Separate fact from fiction so you can look your best

By Jené Luciani
September 24, 2012

You think middle-school gossip is bad, consider the things you hear about makeup and hair products: Lip balm is addictive, hair extensions will make you go bald, snake venom works like Botox?! While some of these are true (you really can get hooked on lip products!), a lot is bunk-and those urban legends could be harming your appearance.

To help you keep your skin, nails, hair, and entire body looking gorgeous, Perry Romanowski and Randy Schueller, cosmetic chemists and authors of Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm? (Harlequin, 2012), address nine beauty rumors you've likely heard and reveal the not-so-ugly truth. Because gossip about who hooked up last night is much juicier than makeup, right?

Pseudo Salon


Rumor: So-called "salon brands" are only in salons; anything sold in a store is a fraud.

The Truth: The store versions are legit. "Salon brands depend on store sales to boost their profits," Romanowski says. "They want you to think that their brand is salon-only so it seems more exclusive, but they also want the high-volume sales that they can only get through mass market outlets." So go ahead and buy that salon shampoo at your local drugstore. "I can safely tell you that the products you are buying are the same as you would get from your stylist," Romanowski says.

Rapunzal Needs Rogaine


Rumor: Hair extensions damage your locks and cause bald spots.

The Truth: Enjoy running your fingers through your lengthy locks now because you may need a wig in the future. "Over the course of about six to eight weeks, heavy extensions can pull on hair and cause the follicle to atrophy and stop producing normal hairs," Schueller says. If the extensions are removed in time, no problem: The follicles will recover and begin producing hairs again. But if the follicles are permanently damaged, there's not much that can be done. "While forgoing extensions altogether is the best move, if you must have Giuliana Rancic tresses, have the extensions removed monthly and go a few weeks au naturel to give your hair a rest before putting them back in," Schueller says. Or spare your mane and use clip-ins.

A Snake in the Grass


Rumor: Snake venom works just as well as Botox-without the needles.

The Truth: A peptide (that's science talk for a protein compound) developed by a Swiss-based chemical company is being touted for erasing deep forehead wrinkles because it supposedly mimics the muscle-relaxing effects of a peptide found in temple viper snake venom. Unfortunately, all the marketing claims are based on studies the company funded, and this research is shoddy: It doesn't reveal how many people were tested, who was tested, whether the product was compared to Botox (or anything for that matter), or whether its product even penetrates the dermis, where it might possibly have an effect. Talk about snake oil.

Fat Lip


Rumor: Lip plumpers make your kisser larger.

The Truth: Glosses that promise Angelina Jolie's lips work by temporarily irritating the lips, causing them to swell slightly, says Romanowski. "That tingly feeling is not your imagination; it's the body's natural immune response reacting to a menthol-type chemical that most plumpers use." Yes, your smackers will be larger for an hour or two, but the irritation can cause scarring and permanently damage sensitive lip cells if you use the products for more than a year.

Steel Nails


Rumor: Nail hardening products make tips stronger and prevent breaking.

The Truth: These products can actually do the opposite, making your nails fragile-hello, breakage! "The formaldehyde in hardeners creates a bond between the strands of keratin protein in your nails," Romanowski says. "This makes nails ‘stronger,' but it also makes them less flexible and, therefore, more brittle." And while nail polish remover is a must-have, only use it once or twice a week, she says, because it removes natural oils that help make nails elastic and strong. For further protection, use a hand and cuticle cream that contains petrolatum or mineral oil once a week to keep nails moist and improve their overall condition.

The Root of All Evil


Rumor: Permanent hair removal lasts forever.

The Truth: With methods such as electrolysis and laser hair removal, hair follicles are "killed" at the root, but even if you do get the entire root, experts say, there's no guarantee that the hair won't return. "The stimulus for hair growth in an area is never permanently removed," Anthony Watson, director of anesthesiology, general hospital, infection control, and dental devices at the FDA, is cited as saying in Can You get Hooked on Lip Balm? "For instance, you can't control hormonal changes that spur new growth." Hair could theoretically grow back within a couple of years after treatment is completed-so keep those tweezers around!

Absorption Distortion


Rumor: You absorb 5 pounds of chemicals a year through your skin from the products you use on it.

The Truth: Beauty industry magazine In-Cosmetics made headlines when it reported this in 2007, and the "fact" has perpetuated. But it didn't come from any academic studies: It was a quote from a scientist who runs a natural cosmetics company. And his claim is ridiculous, Romanowski says. "It suggests that skin is a sponge that absorbs any chemical it's exposed to, but skin is just the opposite-it's a barrier that prevents chemicals from getting inside your body." While it's not ironclad because some compounds such as sunscreen and nicotine do pass through, for the most part, the raw materials in cosmetics do not penetrate the skin so deeply that they are absorbed into the bloodstream, where they could cause harm.

The Big C Cosmetics


Rumor: Parabens cause cancer-never use products containing them!

The Truth: Despite their reputation, these preservatives do more good than harm, Schueller says. "Parabens are put in formulas in small amounts to prevent the growth of disease-causing microbes. Without them, cosmetics could be home to bacteria, yeast, fungi, and other things that can cause serious, immediate health problems." For now, the FDA says there's no reason for alarm, plus an independent scientific organization in Europe recently reviewed all the data on parabens and concluded that they are perfectly safe for use in cosmetics. Whew!

The Natural Choice


Rumor: Organic products are better.

The Truth: Unlike the food industry, the cosmetics world has no standard meaning for terms such as "organic" or "natural," Schueller says. "A company might claim that a product is ‘90 percent organic' and be telling the truth because their body wash is 90 percent water, and the rest of the ingredients are synthetic surfactants, fragrances, preservatives, and colors," she says. These products are no better for the environment and may be less effective than conventional cosmetics. "Manufacturers have fewer ingredients to choose from when formulating green products, so the ones they can choose from just aren't as effective as the others out there," Schueller says.