The myth: shaving your legs causes the hair to grow back thicker and darker
Nope, says trichologist Anabel Kingsley. “Your hair is not like a lawn that is stimulated by cutting. If you cut your hair short, shave your head, legs or anywhere else, hair will not grow back thicker.” It’s the stubby length and squared-off (rather than naturally tapered) hair tips that give the illusion of greater thickness in regrowth – which is why regular trims make the hair on your head appear (falsely) denser and thicker. However, waxing legs (where hairs are pulled from the root, sometimes disrupting hair production) can in some cases cause hairs to grow back more sparsely.
The myth: plucking grey hairs causes more to grow in their place
People are commonly warned that yanking out grey hairs will only cause multiples to appear at their funeral. If only, says Anabel Kingsley, who treats clients with hair thinning and alopecia: “It would be a great way to get thicker hair. Sadly, it isn’t. And pulling out hairs repeatedly can damage the follicle, creating areas of hair loss.”
Kingsley says this oft-repeated myth is most likely perpetuated by the fact that the discovery of one grey hair usually results in a careful search for more.
The myth: darker skins don’t need sunscreen
It isn’t just a myth that olive, brown and black skin needs no sunscreen – it’s a serious public health issue. While it’s true that rates of melanoma and other skin cancers are lower in Black and Asian populations, those that do occur tend to be diagnosed much later, lowering the survival rate.
Dija Ayodele, skincare expert and author of Black Skin: the Definitive Skincare Guide, says people of colour must be diligent in their sun protection: “Because Black and darker skin tones are less likely to develop sun-induced skin cancer, the suncare market doesn’t engage with this demographic. Skin of colour should be included, with the explanation that, yes, melanin (more present in darker skin) gives protection, but it doesn’t mean you should be complacent and forgo sun protection completely.”
Ayodele adds that the trend for modern chemical skin peels and the residual popularity of bleaching products, as well as a propensity towards hyper-pigmentation and discolouration in darker skins, is all the more reason to slather on the SPF.
The myth: parabens are dangerous
Nothing infuriates a beauty expert more than the belief, widely popularised by the “clean beauty” movement, that these common preservatives are a danger to health. Cosmetic scientist Sam Farmer is no exception: “Parabens are ingested by most people every day in fruit and vegetables. They are safe, found in nature, skin-friendly and a fantastic preservative. Saying all parabens are bad is a bit like saying all mushrooms are bad.”
Farmer says that rather than protecting us from harm, the replacement of parabens may actually be putting consumers at risk: “The move away from parabens has led to all sorts of problems with their replacements. Recent product failures, particularly in the US, have led to people reporting mould growth in their cosmetics and led to product recalls.”
The myth: washing hair too often is bad for it
Not according to celebrity and fashion hairstylist Neil Moodie, who has worked with Kate Moss, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. “Haircare is all about your hair type,” he says. “Straight and fine hair needs to be washed more frequently, as the natural sebum from the scalp travels down the shaft more easily, giving the hair a flatter, oilier look and feel. Thicker, curlier, coiled or wavy hair can be left longer, allowing the oil more time to travel down to the tips and stop them drying out.” If you’re using gentle products, you can wash oilier hair as often as you like; drier hair will benefit from less frequent washing, to allow the natural oils time to travel down the shaft.
Moodie says the regular users of styling products should also ramp up the shampooing, so they can’t build up and irritate the scalp or damage hair. For frequent washers, he recommends using an SLS/detergent-free shampoo to massage the scalp and root area, then a conditioner only on mid-lengths to ends.
The myth: sunscreen makes us deficient in vitamin D
Many have argued in recent years that our increased awareness around sun protection has led to widespread vitamin D deficiency. But many people living in Britain are already vitamin D-deficient, sunscreen or no sunscreen. The dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting says for most of us it’s a non-issue: “For the vast majority, there should be no concern with vitamin D levels [and sunscreen] because of ‘real-world application’ (what a regular person would slather on). But those who practise rigorous protection by wearing photo-protective clothing, hats, staying in the shade and applying sunscreen at the correct dose (2mg per sq cm), do have a higher risk, so oral supplementation is advised.” For others, sitting outside for a few minutes with unprotected forearms should top up vitamin D levels nicely, though dark-skinned people tend to require more exposure to generate the same amount of vitamin D.
The myth: false lashes and extensions damage natural lashes
Teresa Smith, the founder of I Love Lash salon in central London,encounters this belief constantly, and lays the blame at shoddy practitioners. “A skilled lash artist works meticulously, adding hand-crafted extensions to one natural lash at a time,” she says. “I’m always mindful of the length and thickness of the lashes applied, to ensure they’re not too heavy/long and that they’re properly isolated, to allow the natural lashes to continue growing healthily without any irritation.”
Extensions or none, she believes lash maintenance begins at home: “Scrubbing off mascara every day is damaging to the natural lashes.” Instead, gently stroke lashes with cleanser or remover. “I often see clients’ natural lash health improve with extensions, because they encourage wearers to be gentler.”
The myth: you can’t use active skincare ingredients when you’re pregnant
Information on skincare during pregnancy, particularly those with active ingredients such as vitamin C, Bs and ingredient du jour niacinamide (found in meat, poultry, fish, nuts and vegetables), is among the most conflicting and confusing online.
Doctor and aesthetician Ahmed El Muntasar provides clarity: “You can absolutely use actives when you’re pregnant, and actually a lot of my clients who get botox and filler with me pre-pregnancy move on to some form of active when pregnant to retain skin glow and vibrancy.”
There are a couple of exceptions, he says: “With retinol and salicylic acid, there is a theoretical risk of developing issues with the pregnancy around haemorrhages and development of the placenta and the foetus. These products have not been tested in pregnancy, because that isn’t possible, but in lab studies and in theory the risk is there, so we err on the side of caution.”
The myth: never pluck your own eyebrows
This isn’t entirely true, but expert Shavata Singh, CEO and founder of Shavata Brows, does believe DIY brows should be a case of knowing one’s limitations. “The best thing anyone can do is to begin by getting a professional to create the ideal brow shape for you, then follow their design at home, by tweezing away stragglers,” she says. You will naturally lose your shape over time as fine hairs grow in, but this method will mean less-frequent appointments. If you must shape at home, Singh suggests drawing in your design with a brow pencil, not straying too far from the natural shape (anything below the arch is fair game), before picking up the tweezers. Avoid plucking from above, and take care not to overdo it.
The myth: your skin gets used to skincare and it stops working
This can be debunked by looking at ingredients with substantial and expansive long-term clinical findings (known as “long-term follow-up studies”).
Consultant dermatologist Dr Jason Thomson from the Skin+Me service, says: “Tretinoin, the most active form of retinoid, is a prescription-only medicine and the best studied of all the retinoids. Studies have been done where people have used tretinoin regularly for one to four years, and these have shown that clinical improvements (as well as improvements seen under a microscope from biopsies) are seen over long periods and the benefits actually increase over time.”
So it seems the theory of “overfamiliarity” carries little weight. Thomson says: “Studies give us evidence that the opposite is true and they form the basis for dermatologists’ advice that consistency is key with skincare. Sticking to ingredients that have proven benefits is the best approach, not chopping and changing your products and routine.”
• This article was amended on 8 January 2022. Dr Sam Bunting is a dermatologist, but not a consultant dermatologist as stated in an earlier version.