Beauty Myth Busters

Experts set the record straight on seven common misconceptions.
By Holly Richmond

More than likely you know that chocolate and French fries don’t cause acne, but did you get the surprising news that oil cures oily skin, that popping pimples won’t make them go away, and that concealers make you look younger? Neither did we. That’s why we rounded up a bevy of beauty experts to debunk common misconceptions and offer natural solutions in their stead.

MYTH #1: Shampoo daily for healthy hair.
A recent study conducted by the Hair Sciences Center of Colorado, a research and surgical hair restoration clinic, revealed that more than 65 percent of those surveyed considered people with “good hair” to be more successful, while 46 percent believed that people with “good hair” are smarter.

The secret to luxurious locks? Give up your daily suds. “Shampooing opens the hair cuticle and removes oil, and if done too often can strip moisture,” says Clay Patane, owner of the Loft Hair Lounge, a Los Angeles salon featuring organic products. “The body’s natural oils need to have a chance to move from the scalp to the hair ends to create sheen and fullness.” For most people, shampooing three times a week is adequate.

If you simply must shampoo daily, Patane recommends a quick, warm-water rinse rather than lathering up or using only an extremely mild, moisturizing shampoo. Patane adds, “People with dry or colored hair, which is more porous, will be amazed at how much better their hair looks two days or even three days after they’ve shampooed.” On off days, a lightweight, moisturizing styling aid can help create a polished, nongreasy look.

When choosing a gentle shampoo and styling aid, look for key ingredients like lemongrass oils, ginkgo biloba, soy protein, and vitamins A, E, and B—all of which nourish the root to promote growth as well moisturize the hair.

OUR PICKS: Giovanni Smooth As Silk Shampoo features a gentle, nondrying conditioning blend of essential oils and phytonutrients that is ideal for dry or color-treated hair ($7.95, 8.5 oz; www.giovannicosmetics.com).

MYTH #2: Oil not your oily skin.
It seems completely counterintuitive, but oil is no foe of oily skin—it is, in fact, a necessity. According to ayurveda, many people with oily skin actually suffer from dehydrated skin as well. The key to clear skin? Separating the good oils from the bad to restore balance for a glowing—not greasy—complexion.

People with oily skin often try to wash away excess oil with harsh cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide. This may remove the unwanted excess oil, called sebum, but it also strips away beneficial oils, namely the lipids that promote healthy, well-hydrated skin. Once these are gone and the skin dries out, a backlash begins as the skin overcompensates by producing even more sebum.

So as scary as it may sound, women with oily skin should reach for products that contain naturally derived, lightweight, and noncomedogenic (won’t clog pores) oils. Apricot kernel oil, safflower oil, and sweet almond oil regulate sebum production while kukui nut (from the candlenut tree, which has seeds rich in oil) and macadamia oils help protect lipids.

OUR PICKS: Dr. Hauschka Normalizing Day Oil for oily or blemished skin. It contains therapeutic botanicals like calendula, sweet almond, and carrot extract, which contain anti-inflammatory carotenes ($38.95, 1 oz; www.drhauschka.com).

MYTH #3: Exfoliate daily for a radiant complexion.
Here’s another case where less is definitely more. As you age, your skin’s natural cell-sloughing process slows down. Whereas a cell’s journey from the epidermis to the top layer of the skin takes approximately a month in your youth, by the time you reach your mid-30s, it takes nearly 10 days longer. The result? More pronounced fine lines, a sallow appearance, and even dehydration. Exfoliation does wonders, but only in moderation. The trick is to get rid of dead skin cells on the surface without damaging the younger, plumper cells underneath. And you need to let the new cells thrive for several days before exfoliating again. Exfoliating more often than twice a week can irritate skin and make it sensitive to sunlight and pollutants.

To lessen the impact, choose products with exfoliants derived from botanicals such as sea kelp and jojoba, combined with fat-soluble antioxidants including vitamin C ester and alpha-lipoic acid, which block free radicals. For extra-sensitive skin, choose a product with calming oatmeal and soothing vitamin E (often referred to on the label as tocotrienols).

OUR PICKS: derma e Sea Kelp and Herbs Exfoliating Scrub with sea kelp, ginseng oil, and almond meal gently removes dead skin cells while detoxifying the skin and refining its texture ($9.50, 4 oz; www.dermae.net). Aubrey Organics Vegecol Soothing Mask with aloe, oatmeal, and jojoba wax mildly exfoliates and soothes sensitive skin ($8.98, 4 oz; www.aubrey-organics.com).

MYTH #4: Pop a pimple to get rid of it faster.
Although popping a pimple may make it less noticeable, it will not make it go away faster, and experts agree that you should leave pimples alone. Otherwise, you may face uncomely side effects like swelling, redness, and potential scarring—when you pop a pimple you damage skin and actually enlarge the pore.

Prevention—not popping—is your best defense. Steer clear of environmental factors such as pollution and cigarette smoke. Don’t touch your face—your hands can spread pimple-causing bacteria—and use nonclogging, light, water- based gels and lotions, which have less potential to gunk up pores than thicker creams. Or use a skincare system containing a cleanser, spot treatment, and moisturizer formulated specifically for blemish- and acne-prone skin. Look for these key ingredients: salicylic acid for its natural astringent and noncomedogenic properties, lightweight essential oils to restore moisture balance, and DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol) to firm skin.

OUR PICKS: derma e Clear Skin 1-2-3 balances and restores the skin and prevents breakouts with a three-step program: a daily cleanser containing natural antibacterial properties; spot treatment with herbs like tea tree oil and willow bark, which keep bacteria at bay; and a skin moisturizing cream with essential plant-based nutrients (Clear Skin 1 Cleanser, $13.50, 6 oz; Clear Skin 2 Spot Treatment, $11.50, 0.5 oz; Clear Skin 3 Moisturizer, $19.50, 2 oz; www.dermae.net). Boscia Clear Complexion Kit contains four products in a preservative- and alcohol-free blend that fight bacteria, unclog pores, and reduce oil production ($45, 1.86 oz Clear Complexion Cleanser, 1.86 oz Clear Complexion Tonic, 0.5 oz Clear Complexion Treatment, 0.5 oz Oil-free Daily Hydration SPF 15; www.boscia.net).

MYTH #5: A moisturizing shampoo repairs split ends.
Sorry, but you have only one way to get rid of split ends: a good haircut. So before you buy a posse of shampoos and conditioners, first pick up the phone and call your stylist. “Hair, in a nutshell, is dead,” says Patane. “Once it is damaged, there is no way to repair it other than trimming it off.”

Split ends are the frayed fibers of the hair’s inner cortex, which comes surrounded by protective cuticles. When hair becomes overly dry or otherwise damaged, the cuticle can’t do its job of keeping the fiber flat, and it appears as though it’s peeled away from the hair shaft. You can’t repair this; nor will the cuticle and fiber grow back together. But you can take steps to prevent and camouflage split ends. For prevention, eat a diet rich in essential fatty acids (like guacamole and salmon) and use a light hand when styling (no hard brushing of wet hair and fewer blow drying and heat curling sessions).

The next-best option: Mask the appearance of the split ends. Hair serums and deep-conditioning treatments help plump up stressed cuticles with soy and vegetable proteins that fill in the gaps and also help prevent further breakage. Other natural body-building ingredients include ginseng root and spirulina, as well as the latest hair-strengthening all-star, creatine. “Products with these ingredients can be very effective, but they offer a visual fix, not an actual fix,” Patane says. “To really keep split ends in check, see your hair stylist once every six to eight weeks.”

OUR PICKS: Yarok Sensory Treatment for Hair & Scalp is a botanical-based line of seven conditioning serums formulated with jasmine and avocado oils for dehydrated hair ($56, three 2 oz bottles; www.yarokhair.com).

MYTH #6: Concealer is the best solution for under-eye circles.
While smoky eyes may be “in,” no one is attracted to dark under-eye circles. Your first instinct may be to reach for concealer. Don’t.

Less dense and less forgiving than skin elsewhere on the face, the eye area shows the first signs of aging as the fat pad under the eye thins, allowing blood vessels to show through. A good night’s rest, balanced nutrition, and adequate hydration can prevent under-eye circles. And if you miss some sleep, concealer can cover the damage. “However, you can apply it incorrectly and actually accentuate the problem,” says Natalie Tessler, a natural cosmetics expert and owner of Spa Space, a holistic day spa in Chicago. Choose a concealer close to your natural skin tone. Too dark, and it will emphasize the circles; too light, and it will produce a grayish cast. More importantly, use a light hand when applying it. A thick coat of concealer will dry skin and call attention to fine lines. Mineral-based makeup works well because it possesses luminous qualities that reflect light, is lightweight, and easily matches different skin tones. When it comes to concealer ingredients, the latest superstars include vitamin K and retinol (vitamin A), which were both given a thumbs-up from researchers for their lightening effects. Vitamin K works directly on blood vessels, while retinol helps rebuild collagen, which may improve the appearance of under-eye circles.

OUR PICKS: jane iredale Circle/Delete Concealer contains vitamin K, green tea extract, and jojoba esters to camouflage signs of fatigue and help repair blood vessels, the underlying causes of dark under-eye circles ($29, 0.1 oz; www.janeiredaledirect.com). Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Nite-trition Restful Sleep Supplement promotes a healthy sleep cycle and maximizes skin health with melatonin, lavender, ginseng, and chamomile ($35, 1 oz; www.origins.com).

MYTH #7: Natural deodorants don’t work.
One of life’s most embarrassing scenarios may happen when you’re told you smell—bad. It’s enough to make you turn far away from natural deodorants, which are sorely misunderstood. “It’s not that the natural versions aren’t doing the job,” says Lizz Starr, beauty expert and Origin’s executive director of product development. “It’s just not what people are used to.”

Traditional antiperspirants use aluminum derivatives that constrict the opening of the sweat glands so you perspire less, and, you guessed it, don’t smell. Natural deodorants, on the other hand, don’t stop sweat, which allows the body to cool itself and release toxins. Rather than using chemicals and perfumes, natural deodorants rely on mineral salts or plant extracts to keep the odiferous bacteria, which thrive on perspiration, at bay.

Better yet, most natural deodorants are biodegradable and cruelty-free, and come in crystallized rock, roll-on, and spray forms. Scents come from natural plant extracts and essential oils.

OUR PICKS: Crystal Body Deodorant Stick, made of 100 percent natural mineral salts, is hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, nonsticky, nonstaining, and quick drying ($6.99, 4.25 oz; www.thecrystal.com). Tom’s of Maine Natural Original Deodorant Stick features hops, a natural odor fighter, along with coconut oil, aloe vera, chamomile, and natural plant oils for a hint of fragrance ($4, 2.25 oz; www.tomsofmaine.com).

Savvy Shopping Tips

Perhaps the most insidious beauty myth of all is that products labeled “natural” actually only contain natural ingredients. Products with as little as 5 percent natural ingredients can liberally make use of the moniker. Unlike food, the US personal care industry has no standards or regulations, so American companies craftily use poetic license with the word natural.

But all that will change. Spearheaded by Burt’s Bees, and in collaboration with the Natural Products Association, a movement to create a standard for natural personal care products is in the works. The new standard requires manufacturers that want to call their brands natural to make products that contain at least 95 percent natural ingredients and contain no harmful ingredients. Starting in April, brands that make the cut will sport stickers identifying them as natural. And on the international front, England, Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium are working on creating a new European-wide system of natural and organic standards. Currently, Europe has at least five different regulation systems. Specifics on how all the various European standards will be consolidated are slated for release this June.

Holly Richmond is an Ojai, California-based freelance journalist specializing in health and beauty.