Skin may be our largest organ, but it doesn’t always get the appreciation it deserves.
“People don’t understand how powerful the skin is,” says Dr. Doris Day, a New York aesthetic dermatologist who treats A-list celebrities. “They think it’s all vanity. Skin is a very important reflection of your overall health and well-being.
“Your skin has an important role in keeping you healthy, with temperature control and water balance,” she said. "It's a really important organ."
So be sure to care for it the right way. To help distinguish fact from fiction, we turned to the experts to address all sorts of myths and misconceptions about the skin we’re in.
1. You need to detox your skin
“That’s a spa term,” Day says, adding that the skin has everything it needs to take care of itself. “The best way to support it is to keep it hydrated, use sun protection, don’t stress it,” she says.
2. Drinking enough water will hydrate your skin
Celebrities like Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian swear by water's curative powers for the skin. While hydration is good for the body — even though you don't have to worry about the "8 glasses a day rule — drinking lots of water really isn't helping your skin look dewy and glowing. Dry skin is best treated at the surface with a daily moisturizer, said Dr. Amy Derick, a dermatologist in suburban Chicago.
Healing ingredients like aloe vera and products with calming oils like lavender, chammomile and calendula can help protect skin against dry winter weather.
Speaking of water, a daily shower may be bad for your skin. Dermatologists recommend a technique called 'soak and smear."
3. Don’t use retinoid products like Retin-A if you’ll be in the sun because you will burn
The products used for wrinkles and acne can be used year-round and should be applied at night because the sun may inactivate them, Day says. Be sure to wear sunscreen by day.
4. Only teenagers get acne
Some people don’t get acne until after the teen years. Adult acne tends to show up on the lower face and neck, Day says.
5. Dirt causes acne
Some people wash their face three or four times a day or use abrasive cleansers, thinking that will clear up acne, says Dr. Lauren Ploch, a dermatologist in New Orleans.
Acne is often related to hormones, and harsh cleansers can irritate the skin and make acne worse in the long run.
6. You only need sunscreen when the sun is shining
“People think if it’s not sunny, you can’t burn,” Day says. “The reality is, I see the worst sunburns on cloudy days.”
When clouds dot the sky, people don’t always apply sunscreen because they don’t feel as hot and end up spending more time in the sun without protection.
“The clouds only block about 20 percent of UV rays, so the UV rays are going right through the clouds,” she said. “You need sunscreen every day, all year round.”
Experts say that one ounce of sunscreen, or about the amount to fill a shot glass, is enough for a full-body application. Day says people are likely getting one-third to one-quarter of the SPF on the bottle because they don’t use enough.
Her advice: Use the highest SPF you’re comfortable with, slather it on, and perhaps follow her lead of applying a layer, letting it dry, and adding a second layer to any skin that will be exposed.
Use makeup that contains protection and remember that it will wear off by lunchtime, so if you’re going out, reapply with a powder sunscreen. “The powder is fantastic,” Day said. “I’ve never burned with it on.”
7. People with darker skin do not need to wear sunscreen
In fact, sun protection is recommended for everyone.
“People of color are less likely to get skin cancer but they do get skin cancer,” Derick said.
Sunscreen will protect against cancer as well as wrinkles and brown spots. “Your complexion will look better if you protect yourself,” she said.
8. If you’re taking a sun-protection pill like Heliocare, you don’t need to wear sunscreen
Derick says that while the pills decrease inflammation, making you less likely to see the damaging effects of the sun, you’re still getting the sun exposure and need protection.
9. A base tan will help protect you against sun damage.
“There’s nothing healthy about getting a base tan before going out in the sun,” Derick says. “All UV light causes skin damage. You might not burn as quickly, but you’re still able to accumulate UV damage when you’re in the sun.”
10. Over-the-counter anti-aging creams can combat wrinkles as well as injectable treatments like fillers or Botox
“Patients are often disappointed from those creams because they expect Botox-level results,” Derick says.
But when it comes to wrinkles, say, between the eyebrows, they will persist because the muscle contracts and folds the skin every time you frown or make a facial expression. Creams can help a little bit, but won’t stop the muscle contraction like Botox will, she said.
Creams “may help with surface issues like tone and texture but for a deep wrinkle, no cream is going to help with that,” Derick says.
And speaking of creams, is a high price tag for skin care products always worth it?
“There are some products that stand out in a crowd and are worth more money,” Day says. “It’s not most of the products I see.”
The good news: There’s no shame in hitting the drug store. “There are great things there,” says Day, who urges people to stick to large, well-known brands. “I’m a big drug-store girl.”
11. Finally, a "myth" that actually has a little bit of truth to it: Your skin gets "bored" with products, so you need to change what you use on your face from time to time.
"Sometimes you can adapt to a product and it can lose efficacy," says Day. "It's not terrible to rotate things or take a break once in awhile."
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.