Passed down through the years, followed with conviction, and accepted as the gospel truth, beauty myths may sound like facts. But here’s the real story.
If you pluck a gray hair, 10 more will grow back in its place. Chances are, you’ve not only heard that beauty myth but also pondered it and even repeated it to a friend. This and other old wives’ tales have been passed from generation to generation, and while many don’t have much foundation, there are some that do. “Beauty myths often have an iota of truth in them,” says Heather Woolery-Lloyd, a dermatologist in Miami. Real Simple collected 18 beauty beliefs that have been shared between mothers and daughters, sisters, and friends, and then had top experts weigh in on the merit of each. Here, the ones worth trying and the ones worth retiring.
Wearing nail polish all the time will make your nails turn yellow.
True, but you can wear enamel all you like and still avoid discoloration. Nails are porous, and they absorb the pigment in polishes. “Darker colors, especially reds, have more pigment, so they often stain your nails,” says Maria Salandra, the owner of Finger Fitness, in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. The solution: Before applying polish, paint on a clear base, such as Essie First Base Base Coat ($8, 800-232-1155), to prevent nails from absorbing pigment.
Preparation H deflates puffiness.
This is a secret of makeup artists everywhere, and there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this hemorrhoid cream can reduce undereye baggage, but no clinical studies have been done. One of the product’s ingredients, a yeast derivative that is said to reduce puffiness, is no longer found in the version that’s available in the States. (The cream was reformulated in 1994. The original formula is still available in Canada.) The other ingredient that is credited with reducing inflammation is phenylephrine, which temporarily constricts blood vessels. Nevertheless, using Preparation H around the eyes can cause dry and inflamed skin, says McBurney, so use this only where it’s meant to be used, south of the belt line.
Putting Vaseline on your face nightly will prevent wrinkles.
Marilyn Monroe allegedly slathered the thick salve on religiously to stay youthful-looking, but that doesn’t mean you should. “Petroleum jelly is the strongest moisturizer there is because it forces oils into the skin and prevents them from evaporating,” says Paul Jarrod Frank, a dermatologist in New York City. As the skin ages, it loses its ability to retain moisture, and skin that’s dry looks older. “Petrolatum can make wrinkles less apparent because it’s adding moisture to the skin, which softens lines, but it can’t actually prevent aging,” Pinski says. Only a cream with a proven active ingredient, such as retinol, can stave off wrinkles. Plus, petrolatum is so greasy that it can create other problems, including breakouts.
Applying cocoa butter-or olive oil-will stop stretch marks.
Sadly, this isn’t true. Stretch marks occur when skin expands quickly (as in pregnancy), breaking the collagen and elastin fibers that normally support it. Or they’re simply luck of the genetic draw. “Stretch marks are formed below the top layer of skin, where the cocoa butter and olive oil can’t reach,” says McBurney. The most either can do is quell the itching that occurs when skin expands.
Tanning or dotting on toothpaste can help get ride of pimples.
True to both, but don’t run for the tanning booth or apply a Colgate face mask. “A particular wavelength of light has been shown to stimulate porphyrin, a chemical that eradicates the bacteria that cause acne,” says Pinski. But while some sun exposure may help pimples get better temporarily, you can experience a rebound effect. “If the skin gets dry and damaged from the sun, your body’s response is to produce oil,” says Frank. Plus, sun exposure can lead to bigger problems, such as premature aging and skin cancer.
As for toothpaste, it often contains menthol, which can help dry out a pimple. But other common toothpaste ingredients can irritate the skin. And there are much better over-the-counter options than toothpaste, such as Clinique Acne Solutions Emergency Gel Lotion ($13.50, www.clinique.com). If, however, you’re on a reality-TV survival show and all you have is a tube of the white stuff, a couple of million viewers, and a blemish, a dab on your dot will do.
You can get rid of cellulite.
Ah, if only. And for what it’s worth, it’s not for lack of women’s trying. “This remains one of the holy grails of cosmetic dermatology,” says Timothy Flynn, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. The truth is, nothing can be done to permanently eliminate it – not even liposuction. Cellulite consists of fat deposits that get trapped between the fibrous bands that connect the skin’s tissues. The bands squeeze the fat under the skin, resulting in a lumpy texture. Luck of the gene pool mostly determines who will and won’t get cellulite. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fat or thin, rich or poor, famous or just plain folks. You can, however, temporarily reduce its orange peel-like appearance. Firming creams often contain caffeine to tighten and smooth the skin. But a basic moisturizer will also work to hydrate and swell the skin, making cellulite a little less obvious. Or try using a self-tanner. “A fake tan will help camouflage it,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, a dermatologist and a codirector of laser surgery at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, in Washington, D.C.
Brushing your hair 100 strokes a day will make it shine.
Marcia Brady, it turns out, was overzealous in her beauty routine. “One hundred strokes is too much,” says Christopher Mackin, a trichologist (someone who studies hair) at the Gil Ferrer Salon, in New York City. “You’ll do more damage than good.” Hair will break if you tug on it too much. However, gentle brushing – a few strokes here and there – will make hair shine by distributing the natural oils from the scalp down the hair shafts and flattening the cuticles to make them reflect more light. More significant, light brushing removes impurities and stimulates blood flow to the scalp, which nourishes hair follicles and keeps them healthy.
Applying mayonnaise to your hair will make it glossier.
Confirmed. Mayo is made with an oil base, and it makes hair shine. But to avoid a mess, try this method: Apply a cup of mayonnaise mixed with a teaspoon of vanilla extract (to cut the mayonnaise scent) to dry, unwashed hair. Cover your head with a warm towel to help the mayonnaise penetrate, and leave it on for 20 minutes. Before you step into the shower, apply a heaping handful of shampoo to your hair. Don’t add any water yet; just massage it in thoroughly for several minutes. That will help break down the excess oil, says Berkovitz. Rinse with cool water in the shower and your hair will come out shiny and silky.
If the idea of putting a condiment in your hair makes you queasy, try a rich glossing treatment, such as Phytonectar Ultra-Nourishing Oil Treatment ($26, 800-557-4986 for store locations), which contains egg and rich oils, the basic ingredients in mayonnaise.
For the truth behind other beauty myths, check out the February issue of Real Simple magazine, on newsstands now.