Photo: Donna Trope/Trunk Archive
You see DIY skin care recipes pinned on your frenemy’s anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better Pinterest board. And you’ve got the ingredients in your pantry or medicine cabinet. So why not go for that wholesome treatment that promises to clear acne, lift dark spots, or de-puff your skin? While some internet-hyped DIY skin care remedies can replace the pricey potions cooked up in cosmetics labs, others are downright dangerous. With so many so-called skin care experts dropping “recipes” on the web, who can tell the difference? We talked to five leading dermatologists to find out which home remedies are better left untouched and online. Read on and don’t try this at home.
1. THE FAUX FIX: HYDROGEN PEROXIDE TO COMBAT ACNE
Even the pros have fallen for this pseudo skin care fix at one point in time. “Back when I suffered from horrible teenage acne, I dunked my face in a pot of hydrogen peroxide,” confesses Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. “It stung, bubbled, scabbed and turned into a crusty, dried up mess.”As Wu discovered, hydrogen peroxide is not only an ineffective acne solution, it can hinder a blemish from healing. “By creating scabs, the skin heals more slowly,” Wu explains. “So peroxide can delay wound healing when skin is injured.”
More recently, DIYers online have sworn by diluting the solution to spot treat acne and smooth the skin. But Wu points to recent research which shows that acne is primarily an inflammatory—not an infectious—problem. “It’s better to use ingredients that are anti-inflammatory (like sulfur) rather than antiseptic (like peroxide or Neosporin),” she advises. Look for sulfur in over-the-counter skin care products or try this DIY instead: Use home-brewed, cold chamomile tea as a compress for inflamed skin by dabbing a tea-soaked cotton ball into on your skin.
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2. THE FAUX FIX: LEMON JUICE TO LIGHTEN BROWN SPOTS
It’s worked to lighten our hair, so why not lemon juice to lighten dark spots on the skin? While lemon juice does contain the natural skin-lightening vitamin C, gleaning its benefits from the fruit itself has some serious drawbacks. Lemon juice can not only make your skin more sensitive to the sun, but “the acid in lemon juice is actually strong enough to burn the skin, which ironically may create darkening of the brown spots,” warns Dr. Jessica Krant, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Founder of Art of Dermatology, a boutique practice in Manhattan .
3. THE FAUX FIX: ESSENTIAL OILS TO LIGHTEN SKIN DISCOLORATION, HEAL ACNE, AND MORE
Essential oils can have a host of benefits: anti-fungal properties (lavender), anti-germ properties (mint, coriander, eucalyptus), and inflammatory-suppression properties (thyme). So by extension, it stands to reason that essential oils should also erase blemishes, reduce hyper-pigmentation, and calm irritation on the skin, right? While mixtures containing essential oils may wield benefits for some, dabbing these potent extracts directly on your face can cause nasty reactions (ranging from allergic rash, burning, redness, stinging and swelling to the development of a wound or ulcer if the essential oil is very irritating.)
Dr. Raja Sivamani, an assistant professor of clinical dermatology at University of California Davis and dermatologist who integrates concepts from Ayurvedic medicine, reminds us that “essential oils are concentrated and much more potent than how they may be found in nature. “Therefore, even though essential oils tend to be naturally derived, their use directly on the skin has potential to cause irritation,” he says. Sivamani suggests testing oils on a patch of skin to check for irritation and washing hands after handling oils, since eyelid skin, which we are prone to rub, can be particularly sensitive. “Essential oils may have a place in skin care, but they have to be used carefully,” he says.
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4. THE FAUX FIX: HOMEMADE SUNSCREEN
Looking for a natural sunscreen? An Internet search may steer you toward kitchen mixing your own with shea butter, coconut oil and zinc oxide. Don’t.
While some of these ingredients may be found in the pricey mineral sunscreens sold in stores, here’s what’s missing from online recipes: trained chemists as mixologists, certified labs, and independent testing to the FDA monograph, for starters. “Sunscreen manufacturing should be left to the experts—licensed and trained professionals that have the proper experience and equipment,” says Dr. Carlos Charles, a dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, who specializes in the treatment of darker skin tones. “Not only must sunscreens contain the adequate SPF to protect from various wavelengths of ultraviolet light, but they also must be able to do so without causing irritant or allergic reactions to the skin.” Charles suggests physical sunscreens by EltaMD, Neutrogena and Blue Lizard for those looking to protect their skin.
5. THE FAUX FIX: BLACK SALVE TO TREAT CHANGING MOLES
Black salves (pastes made with zinc oxide, blood root, and other herbs) may have been a viable treatment for skin cancer spots and changing moles back in ancient Egypt (where the concoctions are said to have originated). But today, we have trained doctors to help us with our skin cancer treatment plans. And according to Dr. Melanie Palm, a Solana Beach-based dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, and Assistant Clinical Professor at University of California San Diego, looking down the barrel of a possible cancer is no time to cut out the middleman.
“Some people are told to apply the salve, then wrap the skin for several hours until the skin itself breaks down,” she says. “But these topicals cause indiscriminate destruction of cells, and you don’t know what you’re treating. Something like a begin-looking mole or a freckle can end up testing for melanoma and if left untreated, that cancer can spread,” she warns. “It’s an inappropriate treatment that leaves your skin undiagnosed; it’s like playing Russian roulette with your health.”
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