Traditional beauty beliefs: are they true?

We rounded up some of the biggest beauty beliefs – stuff that’s been floating around for so long we believe it must be true – and put them before a panel of India’s leading specialists. Read on…

brunch Updated: Jun 15, 2013 18:21 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times

When it comes to beauty, everyone’s an expert. The auntiji who barely knows you will tell you it’s time to get a facial. Mr WhatsHisName from the accounts department will tell you he has 37 herbal remedies for hair loss – and so easy yaar! The neighbour’s daughter, all of 15, already knows hyaluronic acid from common humectant. And everyone behind the beauty counters swears you need SPF 70 sunscreen in summer because, you know, it’s hotter.

You could listen to them all. Or you could listen to the experts. We rounded up some of the biggest beauty beliefs – stuff that’s been floating around for so long we believe it must be true – and put them before a panel of India’s leading specialists.

Cosmetic physician Dr Rashmi Shetty, dermatologist Dr Sachin Dhawan and co-founder of award-winning make-up studio Fat Mu, Virginia Holmes, picked apart each claim and responded with the voice of wisdom. Some things they agreed were true. Most made them laugh out loud. It’s amazing what some people still do in the name of beauty. Are you one of them? Read on…


Fairness creams are the best way to whiter skin

THE TRUTH: Fairness creams might make you a shade or two lighter. But, as Dr Rashmi Shetty, cosmetic physician and anti-ageing expert, says, they may not necessarily work in the way you would like or imagine them to. "The effects last only as long as you apply them," she says. "Or maybe they will linger for a month or two, not beyond that. If you want your fairness cream to have real results, make sure you use sun protection along with it." also warns that while most whitening agents are not harmful, you should be wary of hydroquinone (a melanin-decreasing chemical in most fairness products). It increases exposure to UVA and UVB rays, increasing risk of skin cancers in addition to its own carcinogenic effects. "Long-term use can cause harm. In some users, it may actually turn the skin darker," Shetty says. "Hydroquinone is something for which you should get a prescription from a doctor on how much to use and how long to use for your skin."THE CLAIM: Soap is bad for your face

THE TRUTH: Not anymore. At one point, soaps contained harmful lyes and carbolic formulations that aimed to treat your face like a pile of laundry. Today, there are several kinds of soaps, many of them safe for facial use. "If you have acne, there are soaps that contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to treat it. Then there are soaps with moisturisers for dry skin types," says Dr Shetty.

"Pick soap that suits your skin type, the climate you are in and your lifestyle. And how long do they stay on the skin anyway? Hardly a minute!"

THE CLAIM: Facials do more harm than good in the long run

THE TRUTH: Only if you’re a lazy consumer. "You have to go to a centre that uses sterilised equipment, disposable tools and where the creams and lotions rubbed on your face are of good quality and right for your skin type," says Dr Shetty. "The expert should be well versed with skincare, which product will suit what type of skin and in what quantity." In other words, don’t pick an interesting facial from a menu or go with what’s trendy. Have a thorough talk with your facialist to determine whether they care about what’s good for you.

THE CLAIM: Something that scrubs your skin is good for exfoliation
THE TRUTH: Your ignorance may just cost you the healthy skin you have. A good scrub for the face should have fine and even granules, not the hard, jagged bits usually derived from nut shells. It needs to scrub, not scratch. Dr Shetty recommends a scrub at the end of the day, once in three days or less.
Or you can try a chemical exfoliant, essentially a peel. “Make sure it is very mild, has the right concentration of acid and enzymes, and use it sparingly,” she says. And because you’re essentially taking away one layer of your skin’s defence, “it is important to use proper sun protection and moisturiser for your skin,” she adds.

THE CLAIM: All-natural products are good for you. Anything with chemicals is bad
THE TRUTH: Wrong! Believing that every natural substance is harmless is a dangerous misconception – many herbs are poisonous or trigger allergies, and it’s possible for an all-natural concoction to have no intended benefits. “In fact, there is nothing like a completely natural product,” Dr Shetty says. “Once you pluck out a plant, its medicinal value might die in mere minutes. The longest half-life of a medicinal plant is a day. To be processed, packaged and brought to market shelves, it needs chemicals to preserve it.”
All synthetic substances aren’t a curse either. “It’s like saying all drugs are bad.” Just make sure that what you use is safe and suitable for your skin. Do your research before you fall for packaging or savvy marketing.

THE CLAIM: The higher a sunscreen’s SPF, the better
THE TRUTH: SPF is not a function of how strong a formula is, but how long it can provide you protection. SPF 10 for example is able to offer roughly 100 minutes of sun protection before the ingredients start to break down. Recent studies have pointed out that you don’t need more than SPF 50 and most skincare specialists will tell you that you’re better off applying SPF 25 twice than exposing yourself for long periods of sun without a top-up.

“The best protection comes with an SPF of 30 to 50,” Dr Shetty says. Look for one that protects against UVA and UVB rays, and prepare to reapply regularly if you’re outdoors for long periods. “Equally important is the quantity of cream being used. It has to be appropriate for the SPF to work.” So slather it on liberally. It won’t defend you from a tan, but it might save you from cancer.


Drinking water is great for the skin. But don’t overdo it. Aim for two litres a day at least


Wearing make-up every day causes acne, pigmentation, wrinkles and other skin problems

THE TRUTH: Dermatologists and make-up professionals agree that there’s no truth to this. "Make-up is absolutely not harmful," Dr Shetty asserts. Use quality products within their expiry date and you’ll be fine. Just avoid applying more products to an already present layer with too many touch-ups. "This can cause acne in some people," she adds.

What does affect your skin, however, is not what you put on it, but how you care for it. Use a cleanser formulated to take off make-up, not your daily face wash, and moisturise at least twice a day. And be thankful that you live in 2013. "Today’s products have been tested over years and we have very strict safety regulations now," says Virginia Holmes, co-founder of make-up studio Fat Mu. "If you have sensitive skin or don’t want to use make-up that’s tested on animals, look for brands that have a natural and ethical approach." She recommends Aveda and brands that carry mineral make-up.

THE CLAIM: You should test perfume by spraying your wrists and rubbing them together

THE TRUTH: Stop this ghastly old practice right now. Modern perfumes (unlike ancient perfumed oils and ittars) are too delicate to hold up to such violence. Once sprayed, the alcohol in them is meant to evaporate, leaving behind a scent that reveals itself differently to your nose as time passes.

Don’t distort the scent by rubbing. Oprah Winfrey’s tip: "One spritz on each wrist, two on the neck, one on the décolletage. Body heat at these critical points helps diffuse the scent."


You should leave a pimple alone. Because scars caused by squeezing take longer to fade

THE CLAIM: Foundation should be a shade lighter than your skin, concealer too
THE TRUTH: “It’s 2013 not 1913!” exclaims Holmes, who has worked on several award-winning films like Slumdog Millionaire, ad campaigns and fashion shoots. “Anyone who thinks that their foundation/base/concealer should be lighter than their skin is stuck in a time warp. If you go lighter, your face will look ashy grey; you may look ill and [come across as] someone who wants to be fair-skinned and so very insecure.”

Your base make-up should match your skin in a way that makes it impossible to detect. It may take longer before you find the right shade, but don’t slather on the wrong colour. “In today’s age, we are proud to be what we are,” Holmes says. “Being yourself, whether you’re dark and lovely or pale and interesting, is what’s cool; NOT being something you’re not. Aim to look good, polished and natural. Change your attitude!”

THE CLAIM: If you want a flawless face, just use more foundation

THE TRUTH: Great idea, if you want to look cakey and artificial. If you want to look like a better version of your natural self, however, Holmes suggests you look beyond foundation. "We have the choice of tinted moisturisers, BB creams, light diffusing liquids, sheer creams, concealers and light reflecting pens," she says. "Don’t just paste your face with a base and keep piling it on. A base all over your skin can be great for an evening out, removing redness and possibly some concealing. Or you may just want to wear a moisturiser with a concealer. Go to a good beauty brand and ask them to recommend what you need and TRY IT OUT. I cannot stress that enough. I recommend MAC."


Dark eyeliner makes dark circles look worse. Invest in a good concealer so the only black is the liner, not the skin

Hair Care

THE CLAIM: Brushing your hair with 100 strokes is the key to shiny hair

THE TRUTH: "It’s totally untrue, and of all the myths I hear about, this one is the furthest from reality," says Dr Sachin Dhawan, a senior consulting dermatologist at Delhi’s Fortis hospital, who also runs his own clinic Skin ‘N’ Smiles. While he agrees that combing detangles hair, it’s a myth that it leads to better circulation for your scalp. "Your body’s oils spread naturally through your scalp," he says. "Comb only as much as you need. Anything more will cause hair to weaken and break – the very opposite effect of what you were looking for."

THE CLAIM: Plucking greys causes more to appear

THE TRUTH: Again, Dr Dhawan says there’s simply no evidence to support this logic. "One grey hair simply means the body has started its ageing process; more greys will crop up at the rate your body will produce them, regardless of plucking." But plucking healthy grey strands can damage the roots. If you must minimise greys, snip them with scissors as close to the scalp as you can.


Baby oil is a great make-up remover. Just remember it's not a cleanser. You will need to clean your face after.

From HT Brunch, June 16

Follow us on

Connect with us on

First Published: Jun 14, 2013 17:05 IST