, and respiratory irritant and allergic reactions–breakouts, rashes, dermatitis, or even worse. And the scariest part is that you will never know what is in the fragrance!
The FDA does not currently require companies to disclose what’s in a fragrance due to trade secret laws, and the truth is that they may contain over 1000 individual fragrance compounds, many of which are known allergens, toxicants, and even carcinogens.
Instead, opt for products that are scented with essential oils, CO2 extracts, or botanical extracts, which will be identified on a product label by its Latin botanical name. You can also look for the words “fragrance-free” on the label, if you would prefer a product with no ingredients at all added for scent. Did you know? Even “unscented” can be a fragrance!
5. Using skincare products with overly long ingredient lists
Many skincare formulators and brands like to create elaborate formulations with complex blends of performance ingredients, essential oils, botanical extracts, etc. They do this to give the impression that it’s a higher quality product, and also to prevent copycats–but they don’t necessarily do it because it makes the product more effective.
This ‘more is more’ attitude toward skincare ingredients–both natural and synthetic–can do more harm than good, which is why it’s on our list of skincare sins. With skin sensitivities and allergies on the rise, it’s important that whatever you put on your skin soothes and supports it and doesn’t make matters worse.
Anyone can be allergic or sensitive to any ingredient–natural or synthetic–(though the majority of skin allergies and reactions happen from synthetic ingredients), so the more ingredients are in a product, the more chances there are for potential reactions. And there’s a good chance that you won’t even know what you’re allergic to! Look for skincare products with simple formulations and shorter ingredient lists, especially if you have a chronic skin condition or very sensitive skin. If you need help, I offer consultations for that.
6. Relying on coconut oil for all your skin’s needs
Though coconut oil has achieved notoriety as a skin panacea, the truth is that more people react to it than benefit from it. Coconut oil is notorious for contributing to clogged pores and breakouts, and can actually make dry, irritated skin drier and more irritated due to its higher than ideal pH and strong drawing properties.
In addition, its powerful antimicrobial properties can cause the skin’s microbiome to become unbalanced, which could actually make it more susceptible to inflammation and infection.
Some people tolerate different types of coconut oil better than others (ex. virgin vs fractionated), and some people do just fine with it for body care products, but not for facial skincare products. But if you’re one of the many people who got all excited to try a new clean facial beauty product but wound up with clogged pores, breakouts, or irritation–you are not alone.
7. Using lemon juice to brighten dark spots
Lemon juice is one of the oldest home remedies for brightening freckles and dark spots, and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Though it’s high in Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) which is an antioxidant, and citric acid (an alpha hydroxy acid commonly used in skincare products), lemon juice is highly acidic and can cause inflammation, irritation, and compromise the skin’s barrier function. It may also make the skin more susceptible to sun damage. This potentially leads to more dark spots, fine lines, and other signs of premature skin aging.
8. Using baking soda paste for blemishes and dark spots
Baking soda is a common DIY spot treatment for acne and dark spots. It is also used for at-home exfoliation treatments and hair washes. However, baking soda is one of our skincare sins because it is far too alkaline for the skin.
The skin is slightly acidic (its pH range is 4.5-5.5), which is necessary to keep pathogens away and support a healthy skin microbiome. Baking soda paste has a pH ranging from 9 to 11, depending on how much water is added. Applying something this alkaline to the skin directly or even diluted on a regular basis can cause inflammation (it can actually cause chemical burns when applied directly) and over-exfoliation, which compromises the skin’s barrier function and make the skin more habitable for pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
9. Using raw apple cider vinegar topically at full strength
Raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a common DIY remedy for acne, fungal infections, and even hyperpigmentation. However, using it at full strength is highly skin irritating and could cause inflammation and burns even after just one use since it is so acidic.
It’s so strong that it makes an effective remedy for burning off skin tags and warts, but continued use at full strength can cause chemical burns and permanent skin damage to surrounding tissue.
It can be used on the skin in low percentages but never at more than a 20% concentration.
10. Using crushed up vitamins for DIY skincare
Since most skincare products contain vitamins like C, E, and other antioxidants, many people think that crushing up the supplement versions of these and mixing them into a skincare product or spot treatment will carry the same benefits. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
Since dietary supplements are meant to be ingested, digested, and metabolized, they are formulated in a way that’s appropriate for those processes rather than for topical use. Most vitamins remain intact when in pill or powdered form but become highly unstable and oxidize when mixed with water or other ingredients. So they actually cause free radical damage to the skin, which is the opposite of what they’re intended to do.
Applying crushed-up vitamins to the skin can quickly irritate and even burn the skin. In some cases, damage can occur faster than the person is able to remove it from the skin. Only formulate using cosmetic grade vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
11. Using essential oils “neat” or full strength on the skin
Though essential oils come from plants, they do not have the same effect that an infusion or extract of the plant has on the body. They are far more concentrated and contain volatile compounds.
Using essential oils undiluted (AKA ‘neat’) can cause damage not just to the skin but also to your health since they absorb into the bloodstream so quickly. Most essential oils should not be used at more than 2% concentration (especially on the face), or permanent sensitization can occur, but it’s important to understand the chemistry of the oils you are using since some of the more common ones (like lavender, for example) can be skin corrosive at even that low percentage. I recommend Robert Tisserand’s Essential Oil Safety* textbook for more information about using essential oils safely, and what the dermal limits are of most oils.
When you see essential oil companies advising people to use their oils “neat,” it’s because they are trying to sell you more oils–and this is dangerous, because improper usage can cause permanent harm.
12. Not practicing sun safety
This is probably the only item on our list of deadly skincare sins that could actually BE deadly–because skin cancer risk is real. While many would advise you to just rely on sunscreen alone, the truth is that there are other things you can do to protect your skin from the sun–and also still get the health benefits that our bodies can only get FROM the sun. Proper application of a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based sunscreen when out during peak sun hours is key (a shot glass’ worth of product for the average-sized adult, reapplied at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, and reapplied every 2 hours or after swimming or excessive sweating).
However, other measures, such as wearing sun-protective/UPF clothing and wide-brim hats, as well as taking frequent shade breaks throughout the day, are also important. Not only will this help save your skin from the woes of visually pre-mature signs of aging (wrinkles, rough, leathery skin texture, hyperpigmentation), but it can also help save your life by preventing skin cancer. Learn more about how to protect your skin from the sun here and here.
So, what’s the verdict? Were any of these 12 deadly skincare sins surprising to you?
I hope this article inspires you to take a look at your own skincare routine and see where you could make some positive changes. Even small tweaks can have a big impact over time. Comment below and let me know which of these skincare sins were new to you–or even which one(s) you’re guilty of committing! This is a no-judgment zone. We can chat about it further!