We know that retinol and SPF should never leave the top shelf of our medicine cabinets, that drinking tons of water is key to a dewy complexion and that derms are the ultimate lifeline to better skin—but what about products they wish their patients would never touch again? Here, the products on these pros’ never lists.
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“Toss anything containing vitamin C or retinol unless it is air-tight and housed in a dark, fully opaque container after opening,” advises Santa Monica, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD, noting that once actives are oxidized, there’s little value left. “The exposure to air oxidizes the product and renders it basically inactive as more than a moisturizer.”
Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew J. Elias says this common remedy for contact allergies and severe skin reactions—it’s also known by key ingredient neomycin—might be causing more harm than help to the skin. “It has actually won allergen of the year, so this is the number-one product I wish patients would stop using.”
Harsh, Drying Cleansers
According to Dr. Shamban, super harsh or drying cleansers, usually comprised of sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth ether sulfate, should be avoided. “Highly surfactant cleansers can strip or disrupt the natural balance of our skin,” says the doctor of that common “tight” feeling post-cleanse. “Instead, other options and ingredients can clean, balance and hydrate skin.”
If you’re dealing with scarring especially, Dr. Elias says to stay away from products containing vitamin E. “This is another ingredient that can cause contact allergy and skin reactions,” he says. “It also has minimal—maybe worsening—effects on scars, so we advise patients not to use it.”
Harsh Exfoliators or Devices
Newport Beach, CA dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, MD strongly advises against the overuse of harsh exfoliators, scrubs or rough sponges/devices to cleanse our faces. “Many people think if they over-clean or scrub their skin, they will have better skin—this is not the case at all,” she explains.
“The skin is a bioactive organ that has a complicated barrier that is necessary for healthy tissues, infection control and inflammation control. Over-scrubbing or over-exfoliating is very stripping and leads to dehydrated and inflamed skin and sometimes worsens acne.”
Pure Coconut Oil
While coconut oil is a skin- and self-care staple for many, Dr. Zenovia says many of us are applying it liberally without understanding its potential effects. “Coconut oil may be moisturizing in the short-run but it is comedogenic and clogs pores,” she says.
New York dermatologist Arash Akhavan, MD agrees. “I caution against some pure vegetable and plant-based oils—pure coconut oil can be problematic for acne-prone skin.”
If you tend to suffer from acne on the body, Dr. Zenovia offers up a pro tip: “Popular soaps tend to have coconut oil as an ingredient, so be sure to read your product labels.”
This one may hit us cleansing-balm lovers hard. “I wish my patients would do away with cleansing oils,” says New York dermatologist Sapna Palep, MD. “It causes and makes acne worse!”
If you’re after the deep-clean a cleansing oil provides, try washing with a gentle milk cleanser to dissolve makeup, then follow with a foaming or clarifying cleanser to sweep away any residual oil or grime.
While it’s not a skin-care product, West Palm Beach dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD says alcohol wreaks so much havoc on our skin, it’s his number-one pick for what to toss. “It’s drying and irritating to the skin,” he says—I wish all my patients would throw it away, including my family.”
“Pore strips are definitely overhyped,” says New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. “If your pores are clogged, it is usually deeper down in the skin than you would think and only a deep-cleaning medical facial with steam and extractions or a hydrafusion facial [with suction], would help.”
“A beauty elixir is one of those products that makes you feel good instantly, mentally, but is completely useless, skin care wise,” explains Dr. Russak, referring to the buzzy Korean skin care trend of skin essences. “It may keep you hydrated or calm your redness, but mainly it’s the fragrance that makes you feel great.”
While gel-based products commonly work well for oily or acne-prone skin, dry skin should definitely avoid these products. “Gel-based products and bar soaps are too drying for this skin type,” Dr. Russak explains. “Strong scrubs, higher-percentage retinol and AHA/BHA products will make the issue worse.”
Exfoliating Scrubs with Nut Particles
“For any skin type, most exfoliating scrubs with nut particles are damaging for your skin in the long run,” continues Dr. Russak. “They may make skin feel smoother, but in reality, these particles may not be entirely smooth and can scratch the skin’s surface, inhibiting the barrier, causing irritation and dryness and leading to breakouts.” Instead, stick to chemical exfoliation like glycolic acid to break down dead skin cells and brighten the complexion.
If cellulite-reducing creams seem too good to be true, that’s because they usually are. “Cellulite creams and stretch mark creams simply do not work,” explains Dr. Akhavan. “Although they may cause skin inflammation to temporarily mask the appearance of cellulite or stretch marks, both of these conditions respond best to very minor in-office procedures.” Instead of investing in these creams, ask your doctor about in-office procedures like Cellfina to reduce the appearance of cellulite.
No surprise here, but alcohol-based products can seriously dry out the skin, leading to a dull, dry complexion. “I would highly recommend weeding out ingredients like alcohol and fragrance,” says Dr. Russak. “Many toners and creams have alcohol, which can deplete your skin’s moisturizer levels, leading to irritated, itchy skin.”
Last Season’s Sunscreen
“I tell all my patients to buy fresh sunscreen every season,” says Dr. Akhavan. “Even if they haven’t expired, sunscreen is often exposed to high temperatures and moisture that can alter its consistency and composition, making it less effective.”
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