A recent study revealed that the average woman uses between 9 and 15 personal skin care products daily. With the average product containing 15-50 different ingredients,
the average woman exposes herself daily to an estimated 515 chemicals through cosmetic use alone.
This article examines the products that you should feel free to ditch if you are worried about being overexposed to chemical ingredients in your skincare routine. Besides the lack of scientific evidence proving any skin health benefits, in some cases, the following products may prove to be harmful to otherwise healthy skin.
Major cosmetic manufacturers go to great lengths to produce safe skincare products. It is the manufacturers’ responsibility to assure the safety of eye creams, anti-aging/anti-wrinkle creams, serums, cleaners, sunscreens, primers, toners, astringents, ampoules of antioxidants, night creams, body lotions, gels, and more, to the tune of $135 billion dollars globally per year.
It is important to understand that harm from any chemical is dependent on the dose of the exposure, not the exposure itself, as every chemical has a dose below which no harm is done. Despite this fact, many consumers still desire to minimize ingredient exposure.
Are these products good for my skin?
The first step is to ask whether a particular skincare product is really necessary. Many skincare products feel good, but have you ever asked yourself, “Are these products good for my skin?”
Scientific studies have clearly shown the health benefits of applying daily sunscreen. With rare exception, skincare experts universally agree that sunscreen should be applied daily, liberally and often.
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In addition, maximizing skin hydration allows the skin to function optimally, and in some cases, even improves skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema. And yes, the overwhelming majority of dermatologists encourage regular moisturizer application. Moisturize and apply sunscreen but make your judgments on the products below.
Exfoliants and scrubs
Skin is the largest organ of the body. It is the protective barrier to germs, viruses, allergens, and ultraviolet light. But its ability to create a barrier to water loss is its most crucial function. The most superficial layer of skin is composed of layers of cells, designed like a brick wall.
Each skin cell is surrounded by a protective waterproofing layer of fat. One can swim in an ocean or a pool for hours; nothing passes into or out of the skin thanks to this fatty layer. Each superficial cell contains sponge-like compounds that help absorb water into the skin from the deeper layers. Basically, the skin moisturizes itself! That’s why the skin on individuals, who never, or rarely moisturize, doesn’t chip and crack and fall onto the sidewalk.
The 15 – 20 skin layers at the very surface of the skin are responsible for maintaining skin hydration. You need them. Although there are several skin procedures that pride themselves on stripping cells at the surface of this necessary layer, and yes, it may temporarily feel good, there is little, if any, scientific evidence that shows removing these layers, and stripping the very cells that maintain the skin’s water barrier, is healthy. Also note, inflammation from exfoliants and scrubs can cause pigmentary changes in the skin and may even leave the skin more vulnerable to infection.
If you have healthy skin, forget the exfoliants and scrubs. Yes, they remove a few dead cells, some dirt, and a bit of oil, but they also remove the necessary proteins and lipids that the skin needs to maintain hydration. For individuals with oily skin or for those who are acne prone, see a dermatologist.
The most commonly expressed purpose of a primer is to prepare the facial skin for foundation and makeup. Some women apply primers after the moisturizer while others apply them before. There are no specific ingredients in primers that aren’t found in facial moisturizers. Your face is not a wall preparing for paint, you don’t need a primer. A well-formulated moisturizer will do.
Toner, the skincare product that is as varied in the formulation as is the list of their alleged benefits. The benefits touted by health and beauty magazines for toners are endless.
Toners supposedly do all of these things:
- shrink pores (note: like the length of your arm, pore size does not change),
- remove dust, pollen, and pollution,
- soothe and calm,
- balance the skin’s pH,
- stimulate blood circulation,
- function as an antibacterial,
- clear blemishes,
- and more.
Toners can be sprayed on, dabbed on, applied with gauze or a washcloth, or with the fingers. Some are used with water, some without. They come without alcohol, these claim to “refresh.” They come with a little alcohol (up to 20%), also known as tonics, not to be confused with the traditional quinine containing a carbonated beverage. And they can be formulated with a high percentage of alcohol (20-60%) also called an astringent or drying agent, which may cause redness, irritation, or burning to individuals with sensitive or normal skin.
Want to cleanse your skin? Use a mild cleanser.
Want to hydrate your skin? Apply a well-formulated moisturizer.
Skip the toner!
A “night” cream is a moisturizer without sunscreen. Yes, it is often (but not always) thicker, found in a smaller jar, and more expensive per ounce than a conventional facial moisturizer.
Night creams sold on skincare aisles are formulated just like other facial moisturizers. They have the following characteristics:
- contain humectants to pull water into the most superficial layer of skin,
- occlusives to prevent water from evaporating into the environment,
- emulsifiers to keep the water and oily components from separating,
- preservatives to keep the formulation from becoming contaminated with mold and bacteria, and
- frequently contain fragrance.
There is a common myth the “skin rejuvenates at night.” Research at the cellular level suggests that a possible “circadian rhythm” of skin STEM cells may exist. But cells in the superficial layer of skin continuously divide and turnover 24/7. When the alarm clock rings at 7:00 am, skin cells don’t stop replicating!
Save your hard earned cash. Skip the night cream and apply an affordable well-formulated moisturizer instead.
You can find more stories about dermatology and skincare HERE:
Fayne Frey, MD
Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products.
She is a frequent speaker in many venues where she captivates audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post. and has also shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets.
Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles.
Dr. Frey is a graduate of the Weill Cornell Medical College and is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.