Maybe you’re the kind of person who only pays attention to their skin when something goes wrong (“Where did that pimple come from?!”), or maybe you’re the kind of person with an entire cabinet full of skincare products for cleansing, moisturizing, toning, lifting, zapping, and tightening.
Regardless of where you fall on the skincare spectrum, there’s a good chance you’re falling for some common and stubborn myths about skin health.
MYTH: Shaving hair makes it multiply and grow back coarser.
We weren’t kidding when we said “stubborn.” This myth was scientifically disproven way back in 1928, according to Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia—yet you still hear mothers warn their daughters that their leg hair will start growing back darker and coarser once they start shaving.
For starters, you can’t grow more hair strands. “We were born with a certain number of hair follicles on our body. We do not get more,” says Dr. Ilyas.
As for the coarseness, this is merely an illusion based on how hair grows. Hair traditionally ends with a fine and tapered point, which is what gives unshaved hair that “peach fuzz” appearance. The longer the hair, the wider the barrel of the hair at the base, like a blade of grass, according to Dr. Ilyum.
Now imagine your razor trimming these hairs near the base. “If these hairs are cut, then the fine, tapered end is no longer there and it will appear coarser,” says Dr. Ilyum. (By contrast, waxing or plucking removes the entire hair from the follicle, so a new hair will grow in with a tapered end.)
MYTH: Eczema and psoriasis are contagious.
Not only is this myth 100 percent incorrect, but it increases the stigma against them. “This myth keeps children unnecessarily out of school, makes people self-conscious about their skin, and leads to depression and reduced quality of life for those who suffer from the conditions,” says Laura McGevna, MD, dermatologist in Burlington, VT.
Eczema is a category of skin problems that create symptoms like dry, itchy skin, or rashes with tiny red bumps. Psoriasis is a condition that causes patches of thick, red skin (known as plaques) that may have a scale-like appearance. Like eczema, these patches may be itchy and uncomfortable.
Either way, one thing is certain: “These are immune-mediated diseases that have zero potential to spread from one person to another,” says Dr. McGevna.
MYTH: Scrubbing skin helps clear away acne.
We often see patients using numerous abrasive cleansers on their skin. Scrubbing acne, either with a rough cleanser or a mechanical brush, is the opposite of what we recommend,” says Juliya Fisher, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at JUVA Skin and Laser Center in New York City.
Acne is an inflammatory condition, so scrubbing can cause flaring by creating micro-tears in the skin, allowing bacteria to get in. “Instead, we typically recommend a mild cream or foaming cleanser, depending on your skin type,” says Dr. Fisher.
Here are more innocent habits that may make your acne worse.
MYTH: All acne treatments dry out the skin.
Have acne *and* dry skin? You already know that many typical acne treatments (those containing benzoyl peroxide) can dry out the skin further, which may make your acne even worse.
But don’t give up hope: “A good acne treatment routine can be effective without over-drying the skin,” says Yoram Harth, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of MDacne. “The new types of benzoyl peroxide medications are based on a micronized version of the compound to increase efficacy while reducing irritation.”
Dr. Harth also recommends applying the acne cream to the entire affected areas (such as the entire face) as opposed to applying it only to individual breakouts. This helps control and prevent future pimples.
MYTH: People of color can’t get skin cancer.
Okay, it’s true that skin cancer more commonly targets light skin tones. Pale skin tones have less melanin (the thing that gives your skin its color), which makes the skin more vulnerable to the danger of UV rays. However, believing you are completely safe from skin cancer because you are blessed with lots of melanin could put you in great danger.
“People of color are often diagnosed [with skin cancer] later with a poorer prognosis because either the patient or their doctor is simply not thinking about skin cancer,” says Dr. Ilyas, who also notes that skin cancer among people of color is on the rise. “We need to extend the same education of sun-safe behaviors and the red flags when it comes to early skin cancer detection.”
Here are more sun protection myths you should know about.
MYTH: Heal wounds by letting them “dry out.”
If you’ve been bamboozled by this myth, don’t feel bad: It was not that long ago that major organizations were recommending this method. However, health experts now know better.
“Studies clearly show that wounds heal best when they are kept moist,” says Robin Evans, MD, board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Stamford, CT, and clinical instructor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
“The best wound care is applying a topical ointment—possibly an antibiotic—and covering the site with a bandage until the wound has healed,” says Dr. Evans. A healed wound means new, healthy skin has covered the open wound or any scabs have fallen off. (And we know you already know this, but do *not* pick the scabs, which will delay healing.) Learn more about how to treat a cut here.
If you’re not making any of these mistakes but still struggling with your skincare routine, talk to a derm for advice that’s just right for you and your skin.
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Acne: diagnosis and treatment. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on November 29, 2021 at https://www.aad.org/acne-treatment.)
Acne: tips for managing. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on November 29, 2021 at https://www.aad.org/self-care.)
Atopic dermatitis: causes. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on November 29, 2021 at https://www.aad.org/diseases/eczema/atopic-dermatitis-causes.)
Eczema. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on November 29, 2021 at https://medlineplus.gov/eczema.html.)
Proper wound care: how to minimize a scar. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on November 29, 2021 at https://www.aad.org/injured-skin/wound-care-minimize-scars.)
Psoriasis. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on November 29, 2021 at https://medlineplus.gov/psoriasis.html.)
Skin cancer in people of color. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on November 29, 2021 at https://www.aad.org/diseases/skin-cancer/skin-cancer-people-of-color.)
Vreeman RC. Medical myths. MBJ. 2007;335:1288.
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