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Healthy Living

Skin Myths

The Truth About Great Skin

Ten myths that can keep you from looking your best

REMEMBER HOW, when you were 13, your best friend convinced you that doing headstands would give you a gorgeous, glowing complexion? Every day after school you'd race to her house and pitch your body against her bedroom wall until your face turned vermilion and your head throbbed. It didn't take long to discover the silliness of that particular skin care ritual. But you don't have to be a teenager to fall for bad beauty advice.

The following common beliefs have the ring of authority. Yet each is based on outdated research, misleading marketing claims, or fold wisdom that doesn't hold up under scientific scrutiny. Let the truth turn your skin care routine upside down again, this time for good.

Ten Myths:

  1. Antiwrinkle cream makes your skin thinner.
  2. You face needs cleaning twice a day.
  3. Your lips can get addicted to balm.
  4. Smog will hurt your complexion.
  5. Flaky spots on your face mean your skin is turning dry.
  6. It's taboo to pop a pimple.
  7. Steam can detoxify your skin.
  8. Your skin can't have a reaction to allergy-tested products.
  9. Drinking extra water makes your skin dewier.
  10. You can't reverse sun damage.

Myth #1: Antiwrinkle cream makes your skin thinner.

Some misguided aestheticians warn that overusing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or Renova can strip away your skin until it's practically gone. This is absolutely, 100 percent not true according to Richard Sherman, a professor of clinical dermatology at Tulane University in New Orleans. On the contrary, he says: "With extend use, both treatments will make the skin a plumper, stronger, better-functioning barrier."

The peeling from these chemicals is mostly limited to dead cells on the surface.In addition, studies show tretonoin (the active ingredient in Renova) stimulates production of collagen, the spongy protein that gives skin its fullness, and strengthens the bonds between skin cells; in other words, it actually makes skin thicker, AHAs appear to promote collagen growth, too.

Nevertheless, your skin may feel and look fragile if you use too many exfoliating products or if the one you choose is too strong. Cut back to a single anti-wrinkle cream, start slow (three times a week) to let your skin adapt. If AHAs are too irritating, switch to beta hydroxy (salicylic) acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Myth #2: You face needs cleaning twice a day.

If your skin is dry, twice-a-day cleansing could spell trouble, especially in winter. Detergent and warm water strip the skin of its protective barrier of natural oils, making it more sensitive to cold and wind. Your best strategy is to wash off makeup at night with a mild cleanser; you'll still be clean when you awaken. If you feel the need to freshen up in the morning, skip cleanser and splash with cold water.

Less is also more when it comes to bathing or showering, says Marsha Gordon, vice chairman o dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City and coauthor of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beautiful Skin. "If you're just going to work, you don't need to bathe every day." Just wash your underarms, groin, feet and the back of your neck, she says. When you shower, avoid using soap on your arms, legs and stomach.

Myth #3: Your lips can get addicted to balm.

This myth implies both that balm is bad for you and that if you give it up, your lips will become more vulnerable than ever to chapping. Neither notion is true.

So why, dome winter, do you feel like you're hooked? The skin on your lips is particular thin, making it susceptible to anything that sucks out moisture. Once an emollient -- and the pleasant slickness it brings -- wears off, you lips may feel even drier in comparison, so you apply more. You're not addicted to the ointment, just tot he sensation of wearing it. If balm-free lips seem to chap more than they used to, you may be licking them to often; digestion-aiding enzymes make saliva a poor moisturizer.

Apply balm or gloss before lips chap and crack, and use it as liberally as you like.

Myth #4: Smog will hurt your complexion.

If this were true, celebrities would be fleeing Los Angeles. Sure, salesclerks peddling antipollution makeup act as if you're putting your face at extreme risk every time you walk out the door. But there's scant evidence that dirty air directly harms skin or activates the free radicals that cause skin damage, says Ronald Moy, and associate professor of clinical dermatology at the University of California at Los Angeles. The one clear exception is cigarette smoke; it's been shown to inhibit blood flow to the skin, retard healing, and hasten wrinkling.

Myth #5: Flaky spots on your face mean your skin is turning dry.

Peeling, itching, and scaliness over a wide area such as your chin, nose or cheeks, probably do indicate dryness. But localized flaky patches -- around the nostrils, hairline or eyebrows, for example -- are more likely signs of an allergy to a cosmetic or seborrheic dermatitis, a skin inflammation that strikes in oil-producing areas, often at times of stress or when the weather changes.

Applying lots of moisturizer won't solve either problem, and may make it worse, triggering a breakout or, if you're allergic to your lotion, more flaking. Your best bet is to see a dermatologist who can prescribe a topical hydrocortisone cream or test your skin for product sensitivity.

Myth #6: It's taboo to pop a pimple.

The unblemished truth: You don't need a medical degree or set of fancy surgical tools to zap a zit. "Acne surgery" is something most people can do at home.

Reserve this technique for the occasional pinkish pimple or whitehead (cysts and blackheads call for a visit to your doctor). After thoroughly washing your face and hands, disinfect a fine needle with rubbing alcohol, then lightly nick the pimple's surface. Gently squeeze out the contents using a clean tissue. If you overpick or oversqueeze, you'll stretch the poor and push the white blood cells onto the skin, which can lead to infection and scarring. Leave the lesion alone to heal (antiseptic is optional).

Myth #7: Steam can detoxify your skin.

Yes, saunas and steam rooms leave you luminous. But they provide no long-term benefits. You can't sweat out air pollution or cellular debris because the only thing in your sweat ducts is sweat, according to Andrew Scheman, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago. Dirt and debris comes off with soap and water.

Still, relaxing in a sauna or exercising yourself into a lather can improve your complexion by relieving stress (which aggravates acne). Just be sure to wash up afterward; sweat is a breeding ground for pimple-causing bacteria.

Myth #8: Your skin can't have a reaction to allergy-tested products.

While it's true that hypoallergenic lotions and cosmetics are less likely to cause a reaction in sensitive complexions, there's no guarantee. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't require companies to substantiate such claims. These products may have been tested on 1,000 people, two people, or no one. Even if a formula has been rigorously tested, you might react nonetheless.

The good news: Though 70 percent of U.S. women think they have sensitive skin, fewer than 10 percent actually do. If your complexion fits the profile (very fair and dry), patch-test any new product for at least 24 hours. If your skin itches, tingles, flakes, or reddens, get a refund.

Myth #9: Drinking extra water makes your skin dewier.

Eight glasses a day are what doctors recommend for good health, including supple skin. Guzzling more than that won't further hydrate your complexion, it'll just make you head to the restroom more often.

Sebum, skin's oily lubricant, is what gives your cheeks that dewy quality; it holds in moisture and shields against the elements. As you age, your glands produce less sebum, which is why the skin may feel parched. To help restore this protective barrier, apply moisturizer while you're still damp from the shower.

Myth #10: You can't reverse sun damage.

You know the ugly statistics: An estimated 90 percent of wrinkles are caused by sun exposure, most of which occurred before your 18th birthday. But even if your spent your teens pursuing the perfect tan, redemption is possible. Studies show that simply avoiding the sun and being strict about sunscreen allows some of the skin's underlying tissue to repair itself.

How strict? Dermatologists say you must use sunscreen or moisturizer with a sun protection factor of at least 15 every day, all year around. That means even during gloomy weather (80 percent of ultraviolet rays can pierce light clouds) and even if the nearest you dome to the sun is the light that shines through a window (UVA, or longer-wave rays, can penetrate glass). Sunscreen-spiked makeup is a fine extra defense, but you probably use too little to rely on it alone. If you're diligent, your skin should begin looking smoother and more elastic in a year or two.

Too impatient to wait? Retin-A, Renova, and chemical and laser peels have all been shown to lessen sun-induced wrinkles and blotches. Hydroquinone, a prescription skin-bleaching cream, can fade UV-spawned age spots. But to preserve the effects. you'll still need sunscreen.

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