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25 skincare myths debunked: what you need to know

You know what gets under our skin? Misinformed skincare tips, and there are a lot of them out there—especially on social media!

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 12 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Woman Cleansing Skin Cleanser
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 12 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Remember when it seemed like everyone was touting the benefits of coconut oil for skin and started slathering it all over themselves? It turns out coconut oil is comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores and trigger breakouts in some people. That advice was one of many skincare myths.

It’s no newsflash, but it’s a message we can’t stress enough: When it comes to skincare, you can’t believe everything you hear. That’s especially true because everyone’s skin is unique. Here, we break down 20 of the biggest skincare myths, with some expert debunking courtesy of Curology’s pros, and we’ll share some skincare secrets with you, too. 

We’ll also let you in on a little secret—some “myths” are actually true. Case in point: Wearing sunscreen helps prevent wrinkles (more specifically: sunscreen helps slow the signs of aging, which includes wrinkles).

1. Not washing your face causes acne

No, not washing your face doesn’t cause acne—directly. Acne occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog your pores. Bacteria thrive in the excess oil and an inflammatory response occurs, leading to papules, pustules, and other types of pimples. Other factors like hormones, stress, and diet can also contribute to acne. Not washing your face may lead to a buildup of certain acne-causing components, but it doesn't directly cause acne. 

2. You don’t need a retinoid until age 50

Research shows retinoids can slow the signs of aging skin,¹ and topical retinoids are the gold standards for treating acne and minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Depending on your unique skin and medical history, you may not want to use a retinoid. But if you do, there’s no need to wait to reach a specific age. You can start incorporating retinoids at any age (tretinoin is one of our favorites). Another option: an additional ingredient that can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles is hyaluronic acid (HA), which helps your skin retain moisture. 

3. Toners are a necessary part of an acne skincare regimen

Toners often contain alcohol, which can dry out your skin and strip it of its natural oils. We’re all about a simple skincare routine, and toner is often an unnecessary step.

4. Exfoliating devices should be used every day

Your skin will naturally shed its superficial skin layer about every 30-45 days.² Still, exfoliating can make your skin feel fresh and give it a youthful glow. A chemical exfoliator like salicylic acid or glycolic acid can do the trick. 

As far as exfoliation devices, they might be suitable to add to your skincare routine, but not every day. These devices often utilize spinning brush heads that can irritate your skin or leave it feeling extra dry. For those that can tolerate exfoliating devices, we typically recommend using them just once or twice a week. For everyone else, it’s probably good to skip it.

5. Hot water is good for your skin

Just the opposite is true: Too much hot water can actually be bad for your skin because it can strip it of its natural oils, causing it to dry out. When your skin is overly dry, you compromise its moisture barrier, which can aggravate underlying skin conditions. Even if you have oily skin, you can still dry it out. Use lukewarm water when washing your face, and apply moisturizer afterward. 

6. Face exercises will reduce wrinkles

Not necessarily. In fact, many of our wrinkles come from repeatedly using specific facial muscles. This includes laugh lines, crow’s feet, and forehead wrinkles. However, a 2018 study found that face yoga may lead to a more youthful appearance.³ Exercise may also improve the structure of the skin and its moisturizing function.⁴ There’s also gua sha, a Chinese facial massage technique that’s said to help fade lines (but currently, there’s no medical evidence that it benefits the skin). 

7. Chocolate causes acne 

Don’t throw away your candy stash just yet! Both dark and milk chocolate may trigger acne in some people, but this isn’t true for everyone.⁵,⁶ Some researchers also believe chocolate may increase the immune system’s reactivity to the bacteria that contribute to acne.⁷ 

Dairy and foods with a high glycemic index have been linked to acne in some people. Recent evidence suggests high-GI foods may be the main culprit in acne, partially because they cause your blood sugar to rising and fall quickly.⁸ Multiple studies have also shown a correlation between dairy and acne in some people.⁹ As a reminder, though, this isn’t true for everyone! 

8. Toothpaste will kill a zit

As far as clearing up acne goes, toothpaste can do more harm than good. Most toothpaste is formulated with ingredients that may actually worsen breakouts.¹⁰ They can also dry your skin, and overly dry skin can cause acne. Reach for tried-and-true products to help prevent pimples before they appear, and use non-comedogenic skincare products. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser in the morning and just before bed. Sticking to a skincare routine designed for your unique skincare concerns is your best medicine. Pro tip: if you’re dealing with a sudden and unwanted pimple, act fast and try a hydrocolloid bandage to help minimize and cover spots. 

9. Pores open and close

That’s not how they work! Pores don’t open or close—but they may become more or less visible. When you use warm water or steam to “open” your pores, what’s really happening is the cells on the pore’s surface are loosened up. The pores may appear more visible or “open,” but that’s a temporary illusion. You can’t get rid of pores either; without them, your skin wouldn’t be able to excrete sweat or sebum, which it needs to do regularly.

10. Acne only happens in teenagers 

No such luck! While some people see a decrease in acne after their teenage years, many breakout-prone people continue to deal with acne well into adulthood. Acne is influenced by a long list of things, many of which have to do with lifestyle and dietary choices. If you’re suffering from acne into adulthood, you may want to try avoiding sugar and dairy for a few months to see if you notice any positive changes in your skin. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol excessively may aggravate acne (and these activities are bad for you in other ways, too, of course). If you’re experiencing acne in your 20s, 30s, or beyond, you may want to discuss treatment options with a dermatology provider. 

11. There’s no such thing as washing your face too much

Yes, there is. Irritation from overzealous cleansing and exfoliating can make acne worse, in addition to causing redness and discomfort. If you’re using leave-on acne products (like your Curology prescription formula), you may even want to avoid cleansers and exfoliants labeled as “anti-acne”—at least temporarily. Breakout-fighting cleansers may dry out your skin. And no matter what a product claims, it may have irritating or comedogenic ingredients that can contribute to breakouts.

12. You don’t need to use anti-aging until the mid-30s

We can’t prevent all fine lines and wrinkles, but we can help slow their appearance. First, there’s no better anti-aging skincare product than sunscreen, which you should use daily. And the anti-aging ingredients in, say, your Curology prescription formula can be great for promoting healthy, glowy, clear skin—as well as helping to prevent fine lines and wrinkles from forming.

13. Facials are part of a good skincare regimen

Getting a facial may feel nice, but it’s unnecessary for treating acne—actually, certain facials may make things worse! Facials that use chemical exfoliants or any aggressive treatment may cause irritation to the skin, which can contribute to acne. That said, that doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid facials altogether. Just know that they’re definitely optional.

Extractions or deep cleansing may help clear blocked pores, but they likely won’t support a significant, permanent change in skin structure or skin health. That said, there is no denying the benefits of relaxation. If you want to treat yourself to a facial for that reason, opt for a gentle or restorative, hydrating treatment using non-comedogenic products, and let your aesthetician know what ingredients are in your Curology formula.

14. Coconut oil is always good for your skin

As previously mentioned, coconut oil is comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores and contribute to acne¹¹ —though this can happen slowly and gradually. Nevertheless, if your skin is acne-prone, it’s probably best to let coconut oil do its magic in your food, not on your face. On that note, many other oils are well-tolerated on acne-prone skin, contrary to popular belief. Mineral oil and jojoba oil, for example, are usually fine. 

15. Apple cider vinegar fades hyperpigmentation

As a relatively gentle, DIY chemical exfoliant, apple cider vinegar can be helpful. You can make your own toner by diluting it with water. But there’s insufficient evidence to support that it will do much to fade post-acne dark spots, aka hyperpigmentation. We can’t be sure that it won’t help at all, but if you’re looking for a more reliable solution for hyperpigmentation, your Curology prescription formula can help. Ask your Curology provider which ingredients will work for your skin’s unique needs.

16. You don’t need sunscreen on a cloudy day

Ultraviolet (UV) rays can penetrate clouds, so just because you don’t feel the sunshine doesn’t mean your skin isn’t at risk of photoaging (premature aging caused by exposure to UV rays). It’s important to protect your skin with sunscreen all day, every day. Whether you have acne-prone skin, combination skin, or melanin-rich skin, Curology's dermatology experts have the sun protection tips to step up your skincare routine. Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.

17. Lips do not sunburn

Not true. We often talk about the importance of sun protection for your face and body, but it’s key to extend that protection to your lips, too. Lips can burn just as easily as the rest of your skin, so spread on that SPF lip balm whenever you head outside. And yes, the lip balm by Curology includes a SPF 30 variety!

18. There’s no need for sunscreen in fall or winter

UV rays don’t disappear in the winter. Wherever there’s sunlight, there are UV rays. They may not be as strong, but they’re definitely present. Again, UV rays can penetrate clouds and glass, which is why it’s important to wear sunscreen if you’re indoors working next to a window. UVA rays are primarily responsible for photoaging, like wrinkles, and they also play a role in skin cancer. UVB rays are the main culprit in sunburn and can also cause skin cancer.¹²

Curology Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Square

Take the guesswork out of finding your next SPF with The Sunscreen by Curology, a mineral formula with SPF 30 designed by dermatologists for acne-prone skin (but great for all skin types). Made to work with your custom Curology skincare routine, the lotion has a silky, non-greasy texture and leaves no white-cast—perfect for everyday wear.

19. A base tan or spray tan protects you from sunburns 

A “base tan” is nothing more than damaged skin, which won’t do you any good when it comes to sun protection. Also, it’s a myth that tanning in a sunbed is safer than tanning outdoors

Spray tans, while far less risky than tanning beds, won’t protect you from the sun either. A spray tan simply changes the color of your skin; think of it as a temporary dye job for your dermis. For true sun protection, you need broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. 

20. Your skincare routine needs to be complicated to be effective

Actually, less is more. For sensitive or dry skin, in particular, using too many products and doing too much to your skin will likely cause more problems than it will solve. An overly complicated skincare routine may actually irritate your skin and disrupt its natural moisturizing and cell-turnover processes. Depending on your skin type, you may only need to cleanse once in the morning and again in the evening before bed—either with a gentle cleanser or micellar water on a cotton pad—and use your personalized Curology formula to treat whatever skin issues you’ve discussed with your provider.

5 skincare ‘myths’ that aren’t actually myths 

1. Wearing sunscreen every day helps prevent wrinkles

Sunscreen is one of the best ways to help save your skin from signs of premature aging, like fine lines and wrinkles, rough texture, and dark spots. But wrinkles are a natural part of growing up, which we think is a good thing! After all, a wrinkle can be a sign of a life well-lived. 

2. The order you apply skincare products matters 

This one’s kind of true. Your skincare regime should begin with a gentle cleanser followed by specialty products like your personalized Curology formula and then moisturizer. That said, applying moisturizer before an active ingredient (like tretinoin) can help minimize irritation during the adjustment process—so you may want to switch things up when introducing new ingredients to your regime.

3. Stress can contribute to acne

Stress doesn’t directly cause acne, but it can contribute to it. Studies show that worsening stress can increase the severity of breakouts.¹³

4. You can still moisturize your skin even if it is oily

This one is a resounding “yes!” If you have oily skin, consider a moisturizer that is oil-free and non-comedogenic. 

5. Dark circles aren’t necessarily a sign that you are tired 

Dark circles may not mean you’re tired. They can also be a result of allergies or simply genetics.

Check your sources

Remember, don't immediately believe everything you read or hear. It's essential to check your sources and look for credible clinical studies when researching skincare information. On that note, be sure to check out our list of skincare tips you can trust.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Still unsure about what your skin needs? 

If you’re feeling unsure about what your skin needs to beat breakouts, talking to a dermatology provider can help. You can get started with one at no extra cost when you start your Curology free trial. Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few selfies, and one of our licensed medical providers will evaluate your skin.  

If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a 30-day supply of your personalized Curology formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your unique skin concerns, plus any of our recommended products (like The Sunscreen), for free—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Ho, E.T., A Randomized, Double-blind, Controlled Comparative Trial of the Anti-aging Properties of Non-prescription Tri-Retionol 1.1% vs. Prescription Tretinoin 0.025%. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (2012, January).

  2. Koster, M.I. Making an Epidermis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. (2009, August 4).  

  3. Alam, M., et al. Association of Facial Exercise with the Appearance of Aging. Journal of American Medicine. (2018, March).

  4. Ryosuke, O., et al. The association between activity levels and skin moisturising function in adults. Dermatology reports. (2021)

  5. Vongraviopap, S., & Asawanonda, P. Dark chocolate exacerbates acne. International journal of dermatology. (2016)

  6. Penso, L., et al. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA dermatology. (2020).

  7. Caperton, C., Chocolate Consumption Modulates Cytokine Production in Healthy Individuals. Cytokin. (2013, March 1).

  8. Mahmood, S.N., et al., Diet and Acne Update: Carbohydrates Emerge as the Main Culprit. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (2014, April).

  9.  American Academy of Dermatology. Can the right Diet Get Rid of Acne? (n.d.).

  10. American Academy of Dermatology. How to Treat Deep, Painful Pimples. (2018, September 11).

  11. Francis, A., et al. Comedogenicity of Oils. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research. (2019, August). 

  12.  American Cancer Society. Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation. (n.d.).

  13. Graubard, R., et al. Stress and Skin: An Overview of Mind Body Therapies as a Treatment Strategy in Dermatology.Dermatology Practical and Conceptual. (2022, October 1).

This article was originally published on April 28, 2021, and updated on August 09, 2022.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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