Don’t Drown in the Sea of Skin Care Products

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
April 30, 2015

Your lifejacket is self-education and common sense.

If you want to build your own skin care product museum, it’s easy. Just line your medicine cabinet shelves with every product you think you need. Then observe the bottles, jars, and tubes as you would an art gallery because you won’t be using them.

“The least effective and most expensive skin care product ever is that one that’s not used,” says author and skin care expert Rachel Pontillo.

Take a stroll through the skin care section at a drug or department store, and you’ll feel like “your head is about to explode,” she adds. “You only need a few key products in your skin care regimen, I promise you.” Pontillo custom blends products for her clients; all they get is two or three for their daily skin care regimens. Those include a cleanser, a toner, and a moisturizer.

“If you focus on a few simple, properly formulated, multi-tasking products made with top quality ingredients that are right for your skin — and you follow a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle regimen — you’ll have gorgeous skin, period,” she says.

Chicago dermatologist Michael Greenberg is even more skeptical of the skin care product deluge, which he attributes to slick marketing aimed squarely at vulnerable consumers who want to accomplish the illusion of not aging. That includes plenty of men.

Asked what you actually need in your medicine cabinet, Greenberg says “everybody should have a good moisturizer and sunscreen.”

“Even back when I was in training in the city, there were many people who spent a lot of money on skin care products. One of the best moisturizers we would tell people to go out and buy was Crisco. It’s still an awesome moisturizer. The first rule is just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s better.

“The second rule is, you’ll never see an infomercial for pistachio nuts. Everyone loves pistachio nuts. We know they’re great. You don’t need an infomercial or fancy marketing for pistachio nuts. The more something is hyped or marketed, usually the worse it is. The bigger a waste of time it is.

“The third rule is — and this is important — whatever they tell you is in the product that goes into your skin and gets absorbed, like collagen, is a lie. Your skin is made so nothing penetrates it, so when they tell you that it’s total nonsense. Putting collagen on your skin and expecting it to be absorbed is like putting a cheeseburger on your stomach and expecting it to be digested.”

He also has it in for products intended to heal scars. “If you put chocolate syrup on your scar for six months it gets better,” he says. “It’s the six months that gets it better, not the cream. It won’t look any better either way.”

His fourth rule: Nobody has the hidden secret to anything. “If you break down the ingredients to these products, they’re all variations on a theme. They just have different price points and 'prettier bottles,’” he says. “It’s all in marketing and perception.”

Greenberg does acknowledge that there are some “wonderful” moisturizers and cleansers on the market. There is a spectrum of products with retinol that work. Part of it, though, is trusting the person you’re buying a product from. “You have to remember that anyone who is selling you something has a vested interest in the product,” he says.

“If a movie star is pushing it — really?” he says.

One way your medicine cabinet fills up is through brand extension. This marketing tool, in terms of skin care, preaches that it’s best to use several products of the same brand because the different products work “synergistically” with one another for a better end result. Pontillo says there is “some level of truth” that certain ingredients become more effective in synergistic blends, “but, unfortunately, many companies use that in marketing rather than in practice.”

Seattle dermatologist Brandith Irwin, MD, is among those who believe your medicine cabinet should have plenty of room for products that serve other purposes. She recommends cleansers, moisturizers, sunscreens, and repair products that contain retinol.

“All the other stuff out there on the market? Go ahead and play with it — have fun!” she says. “Talk to your friends about it. Make it a luxury for yourself that is part of your own self-care. Go ahead and dream that you may find the fountain of youth.

“But don’t mislead yourself into thinking that your hard-earned cash can get you the facelift in a bottle. And do try only one new product at time. That way you’ll know what causes a reaction if you get one. Even if it is the algae cream that cost you $150!”


March 25, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN