The 7 Most Overrated Skincare Ingredients

Sometimes ingredients get far more praise than they deserve, simply because they’re new, or rare, or just happen to be trendy
Publish date:
October 8, 2014
beauty, cosmetics, skin care, skepticism, argan oil, pseudo-science, woo woo

So, the beauty industry is a fickle creature, always looking for the latest, the greatest and the most exotic. And sometimes ingredients get far more praise than they deserve, simply because they’re new, or rare, or just happen to be trendy. I’m here to talk about what just doesn’t live up to its claims, because I don’t like to see people making money by lying about what their products can actually do.

1. Argan Oil

Super rare, super expensive, and the “it” ingredient du jour. So why is it on the list? Well frankly, it’s really really expensive, and although it has some good stuff in it (like vitamin E), the good stuff is all available from other, less pricey sources.

To add insult to injury it’s got tons of oleic acid in it, which is extremely comedogenic stuff. So basically it’s too expensive and it’ll give you blackheads.

Apparently, its best uses are culinary. I hear it’s great in couscous and mixed with ground almonds and honey as a spread on bread. (Now part of me wants to see if my argan oil moisturizer is edible.)

2. Collagen

Collagen is the thing that breaks down in our skin as we age, right? So it must be a fabulous anti-aging ingredient, right? Well… here’s the thing. Collagen is a big honking molecule and so while it’s a pretty good humectant (meaning it draws water to the skin), it’s just not going to penetrate deep enough into the skin to make a difference in skin aging.

3. Parabens

Now these preservatives get a lot of negative hype, which is still hype. In reality, you have no reason to be afraid. Parabens are in fact some of the safest cosmetic preservatives on the market. The studies that bash them tend to use bad methodology or exposure in extraordinary amounts.(Dihydrogen monoxide’s bad for you too if you’re fully immersed in it).

Parabens are popular because they’ve been extremely well tested and we know their long term effects better than almost any of the other options for cosmetic preservatives. (And preservative free cosmetics aren't a viable option, because you know what is dangerous? infections caused by bacteria growing in your face cream.) A lot of companies have made a lot of money by scaring people into buying their products (with less well-tested, and thus less safe preservatives) instead of a competitor’s.

4. Biotin

This one is in supplements and not so much in skin care, but it’s still labeled as a miracle cure for all sorts of beauty woes. Here’s the thing: There’s no scientific link between stronger/”healthier” hair and nails and consumption of extra biotin. A biotin deficiency will fuck with your hair, skin and nails, but having extra? Science says the link is tenuous at best, and biotin deficiency is extremely rare (unless you consume a lot of raw eggs, in which case you should probably stop eating raw eggs for one thing).

5. Stem Cells

First off, most beauty products use “plant stem cells” in their formulation, which even if stem cells didn’t need to be living to be of any use, wouldn’t be terribly useful. I mean maybe theoretically if they were living cultures with proper nutrients they could turn into a plant, but you don’t want a plant growing on your face. Even those that use animal-derived stem cells, well they’re dead cells, they’re not your cells and frankly they’re a useless nonsense ingredient and it pisses me off how many companies will use meaningless buzzwords to make a quick buck.

6. Rose Oil

Like Argan oil, this one contains some good stuff, like citronellol which is a decent antioxidant. But again the good stuff is easy to get from cheaper sources, and some studies show it’s a fairly nasty irritant, however it does smell awesome, but an awesome smell does not a great skin care ingredient make. I’d advise you to buy yourself something cheaper and save your money for a fantastic perfume.

7. Honey

Honey is often touted for its moisturizing and anti-bacterial properties, and I won’t deny that its a good humectant. On the antibacterial thing though… well, basically the bacteria fighting enzymes in honey vary wildly from batch to batch, so you generally have no idea what you’re getting when you add honey to your skin care product in terms of bacteria-fighting properties.

All this said, I LOVE the idea of miracle beauty products and happily/delusionally use a pointlessly expensive skincare regimen which probably doesn’t do a damned thing for my skin. But hey we all need to believe in something. right?