"But I got it from the health food store!" Challenging some long-standing myths around healthy skin habits

These days, most of us go online as a first point of reference when we’re looking for answers about our health. Sometimes, we get good ones—there’s plenty of information available from respected sources. The trouble is, there’s also a lot of questionable advice.

When it comes to healthy skin habits, there are misconceptions that persist—both online and off. So, we spoke with skin expert Dr. Melinda Gooderham, a dermatologist and Assistant Professor at Queen’s University School of Medicine, to try and debunk some of the myths and misunderstandings that people have about taking care of their skin.

Myth #1

Natural products are better

“Many people assume that, if a product is labelled ‘natural’ or ‘organic’, it’s automatically healthy for your skin,” says Dr. Gooderham. “but that is not always true for everyone.” One of her patients was cleansing her skin with baby wipes, resulting in an allergy causing an itchy rash, so Dr. Gooderham advised her to avoid using them. Six months later, the patient came back with the same symptoms. Why? “She had switched to wipes from a natural food store, thinking they were fine,” shares Dr. Gooderham. “In fact, they contained lavender, a natural product that also happens to be highly allergenic.”


Myth #2

If I use SPF 60, I can stay out in the sun twice as long as with SPF 30

The truth is, no matter what level of SPF you choose, you will need to reapply your sunscreen often to stay protected. “Some people don’t like to use chemical sunscreens because they are absorbed through the skin,” says Dr. Gooderham. “We have no evidence to show that they’re harmful, but to avoid absorption, you can choose a physical sunblock like zinc or titanium oxide if you prefer.”

Another solution is to wear protective clothing and stay out of the sun at peak hours. “One thing I know for sure is that sun damage to your skin does cause cancer. Protecting yourself from the sun is an absolute must,” advises Dr. Gooderham.


Myth #3

Indoor tanning is safer than natural sun

“I have a lot of snowbirds who still think that getting a ‘base tan’ before they head south for a holiday helps protect their skin,” says Dr. Gooderham. “Sun beds use only UVA light, which tans the skin. Without the UVB that causes your skin to burn, a tanning bed is like a poisonous gas that has no smell. You’re doing damage but you don’t have the burn to warn you that something bad is happening.”

Her advice?
“Just don’t do it. A tan is sun damage. End of story.”


Myth #4

Makeup is bad for acne

Dr. Gooderham sees many young women struggling with acne. “I hope this one will solve a few mother/daughter arguments,” offers the doctor. “There are many non-comedogenic make up products that teens can use to cover acne.” Boosting confidence is so important for young people. A non-comedogenic product doesn’t clog pores, and won’t make acne worse. “Mineral-based powders are effective, but always read the label to make sure it won’t clog your pores.”


Myth #5

My body absorbs everything I put on my skin

Your skin is a protective barrier. Some things stay on the surface, others are absorbed. How much depends on these factors:

  1. The size of the molecule in the product—if it’s small enough, it can penetrate through or between your cells.
  2. The vehicle that the molecule is in—a spray may work differently from a cream.
  3. The amount, and how often you put the product on your skin.
  4. Where you use the product on your body. Your eyelids are your thinnest skin, while your lower back skin is the thickest.
  5. Some skin diseases, like eczema, can make your skin break down so the barrier isn’t as intact or as good as it could be, which will also affect absorption.

“Absorbing things through your skin is not necessarily a bad thing. Many topical medications work this way,” says Dr. Gooderham.


While these are the ‘big five’ that Dr. Gooderham comes across in her daily work, we also asked her to share some of the ‘home remedies’ that people swear by. With a bit of a chuckle, she offered these up:

  • Mouthwash to treat toenail fungus
  • Apple cider vinegar to remove a skin tag
  • Toothpaste for clearing pimples

“These are unproven and unlikely to help. In some cases, they may make things worse,” says Dr. Gooderham. “It’s always best to get advice from a health professional.”

Many thanks to Dr. Gooderham for helping clear up some of the myths around healthy skin habits. As she mentioned, if you have concerns, please consult a family physician or certified dermatologist. You’ll also find some more (dependable) information on the Canadian Dermatology Association’s website.