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Most of us have discovered a favorite moisturizer or learned a new makeup removal trick from social media at some point. And there’s nothing wrong with that: These platforms have given a broader audience access to experts and trusted product reviewers, arguably making skin-care information more widely available than ever before. But along with the nuggets of legit info and genuinely helpful, safe and effective tips, the short-form videos, click-bait transformation posts and infographics that abound on Instagram and TikTok have also given rise to an onslaught of misinformation.
Certain beauty myths seem to really take off on social media, whether that be because of fear-mongering tactics, extremely convincing edits or simply repetition of incorrect, misleading or skewed information. After all, there’s no fact-checker filtering through all of the content flooding your feed.
That’s why we turned to actual experts — dermatologists! — who have not only gone through years of training, but also rely on the latest scientific studies and actual facts to do their jobs every single day. Ahead, nine different board-certified derms share the TikTok and Instagram beauty myths, “tips” and misconceptions they truly wish we’d all ignore. Allow them to set the record straight (and save you from ever being tempted to scrub your face with coffee grounds — yikes).
Myth: Silicones — often found in makeup primer, foundation, moisturizer, sunscreen and hair products for their smoothing textural properties and also because they’re emollient and may promote softness and smoothness in skin and hair — ‘block’ pores and cause acne.
Truth: “Many ‘oil-free’ moisturizers are based on silicones and are very safe to use, even in acne-prone skin. A peer-reviewed study of silicones versus other ingredients [looking at] 52 moisturizers studied for comedogenicity, finding that dimethicone [a type of silicone] ‘is suitable for acne and sensitive patients as it is noncomedogenic and hypoallergenic.’ Silicones are also very good at guaranteeing even spread of product, and we believe them to be essential in sunscreen application.” — Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, Miami-based board certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care
Myth: You can contour or highlight with sunscreen (a notion popularized in particular by Gwyneth Paltrow in a video chronicling her beauty routine for Vogue.)
Truth: “Contouring or highlighting with sunscreen is a bad idea because you need properly applied SPF protection for all of the skin. Most people only apply 25 to 50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen. The guidelines are to apply one ounce — that’s enough to fill a shot glass — to the exposed areas of the face and body, and a nickel-sized dollop to the face alone. If you’re using a spray, apply until an even sheen appears on the skin. That’s the amount you need to apply to get the advertised SPF. And this should be applied evenly to the whole surface. Remember that there’s no such thing as a healthy tan — a tan is a defense mechanism that kicks in when your DNA is getting damaged.” —Dr. Hadley King, New York City-based board certified dermatologist at Day Dermatology & Aesthetics and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Myth: Drastic, overnight results happen after using a product one time.
Truth: “You’re unlikely to see benefits from any skin-care product before three weeks of use, but many can take up to six weeks of consistent use to see results. These TikToks go viral because we’re all looking for a fast solution, but it’s just not reality. Slow and steady will always be the answer for skin care — and some outcomes will take procedures to achieve.” —Dr. Elyse Love, New York City-based board certified dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology and GlamDerm Gramercy
Myth: Natural skin-care is ‘better.’
Truth: “Many brands are using marketing terms like ‘clean,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘chemical-free.’ These terms usually refer to products that are free of parabens, fragrances, sulfates, phthalates and dyes. However, there’s no FDA-regulated definition for any of these terms, and ‘clean’ for one brand they look very different than ‘clean’ for another. In fact, the term ‘organic’ is only defined by the USDA as it refers to crops. Most products contain botanical ingredients that one would hope would be responsibly sourced. In reality, these products are not necessarily any more effective or any safer than traditional skin care. All skin-care products contain chemicals — even water is a chemical. The next time you’re considering purchasing a product because it’s ‘all-natural,’ remember that poison ivy is all-natural as well, but certainly not something you want to get close to.” —Dr. Joshua Zeichner, New York City-based board certified dermatologist and Associate Professor of Dermatology and the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital
Myth: Coffee grounds make a good face scrub.
Truth: “While it may be okay to use a DIY home coffee scrub on your legs to help remove self tanner, you do not want to do this to your face, even if you combine them with safe facial oils. The coffee grounds are too large and can cause microtears in the skin. This can not only exacerbate a pre-existing condition like acne or rosacea, but it leaves your skin vulnerable for infections and even staph.” —Dr. Dendy Engelman, New York City-based board certified dermatologist at Shafer Plastic Surgery
Editor’s Note: Regular exfoliation is a helpful way to keep skin looking glow-y and feeling smooth, but it’s crucial that this step is done gently, especially when it comes to the more delicate, irritation-prone skin on the face and neck. For more on the risks associated with physical exfoliation (aka relying on a scrub or tool to manually slough skin), as well as less harsh chemical and enzyme-based alternative exfoliators, read Fashionista’s full explainer.
Myth: It’s a good idea to self-diagnose and treat skin issues at home.
Truth: “Skin, skin care and treatment is very nuanced. I think it’s fair to try few things over the counter — like, for example, using drugstore acne treatments — but if things are not improving or worsening, see a dermatologist.” —Dr. Jenny Liu, Minneapolis-based board certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School
Myth: Sunscreen blocks vitamin D production.
Truth: “Concerns about vitamin D should not stop you from protecting yourself against skin cancer. Studies have shown that in real-life settings, UVB [rays] still penetrate anywhere from 2 to 7% when sunscreen is used to its best potential. When applying the adequate amount of sunscreen, you still have enough exposure to produce copious amounts of vitamin D. Plus, in real life settings, most people don’t even use the correct amount of sunscreen, so it’s an overblown concern.” —Dr. Shereene Idriss, New York City-based board certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology
Myth: Hair growth products can work in a few days.
Truth: “Scientifically, it would take healthy hair to grow half an inch a month, but you have misleading ads all over social media peddling products that supposedly grow hair in three days to a week. People who buy these products are definitely not going to see any realistic improvement in their condition and are being exploited because this is just not possible. People are looking for fast results and so claims like this are pervasive online.” —Dr. Adeline Kikam, Texas-based board certified dermatologist
Myth: All fragrance in skin-care is bad.
Truth: “People on social media say fragrance is horrible and likely to cause allergies and rashes. But fragrance allergies in recent studies were found to impact only 2 to 4% of the population. Other people can choose to use them as a matter of personal preference.” —Dr. Ranella Hirsch, Boston-based board certified dermatologist and co-founder of Atolla skin care