5 Common Skincare Myths – The Science

5 Common Skincare Myths – The Science

In the world of social media its far too easy to get caught up with the trends and take what you read at face value. There is a plethora of information available at the click of a button. The problem is that sometimes one piece of false information can persist because of the ease of this interaction. Its easy to click share and to send something to someone or to tag them in a post. And so common persistent skincare myths are born!

I urge you to be critical about what you read, and that doesn’t have to be in a negative way exactly. You can ask for sources or ask someone where they got their information. If the answer is along the lines of “its a well known fact”, “my aunt’s cousin’s friend told me” or “I believe this and I won’t believe anything else and no-one can change my mind”, then you need to question that source of information. On that note, I try and remember to add my references at the bottom of each post or link it within, but occasionally I forget so don’t be shy to pop me a comment, email, message on any of my platforms.

Let’s dive in!

Myth 1: Pores open with warm water and close with cold water

This is linked to the “your skin needs to breathe” myth. My favourite response to this was from someone I follow on Instagram:

Skin doesn’t need to breathe and pores don’t open and close like tiny sphincters on your face.

@fiddysnails Jude Chao

Its just great imagery… So lets discuss pores first. The pores of your skin are either sebum secreting (with a hair follicle) or sweat secreting. In both cases, they do not posses muscles to open and close the pores, they are just permanently open. There are, however, teeny tiny muscles attached to the root of your hair though that lift or flatten the hair.

Lets focus on the the sebum secreting pores considering these are the ones people are usually the most concerned with when talking skincare. I think the myth came about because in warm water, it is easier to remove oils/sebum. This is simply because oils become less viscous and flow more easily making it easier to remove from the pores. The reason steam is used during a facial, is to ease up congestion by loosening the sebum like I mentioned but also because it encourages circulation and it softens the skin and hair. Lastly, it provides moisture so that any humectant containing product that is applied can hold onto the moisture and work its magic. During all this, your pores are still open but are getting cleaned out. They were never “closed”.

Myth 2: You have acne because you are not cleaning your face enough

Oi boy… what a dangerous statement. I don’t know about you, but I can remember thinking this and being told this as a teenager. Another linked myth is that oily/acne prone skin doesn’t need mosituriser and you need to “dry out” your skin. Every skin needs hydration, especially because we cleanse at night to remove dirt, makeup and sebum which inadvertently removes some of the components keeping your natural moisture in. This drying out is even more prominent if you’re using strong anti-acne ingredients like benzoyl peroxide.

Acne is not a simple condition, there isn’t one reason for it flaring up. It can be due to a few factors but may not even be limited to these:

  1. Excess oil production – can be because of genetics, hormones or the wrong skincare products which turns into a vicious cycle.
  2. Inflammation
  3. Bacterial overgrowth of specific organisms
  4. Comedones – clogged pores

Of course cleansing can help with some of these, like 1,3 and sometimes 4 if you’re using products that contain targeting compounds like salicylic acid (check out my post about this little magical ingredient here). Over-cleansing can actually aggravate this too and your skin tries to overcompensate by producing more oil to protect itself or prevent drying out if you’re not moisturising properly. Another bad choice would be using cleansing products with a high pH which could actually encourage bad bacterial growth and causes more inflammation (put down the harsh bar of soap Linda!). If you’d like to read more about why pH is important, you can read my post on the skin’s acid mantle.

At the end of the day acne is a complicated condition and shaming someone into thinking they’re dirty is just plain wrong.

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Myth 3: Synthetic ingredients are toxic, natural is better

Say it with me: EVERYTHING IS A CHEMICAL – I should make T-shirts or makeup bags, keen?

I’ve covered this before so you can read the full post here. The main points are this:

  1. Ingredients don’t work based on their origin (where they were found or how they were made). A chemical is a chemical is a chemical and their properties are defined by the chemical structure. Vitamin C synthetically made and vitamin C extracted is exactly the same molecule.
  2. If you like natural ingredients – cool. I do in some cases, like aloe. Just remember they are also made from chemicals, usually a large mixture. They should also have proven benefits before you decide they are the magic potion of your moisturiser.
  3. Fear-based advertising is skewing people’s view on what’s safe and not, to push their own products. Be critical. Synthetic ingredients tend to have more studies carried out on them and in some cases its the better option economically/environmentally.

Go forth and try different things but don’t fall for the “natural is better for your skin” rhetoric. The sun is natural and that motherf*cker wants to burn your skin off, see below. Nature doesn’t give a shit.

Myth 4: You don’t need sunscreen on a cloudy day

Duuuuuuude, you put that sunscreen on. When it comes to protection there are two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that you need be aware of: UVA and UVB.

UVB is the one we can easily notice. It gives you sunburn and makes your skin feel hot. These rays can be filtered out on a cloudy day and then you get tricked into thinking no damage was done and you saunter around unprotected (as far as you can really saunter in lockdown – for me up and down some really narrow stairs).

UVA is always present and isn’t filtered by clouds. UVA is the one that goes deep causing havoc in many layers of the skin and is the most dangerous because you don’t feel it. It can also penetrate glass, so bad news for your lockdown skincare routine if you’ve been skipping SPF and chilling near windows. South Africa has one of the highest UV levels in the world and consequently some of the highest skin cancer rates. We pay the price for our idyllic scenery.

Honey, just wear the sunscreen even if on a cloudy day spent inside, you just reach for the SPF 15 moisturiser. Just make sure it says broad spectrum on the label which includes both UVA and UVB protection.

Myth 5: Preservative free is the healthier/safer option

I know everyone hates the idea of preservatives and we all want natural/whole food and skincare. We all want to reduce our exposure to unnecessary potentially harmful chemicals. Here’s the thing though, preservatives serve a very important purpose. To protect us. Products, specifically water based ones, will start growing gross harmful microbes without them, especially if you’re sticking your finger into the tub every night. Unless you’re buying freshly made skincare products straight from the factory just as its made and use it within a week or so, this is going to happen. These microbes can be harmful to your health and will destabilize the formulation.

The most infamous group of preservatives used are parabens which I think is a bigger topic and I will cover another time. Stay tuned, I will link the post here.

There is actually a lot of research on preservatives showing their usage safety in cosmetic products but more is always welcome. Nowadays brands are moving away from any overly potent preservatives and looking for other options but these also need to be studied. A common strategy is to use combination systems with a mixture of different compounds which helps eliminate a broad spectrum of microorganisms and lowers the individual concentrations of each preservative. There are also more natural preservative systems coming to the forefront. The problem at the moment is that these types of systems tend to not have to be stipulated as a preservative according to legislation and so brands can claim “preservative free”.

Personally I want preservatives in my products, I don’t want mold on my face thanks. I also would like the preservatives to be obvious and not hidden. I am also skeptical if something says preservative free because either its going to go off very soon or the brand is trying to hide their preservative system (for whatever reason) which is just not cool.

glowingskintips Instagram posts (photos and videos) - Picuki.com

Stay woke stay cool

There are many more myths circulating but 5 is such a nice number. I can always make another post if one consistently pops up on my feed. Some I may even address individually or within a topic post. I guess you’ll just have to keep reading.


  1. The skin anatomy – the original “Gray’s anatomy”
  2. The Labmuffin – she’s just great!
  3. FDA on parabens – taking a very non-committal stance
  4. Preservatives
  5. Preservative safety
  6. Coschem notes – I’m learning too

Header image credit – Photo by Bennie Lukas Bester

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