I’ve been a big fan of The Internet since I first heard the sound of a dial-up router and found out I could keep my brother from talking to girls on computers by picking up the phone. That sweet, sweet compuserve login screen was like coffee for a caffeine addict. Sitting in an air conditioned room during New Mexico summers didn’t hurt either. As a fan of the internet, I feel obligated to notify you about something. People lie on the internet. (I know! Unfathomable, right?) And even if they don’t lie, sometimes misguided practices – with the best intent – grow into a monster of their own. Skincare suggestions seem to be the worst of the bunch. There are so many of us that are embracing frugality, and using anything for just one purpose seems silly! But is that the case with skincare?
I’ve seen a bunch of “chemical free” and “organic” suggestions on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. I decided to figure out – for you and myself – which ones are total nonsense, and which might actually be useful in the pursuit of healthy skin. Here’s the first of the series:
What the internet says: You know … I have to tell you, I’m not really sure. One website I found says that bacteria on the skin need an acidic environment to grow (NOPE). It goes on to state that baking soda is alkaline (well, they got that part right) so it disrupts the growth of bacteria on the skin. Other sites also say you can use it as an exfoliant, facial scrub, or mask. I think the internet just wants to use that mysterious orange box that’s been in the fridge since 1963.
What the science says: That website was so wrong, you guys. It was almost on the right track but then it abandoned it in pursuit of donuts or something. They did get this right: the pH of baking soda is going to change the pH of your skin and the bacteria on it. Unfortunately, it’s going to give your skin a more basic balance, allowing that bacteria to thrive.¹ Baking soda has a pH of 9, and science says that skin’s optimal pH is 4.7-5.5.2 It’s optimal because the bacteria that causes acne (P. acnes) dies when it’s in a slightly acidic environment. If you put alkaline products on your face, you’re enabling p. acnes to live longer and stronger.2 Bad news, you guys.
Possible side effects: All of the things. For real. All of them. Increased acne, damage to the acid mantle (we’ll talk more about your acid mantle in a future blog post!). No bueno.
Addict Approved Alternatives: Konjac sponges for physical exfoliation. AHAs and salicylic acid for “skin brightening” and exfoliation.
What the internet says: Lemons and lemon juice are used to treat active acne, and to lighten and brighten skin. This includes hyperpigmentation (often called PIH) left behind when the pimples themselves have healed.
What the science says: Lemon juice has a pH of 2(!!). The scale only goes down to zero! Skin is happiest at 4.7-5.5. It is successful in treating active acne because P. acnes needs a more basic environment to survive.1 Citrus contains bergapten (a specific chemical compound), which binds to DNA and allows ultraviolet radiation to more easily damage your skin.3,4
Possible side effects: You may end up giving yourself a chemical burn that damages skin more severely than the marks you were trying to lighten!
Would I put it on Kristy’s face?: No sirree. Kristy is a friggin pro at using chemical exfoliants, but I don’t think even she could handle pure lemon juice.
Addict Approved Alternatives: Daily exfoliants with glycolic acid or lactic acid (AHAs) are proven to be effective in lightening scars and fighting fine lines and wrinkles. You should always wear a good sunscreen when using chemical exfoliants! It’ll also help to keep your dark spots from getting darker.
What the internet says: Honey is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, humectant, and moisturizer.5 It is often used as an ingredient in DIY face masks. (Some of these masks look good enough to eat.) People use it to heal scrapes, active pimples, “fix dull skin” and remove blackheads.
What the science says: The average pH of honey is 3.9, which is very close to a lot of effective skin care products out there.6 We know that P. acnes thrives in high pH, so honey’s low pH is great for inhibiting that growth. I wouldn’t recommend leaving it on overnight because its pH may be a little more exfoliation than you bargained for.7
Possible side effects: Honey is made from the nectar of many plants, so proceed with caution if you have allergies. And remember to patch test! It also seems to function as a cat hair magnet.
Would I put it on Kristy’s face?: Yeah. Mostly because I think she’d enjoy the taste of the honey as it travels down her face to her mouth, and also because her skin tends to be on the dry side. (Please note: SCA does not condone eating face masks.)
Addict Approved Alternatives: Zinc oxide as an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal agent. Humectants (like urea and hyaluronic acid) to attract moisture and trap it in your skin. Vaseline as an occlusive and cat hair magnet.
In the next But the Internet Said … we’ll be talking about aspirin masks, The Burning Mask, and sugar scrubs. In the meantime, don’t trust anything without science, and be careful in the kitchen when considering things to put on your face. Seriously. I’m going to chase you out with a wooden spoon soon.