You can’t believe everything you read on the internet: We all know this, but when it comes to anything DIY that you would apply to your skin, sometimes we fail to use our better judgement. Sure, some are much safer than others: a coffee scrub you can make with ingredients from your own kitchen to rejuvenate your skin? Count us in! But putting Elmer’s glue on your skin in hopes of it removing their blackheads? Oh dear god, stay away.
There’s something to be said about the feel-good powers of a DIY recipe and a quick-fix, skin-care hack, but there are simply DIY skin-care ingredients that are terrible for your skin. So rather than you send you off to your own devices to possibly destroy your face with a few bad DIY recipes, we went to the experts (those with actual medical degrees and years and years of schooling) to give us a rundown on the most-common DIY ingredients and products that have gotten a rap for being safe for your skin, but are actually among the worst perpetrators of hardcore skin issues.
Keep reading to see if your favorite scrub or mask is causing more harm than good.
While the scrubby texture of baking soda seems similar to the exfoliators in your favorite face scrub, the seemingly harmless powder is actually disastrous for your skin. Why? It goes back to 7th-grade science (stay with us, here): Your skin has a natural pH of roughly 4.5 to 5, and when you mess with its pH levels, it’s the equivalent of a throwing a nuke into the rainforest. Baking soda is super alkaline with a high pH of 9, which will significantly damage your skin’s natural barrier, which is crucial for keeping bad bacteria out, says Danbury, Connecticut dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD. Using it even once will cause damage to your skin, even if you can’t see it with your naked eye, and prolonged use on the face will eventually cause significant moisture loss, along with compromising your skin’s ability to regulate itself. Fun, right?
Unlike baking soda with a high pH, lemon juice is on the opposite side of the pH scale, with a pH of 2, meaning it’s highly, highly acidic. So when you apply pure lemon directly to your skin, the acids immediately disrupt your skin’s acid mantle and causes a significant amount of irritation on cellular levels, says Gohara. The oils in citrus fruits are also phototoxic, meaning they can cause blistering rashes and burns on your skin if you’re exposed to the sun after applying them. Basically, just say no to lemon.
“Hairspray? Why would anyone put hairspray on their face?” you ask. Surprisingly, hairspray has been recommended by the beauty-obsessed as a quick, in-a-pinch makeup setting spray. And sure, accidentally getting some hairspray on your face every so often isn’t the end of the world, but when you’re directly spraying it on your skin with the goal of setting your makeup, “it’s incredibly, incredibly comedogenic, meaning it will clog the hell out of your pores, and that’s on top of drying your skin out with its alcohol content,” says Gohara. So steer clear of the hairspray, and opt instead for a product that’s made for setting makeup, like Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray.
Guys, please stop applying toothpaste to your zits and dark spots. Not only will it not work (or, at least not even close to as well as usual skin-care products), but it’s also “filled with irritating ingredients, like peppermint, peroxide, fragrances, and alcohol, making it the perfect combination of things that will tear up your skin and possibly lead to chemical burns,” says Gohara. Instead, turn to a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, like Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment, or even a dab of tea tree oil.
“Hot water strips your skin’s moisture barrier, so we actually consider it an irritant,” says Gohara. Yes, a steaming-hot shower feels excellent on sub-zero nights, but the water will literally zap away your skin’s lipids, leaving you red, irritated, and itchy—which is especially scary for people with eczema, psoriasis, or keratosis pilaris, whose skin barrier are already compromised. Plus, drying out your skin will put your oil production into overdrive, leading to more acne and breakouts.
As a mild antiseptic, hydrogen peroxide is one of the best ways to prevent infections in minor cuts and burns, but as an ingredient in your DIY recipe, it’s a horrible, terrible idea. Not only is hydrogen peroxide a common allergen that can result in inflammation and burning of the skin with prolonged use, it will decrease your skin’s ability to heal itself and strip away all of your skin’s protective barriers and moisture levels, says Gohara.
OK, so the skin on your body and the skin on your face are not the same—at least, in terms of what they can and can’t handle. Most body lotions contain a ton of fragrance and fewer nourishing ingredients than a facial moisturizer, which is fine for your tough, resilient body, but potentially irritating and comedogenic for your face. “Heavily fragranced body lotions are a Pandora’s Box for anyone with rosacea or acne, because you’re essentially adding fuel to the fire for any skin condition,” says Gohara. “Even if you don’t have skin issues, you’re still likely to have some sort of reaction, because fragrance is a top-three skin allergen, meaning it’s irritating for most people.”
“Using sugar on your lips as an exfoliant is totally fine, because your lips tend to be more resilient and sturdy; but the jagged, angular edges of a sugar crystal are far too abrasive for your face, leading to tiny micro-tears in the surface of your skin that cause inflammation, red marks, and irritation,” says Gohara. In fact, even store-bought face scrubs are often too harsh for the skin, since coffee beans, nut shells, and other natural exfoliators still have sharp edges. Instead, look for a scrub with rice bran powder, like Tatcha Deep Rice Enzyme Powder, which gently exfoliates skin without tearing it up.
Like hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol is an antibacterial disinfectant used to sterilize wounds to avoid infection… and, you know, to clean your house. “Rubbing alcohol is one of the most drying, damaging ingredients you can put on your face,” says Gohara. “We use rubbing alcohol to replicate skin irritation in the lab, so it’s literally scientifically bad for your skin. It strips your skin barrier of essential lipids and proteins, leading to a decrease in moisture and an increase of bacteria and irritants getting in.”
A version of this article was originally published in May 2016.