Original Illustration by Kimmie Perl and Ellie Benuska
We heed the advice of estheticians like it's been written into law. After all, they've studied up on the best ingredients, treatments, and processes for healthy, supple skin and worked their magic on a bevy of clients. Improving skin's look and appearance is their daily intention, and truly, we thank them for their service.
But along with their tips for the best products to use and the best ways to use them, estheticians also have a blacklist of products that they've sworn off for good. The main culprits? Skin-harming ingredients that many of us don't even realize are causing damage. Ready to find out what they are? Keep scrolling.
"Extractions are often done using a metal tool to remove blackheads and whiteheads from the skin," explains Heather Wilson, director of brand development and a licensed esthetician for InstaNatural. "Although effective, improper use can cause damage to the skin—sometimes permanently. Throughout the years, safer methods of extraction have been developed, and many estheticians have adopted these in place of the traditional metal tools. In addition, I have learned that my clients often replicate my methods at home. Although this is done with the best intentions, certain practices should be left to the professional."
If you want to extract at home, do so after getting out of the shower, when the gunk in your pores has lifted to the surface. Then, gently squeeze out the contents with tissue-wrapped fingers.
"Facial scrubs have the ability to quickly slough away dead surface cells, but most can't penetrate the epidermis," warns Wilson. "Chemical exfoliators such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, or enzymes work to dissolve the intercellular glue that holds dead skin cells onto the surface, while also penetrating to enhance the skin's natural cell turnover and address skin concerns in a more holistic way. In turn, the result is a healthier and more efficacious form of exfoliation. In addition, I always recommend an at-home version of these products in place of your traditional scrubs. At-home chemical peels have become very popular and are gentle, easy to use, and provide incredible results." We love InstaNatural's Glycolic Peel ($20).
Products With Artificial Fragrance
"Aromatherapy is widely incorporated into spa treatments and even in skincare products," says Wilson. "Unfortunately, this can be achieved using artificial fragrance (generally just listed as "fragrance" on your product's ingredient list) or synthetic oils. These products can cause irritation to the skin and have questionable side effects due to the additives often used (such as phthalates). Because of this, I focus solely on products free from artificial fragrance and instead leverage essential oils and botanical extracts. Not only are these products safer, but they also provide incredible benefits for the skin. Lavender is great for calming redness, frankincense is known for its anti-aging benefits, and tea tree is powerful against blemishes. The switch to natural fragrances is not only healthier but works double time to enhance results."
Anything With Denatured Alcohol
We've got some bad news: Alcohol is in a lot of products, from haircare to perfumes to—you guessed it—skincare. In fact, it could even be the reason your skin is dry, peeling, or sallow-looking. NYC esthetician Jordana Mattioli denounces denatured alcohol in skincare: "No matter what skin type you have, you want to look for ingredients in leave-on products like serums and moisturizers that are skin replenishing and soothing. Common ones are antioxidants, ceramides, peptides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide." She loves Algenist Genius Ultimate Genius Ultimate Anti-Aging Vitamin C+ Serum ($118) for non-irritating, skin-brightening effects.
Products With Lemon Oil
"After treating faces for over a decade, I am very particular about what products I recommend for my clients to use, says New York–based esthetician Sandra Velandia. "There's a huge misconception that all synthetic, nonorganic ingredients are bad for you when actually, there are a lot of natural organic ingredients that can create irritation to the skin." She pegs lemon oil as one of the biggest causes of irritation because it can cause "swelling and blistering when exposed to the sun."
DIY Vitamin C Serums
"A common DIY recipe is to crush up a vitamin C tablet and apply it to the skin, sometimes mixed with a natural oil to create an 'antioxidant serum,'" says celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. "The biggest problem with this method is that vitamin C has a very difficult time penetrating the skin; even the best cosmetic forms of vitamin C struggle with this issue. Vitamin C is proven to be an excellent ingredient to encourage collagen and slow down damaging free radical activity, but the delivery system is of crucial importance to being effective. Improper forms of vitamin C can irritate the skin and provide no benefits. In fact, it can damage the skin more because vitamin C is highly unstable and oxidizes quickly. When the vitamin C is crushed and placed on the skin, there is no opportunity for the vitamins to penetrate. Instead, I use this Vitamin C&E Treatment because it is a no-sting, non-irritating, stable formula with a pH of 6.8 that delivers 14% of vitamin C into the skin—safely."
Sometimes, it's just about personal preference. Celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas is opposed to the product, saying, "I've sworn off of any type of self-tanning product— I just don't think they look good. I guess I'm meant to be pale!" We think it's all about finding the right self-tanners, though (our favorite drugstore options are streak-free, natural-looking, and affordable).
Which type of product have you completely written off? Please tell us why below!