5 beauty myths and what actually works

Rachel Marie Walsh looks at beauty myths which should really be taken with a pinch of salt, and finds products that actually work.

Once upon a time, before media got social, beauty myths sprung from a combination of old wives tales and advice half-remembered from magazines. 

A blast of cold water makes your hair shiny. 

Chocolate gives you acne. 

Sudocrem is a panacea. 

All untrue, sure, but essentially harmless stuff, and these things come up when you have to talk for the sake of it. 

As conversation topics go, beauty is a female universal.

Small talk feeds the internet’s limitless appetite for soft content. 

Blog posts, listicles …quick beauty fixes are eminently clickable. And often free. 

Economy plays at least as prominent a role in the spread of beauty myths as any lack of fact-checking. 

The first woman to try using egg whites to smooth wrinkles was surely fed up with yet another expensive cream that didn’t perform as promised. 

The results of such remedies can cause a lot more harm than a cold shower so along with seeking to dispel the below myths, I suggest products that actually work.

Myth #1

Gelatin makes your nails grow

Haribo sweets make fine play-school currency or all-night sustenance for students but they do not fortify or lengthen your nails. Gelatin is processed collagen (usually from pork). 

Both collagen and keratin (the stuff that makes up your nails) are structural proteins in the body, so you can sort of guess this myth’s origins. 

However, collagen is digested in the gut like any other dietary protein. It has no direct impact on or relation to nail keratin.

Soaking your nails in a keratin treatment won’t help either, as the cosmetic version cannot bond with what your body produces. 

Nail growth is genetically determined but if your talons are too brittle to thrive they may benefit from a hydrating cuticle oil like CND Solar Oil, €13.95, or a moisturiser with Vitamin E (often listed as tocopherol). 

If you take evening primrose oil you could puncture a couple of capsules and apply the contents before bed. Nail-hardening polishes can also help keep things intact.

Though these are available at luxury prices, there are no great variations on the core formula. 

Deborah Lippman Hard Rock Hydrating Nail Hardener, €25 at www.net-a-porter.com, for example, shares its base of acetates, alcohols, film-forming agent and diamond powder with Sally Hansen Diamond Strength Instant Nail Hardener, €11.99.

Any suggestion a brand makes of a foreign protein’s ability to combine with your nails is untrue. The effects dissipate with the polish. 

There are a couple of small-scale studies that show a daily 2.5mg dose of biotin (vitamin B7) can improve nail strength after two to five months. 

Supplements containing this vitamin abound but you don’t need to take anything special to get the beauty benefits.

There are plenty of food sources, including wholewheat bread, swiss chard, salmon, chicken, eggs, and dairy. 

Biotin deficiency is rare. If you use supplements and begin to break out, the caps could be the culprits. 

Biotin competes with pantothenic acid in the body. Both are absorbed from the intestines via the same receptors and an excess of one reduces the amount you get of the other. 

Pantothenic acid regulates skin’s barrier function and helps keeps acne flare-ups in check, so shifting your system’s balance in biotin’s favour may disagree with your complexion.

Myth #2

Toothpaste/calamine lotion/ baking soda clears spots

Dotting toothpaste on spots is common advice, probably because anything that contains menthol or some other member of the mint family creates a cooling sensation that gives an impression of deep cleansing. 

This cooling reaction is a sign of irritation, something an already inflamed area doesn’t need. 

Fluoride toothpastes can also cause perioral dermatitis (small red bumps).

Calamine lotion might make chicken pox less itchy but when it comes to a lone red bump that’s ruining your selfies, this is another remedy to avoid. 

Calamine is a preparation of zinc carbonate, a counter-irritant that reduces itching by inducing local inflammation in order to relieve inflammation in deeper or adjacent tissue. 

This substitution of one kind of inflammation for another is never good for skin, especially if you are rosacea-prone. 

Further, both irritation and inflammation impair the skin’s healing response, so treating your spots with calamine could actually keep them around longer.

I’ve also seen baking soda recommended as a facial scrub for acne. This is terrible advice! 

Acne cannot be scrubbed off and even cleansing with over the counter granules could inflame spots and risk broken skin and scarring. 

Exfoliation is great but only when attempted with a gentle salicylic acid solution. 

This beta hydroxy acid is capable of cleansing inside the pore lining, reducing redness and making the complexion appear more even-toned. 

Try Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Pore Refining Treatment 2% BHA, €31.45 at www.lookfantastic.com, for gentle skin-cell turnover. 

Ellis Faas Concealer, €29 at www.ellisfaas.com provides excellent full-cover camouflage until spots are healed.

Myth #3

Egg whites smooth skin

Albumin is a protein found in egg whites. It constricts skin into looking temporarily smooth but also causes redness, peeling and increased sensitivity with regular application. 

The constriction is highly noticeable and albumin is on the ingredients list of several fast-acting skincare products, as well as online recipes for DIY face masks. 

You may have seen albumin-rich treatments with names like “Sudden Change” wow-ing audiences on infomercials. 

Results are instant and in this sense albumin’s powers are not mythical, though given that they accelerate that process that causes wrinkles and eye bags over time, the short-term victory seems pyrrhic. 

Irritation encourages the breakdown of several naturally-produced substances that keep skin healthy and youthful, including collagen.

A fragrance-free clay mask can help smooth skin temporarily without irritation. 

Using a kaolin or bentonite treatment like Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Oil-Control Cleansing Mask, €30, every couple of days clears calms redness and improves skin’s textural appearance. These products best suit oily /combination skin.

Dry types looking to plump lines and fill large pores can try a hydrating primer or even Nivea Men Sensitive Post Shave Balm, €6.79, a budget alternative with a huge online following. 

The plant extract-filled ingredients list marks it out as a rich moisturiser that is completely non-irritating to skin (provided you choose the ‘sensitive’ formula, as the others contain alcohol), just a bit too emollient for oily types.

Myth #4

Coconut oil is a super-moisturiser

Plant oils can be luxurious moisturisers and many are high in antioxidants. 

Relying on one, however, is like trying to live on a single super-food: you miss out on the benefits of a varied diet. 

Skin need more than one ingredient to stay healthy. 

Coconut oil, with its high fatty-acid content, provides support for skin’s natural moisture barrier but lacks the essential skincare vitamins A, C and E. 

It contains no hyaluronic acid, green tea or resveratrol. Its effect is similar to that of thickly applied Vaseline: there’s a moisture barrier there but nothing to aid repair. 

For ‘super’ results it should be part of a skincare cocktail, never a single shot. 

Even Yes To’s coconut range is packed with antioxidants that complement the eponymous ingredient. 

Yes to Coconut Ultra Light Spray Body Lotion, €10.75 at Holland & Barrett, contains grape, jojoba and sunflower seed-extracts and absorbs far more quickly than oil.

Myth #5

Apple cider vinegar is toner

The first thing to note about this or any advice regarding toner is that if you are toning to ensure your face is really clean, you need a new cleanser. 

The purpose of modern toners is to treat skin to an extra layer of antioxidants and soothing extracts before you moisturise. 

Their oil-free formulas are especially useful if you are acne-prone and skimp on moisturiser generally. 

Your cleanser should be removing makeup, excess oil and other debris effectively, that’s its only job. 

There is no good reason to put vinegar of any description on your skin. It won’t shrink pores or get skin cleaner, only sensitise and inflame.

The ph of apple cider vinegar is low (about 2.3), and while some over-the-counter cleansers and toners have low ph levels (though rarely less than 3.5) they employ an additional range of calming and reparative extracts to mitigate the acidity.

Apple cider vinegar is a condiment, not skincare. It is naturally high in citric and acetic acids, the exfoliating properties of which are paltry consolation for the irritation that follows. 

If you wish to exfoliate, try the salicylic acid lotion above on oily, normal or sensitive skin. 

If your skin is sun-damaged and dry, an alpha hydroxy acid exfoliant like Peter Thomas Roth 10% Glycolic Acid Hydrating Gel, €36.80 at www.beautybay.com 

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