Debunking Skincare Quack Ingredients: How Do You Find the Truth?


With so many skincare products and brands on the market, it can be tough to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Is that $800.00 jar of cream really that much better than the $5.00 bottle of lotion from the discount store?

Which of the following statements is a scientifically reliable indicator of whether or not a product actually works?

“This cream has stem cells from a rare apple that only grows on one tree in the winter on top of a mountain.”

“This cleanser is all-natural, so it’s perfectly safe and it’s great for your skin!”

“The benefits of this algae were discovered when sailors at sea noticed their hands looked smoother and felt softer.”

“9 out of 10 test subjects thought their skin looked better after using this serum.”

None of the above statements are legit science. That’s right- NONE of them.


Rare & Expensive

First off, just because an ingredient is rare doesn’t mean it’s good. While rare also doesn’t mean bad, it’s not necessarily better than something that’s readily available. Several high-end brands are using stem cells from a rare Swiss apple. Keep in mind that botanical stem cells have nothing to do with human stem cells. But, the cells from this rare apple do serve as an excellent source of antioxidants. As a matter of fact, a couple of my personal favorites use this ingredient. Just be aware that rarity doesn’t make an ingredient more effective, and there are often cheaper options available that perform just as well.


Natural Ingredients

As far as natural ingredients go, just because they’re natural doesn’t mean they’re safe, or even good ingredients. (See more information in this post.) Poison ivy is all natural, but would you rub it all over your face? Some natural botanicals contain highly fragrant oils, which can be irritating to sensitive skin. The irritation can cause an inflammatory response, resulting in damage and aging.



In the algae scenario, a fallacy of logic is at play. How do they know it was the algae that made their skin softer? Why not the salt water? What were the environmental conditions? Maybe the moist sea air made their skin more hydrated, and thus more plump. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad ingredient, and there’s a remote possibility it could work, but not likely. Sure it’s a nice story and makes a great marketing gimmick, but the proof just isn’t there.


Legitimate Data vs. Consumer Opinion

As for the last example, my biggest pet peeve is when companies give the false impression of scientific research. This is one of those instances where I’m actually grateful I finished grad school and had to write a thesis!   Although it was a chore, the experience taught me a lot about scientific methods and research methodology.

The example, “9 out 10 test subjects thought…” is consumer opinion, it’s NOT valid, scientific research. First off, nine out of which ten people? The company may have asked a hundred people, and picked just ten people to use for the marketing. This is like saying five out five dentists recommend a certain sugar-free gum. Well, they just keep asking dentists until they find five that will recommend it.

Second, human nature is to please others. The test subjects want to please the researchers, so of course, they’ll report favorable results. Consumer opinion isn’t necessarily bad; most of us trust our friends and ask for their opinions. But, in the skin care industry, consumer opinion should be in addition to legitimate data, not in place of it.

What constitutes legitimate data? Okay, here’s another little pop quiz- which of the two statements below contains legitimate data that is relevant to a wrinkle cream for your face?

“A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 2,000 men and women showed improvement in hyperpigmentation in 98% of subjects.”

“In vitro testing shows that the molecules in this vitamin protected skin cells from damage when free radicals were introduced.”

The first statement is legit; the second statement is a load of crap. While the scenario may, indeed, be true, what on earth do cells and molecules in a petri dish have to do with what goes on in our bodies??? If you don’t know the exact definition of the words the company is using, look them up before spending your hard-earned dough.

In regards to the first statement, double-blind means that neither the researchers nor the test subjects know who has the placebo and who has the real stuff. Only a third party has that information, and it’s kept a secret until the end. Additionally, an adequate sample size of 2,000 was utilized- a study using just ten people isn’t going to cut it.

If you don’t understand the research itself, you can also take a look at the company and the products’ creators. What is their background? What are their credentials? I often go to LinkedIn and do a search for the company. Many times, I can find employees from their R&D (research and development) department, and examine their backgrounds and education.

Now, I’m not saying all products are bad unless they have “legit-ness” behind them. Some companies may not do their own research, but they use ingredients that are proven. Some products may not use any proven ingredients at all, but still be great. The bottom line is that if I’m going to spend a lot of money on something, I want to make for damn certain the ingredients are proven through real science!

If you don’t see a YouTube video above, click here.

I’ll soon be posting my top skincare brands that are backed by real science, so keep checking back!

*All illustrations are royalty-free images from



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    • Thanks! Have you had any experiences with products that didn’t work?

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  5. Thank you for the helpful tips! This will hopdefully make it easier to decide what to get now!

    • Glad to be of assistance- and thank YOU for your support! 🙂

  6. I don’t like to waist my money. It’s good to find this article so I can get something that works instead of the new brilliance cream I’ve been using that doesn’t work at all.

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