Identifying Fake Skin News

Discover the Truth Behind Commonly Traded Dermatologic Myths


The beauty and wonder of the internet. A true marvel in its offerings. Allowing you to have coffee with a professor in Strasbourg (yours won't be as good as his), learn how to change your tail light, make reservations at the new farm-to-table down the street, find a date for said reservation, and share in the sad, bad, weird and wonderful musings of the wise and learned, and the not so wise and not so learned. Thus, with this gift, we accept the caveat that we must in our acceptance of this wealth of data, become discerning in acquisition. For all you know, you could know more than the guy writing the article. Or blog. Or vlog. Or snatch. Or whatever new thing you've come up with now.  All that to say, there is a lot of information out there even when it comes to your skin. Some of it sounds pretty dang legit. So, let's address some of these and identify the fake dermatology news.

I'm African American. I don't need sunscreen because we don't get skin cancer. 

Negative. Actually, studies reveal that skin cancer in darker skin tones are generally more severe because of the fact that this population isn't as closely monitored, and because skin cancers tend to show up in less likely places. Like on the feet. I mention it frequently but Bob Marley is a great example. Not sure if you are aware but he died of melanoma that started on his toe. Treatable? Absolutely. Have a dermatologist check your birthday suit once a year. Often a patient will present to me to evaluate one spot, that I'll determine to be innocent, but during that visit find another that the patient hadn't been concerned of, that IS cancerous. Get checked. No matter your skin color.


I bought SPF 4000.  I am protected for life!

Nope. Taking it from SPF30 to 50 only increases your skin protection by 1%. AND you still need to reapply both at the same interval (every two hours). So, once you get to SPF30, you're pretty good.  I will say that most people apply 25-50% of the recommended dosage, meaning that the true SPF (due to faulty application) may be far less.  Thus, getting a higher SPF may be beneficial for your less than thorough appliers. Gives you a buffer if you want to get lazy (me). What is the recommended dose, you ask?  A bank-breaking whopping 1 oz every two hours for your whole body (obviously adjust a bit for your body size; you've been killing' it at the squat rack and your quads are just beast / food baby / etc.) Oh, and that SPF only addresses UVB. If you want UVA coverage (wrinkles and sun spots, we're looking' at you), then you need a bottle that specifically proclaims "broad spectrum" coverage. I know, tricky right? 


Chocolate and greasy foods cause acne. 

Wrong.  But then why do I always get acne when I eat chocolate and greasy food? Well, sweet pea, I reach for those items... When an angry neighbor yells at me, when I get in a fender bender, when I'm on my period... Hormonal factors, stress, bacteria and keratinocyte activity (skin cell stuff) causes acne. Now, there has been studies linking SKIM milk, specifically (yeah, I thought that was a little counter-intuitive too) and high glycemic diets to acne outbreaks.  So, skip the Italian and reach for the tempura battered Hershey's bars. That was a joke, but ACTUALLY, there are studies to support an increase in serotonin activity from chocolate consumption, thus reducing or alleviating stress. Chocolate as an acne cure?!  Yeah, that's a stretch.  But enjoy nonetheless.


Ooooh.  I love this one.  "Natural" and "organic" products are better.

Wrong. Synthetic compounds have been created to specifically address a problem, often emulating natural compounds but minimizing the associated adverse effects.  Natural products are not necessarily great for you. Roll around in a patch of natural poison ivy for me to confirm. Additionally, natural products often have been less studied, less purified (contaminants) with unknown effects / side effects.  A lot of "natural" products are highest on dermatology culprit lists for allergic reactions and rashes every year. True story.


But preservatives are the devil, right?

Not necessarily. Preservatives help prevent bacteria and other organisms from growing in products, that could reduce efficacy, or worse, actually hurt your skin. And I'm sure you're ALL wanting to hear about PARABENS. The latest skin buzzword. The research concludes... Nothing! There’re no definitive findings that conclude applying it topically causes harm. That's coming straight from the CDC folks. And if you still love hearing "natural", well guess what, parabens are. They are found naturally throughout nature. Like in fruits and vegetables. So, consider that when you're eating your strawberries.


As long as you tan and don't burn, you're safe. 

Sorry. A tan tells me you've just upped your skin cancer risk. But hey, it happens to the best of us. I get it. I will unintentionally tan on occasion (Shh, don't tell my colleagues. (C'mon, they're human, they do too!!!)) But I'm just saying, there's no such thing as a "healthy" tan. Okay, maybe a spray-on. But some of those are so orange they are unhealthy to those who have to look at it.


But I need vitamin D!

I like my patient’s vitamin D deficient. That's a joke. But there are way better ways to get your daily dose of vitamin D than mutating your skin cells, n'est-ce pas?


You don't need sunscreen because it's going to rain today. 

When it's overcast, you're still getting up to 80% penetration of UV radiation. Take it from my guys that are constantly having to come back to me for skin cancer surgery.  They know.  And as much as I enjoy exercising my surgical skills, I'm sure you'd prefer it weren't on you.


Apple cider vinegar cures acne. And wrinkles. And brown spots. And bad children.

Wrong. I never could understand why people rummage their kitchen, or garage, or Home Depot, for answers to their skin conditions. I feel like those that spend their life cooped up over petri dishes and Erlenmeyer flasks, day in and day out, for decades, literally dedicating themselves to determining what the best thing is, would have come across... "Oh, wow, Windex actually is the cure all for all skin things.  Next problem." And these are no dummies guys. These are people with resumes for days.  So, let's keep our salad dressing in our appetizer course because there is no scientific evidence to back these claims.


I'm too young for Botox. 

Well, I'm not going to say that's NEVER true. I'm not recommending Botox for your newborn.  But I certainly don't think I'm old and I buy into the vitamin B.  For Botox.  It's a preventative.  Think about a piece of paper.  That's your face in this scenario. And you fold it. And you fold it, and you fold it again. That's your muscles making facial expression / wrinkles.  Well, over time, that crease is DEEP and permanent even when you're not folding the paper. Same deal with your face. If we can SOFTEN (not concrete) these expressions, that line will fade / fail to form as deeply, thus maintaining a more youthful appearance.


I think that's a good start. But if there's a specific internet factoid that you'd like to evaluate, send it!  Preferably skin related. But I'm always up for a good challenge. Talk to me (also, visit me on Instagram (@DrKimDermatology). I promise I'll only convey scientific, evidence-based information accompanied by a handful of tasteless jokes, as a good dermatologist should.

Author Kimberly A Werner, MD — Published June 1, 2019