Before You DIY
In the world of beauty, it’s the tips, DIY tricks, and backstage secrets that have real currency. We asked dermatologists and aestheticians to weigh in on some of the more popular products that were never intended to be put on your face, but often are. Some live up to the hype, while others may be doing you more harm than good.
DO: Visine or Toothpaste on Pimples
If you read enough beauty magazines, you’d think every makeup artist totes around a bottle of Visine — not to quash the evidence of a celebrity client’s late night out, but to rid the redness of errant zits.
According to Dr. Debra Jaliman, author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist, there’s truth to both. “Visine works as a vasoconstrictor, meaning it temporarily narrows the blood vessels in your eyes. So it makes sense that dabbing it on a pimple can make it look less red for a few hours,” says Dr. Jaliman, who adds that it can also temporarily “make dark under-eye circles look less noticeable.”
And probably from the time you had your first pimple someone suggested a dab of toothpaste as a quick way to make the offending spot go away. But not all toothpaste is equal, says Dr. Debra Jaliman. “Use an all-white toothpaste — not a colored paste or gel — because the white part has the ingredients that help dry out the pimple: baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and triclosan. Dab toothpaste on the spot and leave it on for a few hours.”
DON’T: Baking Soda as a Natural Exfoliator
Baking soda is frequently mentioned as an affordable, all-natural, and gentle facial scrub. Sounds like the ideal multitasking product, right?
Not so fast, says aesthetician Amy Townsend. “When we use a product that is square or sharp or angular on the skin, like homemade baking soda, salt, or sugar scrubs, not only do we change the delicate pH balance of the skin [baking soda has a pH of 8, while natural skin has a pH between 4.5 and 5.5], but we also create scratches and micro-fissures, or small tears, in the skin that allow bacteria to get in the skin and potentially cause problems.”
Natural exfoliants that use fruit enzymes (like pineapple or papaya) or lactic acid (like yogurt) are gentler and just as effective.
DON’T: Preparation H for Under Your Eyes
Legend has it that beauty queens swear by hemorrhoid cream for deflating under-eye bags and defeating wrinkles. “This is simply not true,” says Dr. David Bank, author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age. “Preparation H is an anti-inflammatory that is used to shrink hemorrhoids, and any claim that it can shrink puffiness in or under the skin is not medically based.”
Dr. Fayne Frey has an idea how the legend came to be: Since Preparation H is mostly petrolatum and mineral oil, it has a moisturizing effect. “Any moisturizer applied around the eyes can increase the amount of water in the skin, temporarily improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” she says. So while Preparation H is safe to apply to your face, you’re paying an unnecessary premium for what else it does, er, elsewhere.
DO: Honey as a Face Mask
Honey makes a frequent appearance in recipes for natural facial masks, and for good reason, says Townsend. “Not only is honey a natural humectant that helps to rehydrate the skin and increases its ability to hold in hydration, but it also acts as a natural antibacterial agent on the skin,” she says. “You can spread honey on the face as a mask for about 10 minutes, and then splash the skin with warm water until the honey is completely removed.”
“It also works well as a spot treatment for acne,” Townsend adds, “because it is not drying or irritating to the already inflamed skin.”
DON’T: Apple Cider Vinegar as Toner
Apple cider vinegar has been touted as an inexpensive and all-natural facial toner, but basic chemistry shows that putting vinegar on your face is a bad idea, says Townsend. “The skin produces oil and sweat that combine to form an acid mantle with a natural pH balance between 4.5 and 5.5,” she says, “which acts as a protective barrier. Vinegar has a pH around 3, which doesn't sound too far off, but the change of one whole number on the pH scale represents a tenfold change in pH.”
The result? “When the skin is exposed to extremes in pH levels, bacteria can grow, and the skin can become dry and inflamed, and we can damage the skin's barrier function and cause irritation. I don't know of anyone who wants that!”
If you’re looking for a natural toner that’s kind to your face, try rose water or aloe vera juice instead.