A Dermatologist Debunks Beauty and Skincare Old Wives’ Tales

Beauty Old Wives' Tales

Bananas for bruises and beer shampoo – reviewing skincare’s weirdest old wives’ tales

There’s something undeniably appealing about the idea that a cure to your skincare woes can be found in your kitchen cupboards or first-aid kit. But is there any truth to some of skincare’s strangest old wives’ tales? I asked dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD for his professional opinion – and the results may just surprise you.


Butter as a Healing Ointment

Butter as a healing ointment old wives' tales


Using butter to treat burns by rubbing an unmelted, room-temp stick over the affected area is a remedy that’s been tossed around for years. And while the application of grease won’t assuage the pain, it should work to speed up healing and minimize scarring. This is because it “contains natural fats that can help soothe and protect,” according to Zeichner. However, it’s likely no more and probably less effective than something like jojoba oil (which is probably a lot more appealing).



Preparation H to Minimize Under-Eye Bags

Preparation H to Minimize Under Eye Circles Old Wives' Tales


This old wives’ tale has garnered a lot of attention, most likely because of how odd it sounds (and the unsettling idea of putting butt cream on your face). And guess what? It’s probably not a bad idea, according to Zeichner. “Preparation H contains an ingredient that constricts blood vessels and may help eliminate excess fluid from the under eye.” So there you have it. Apply as you would eye cream.


Milk of Magnesia as Primer

Milk of Magnesia Old Wives' Tales Primer


Another idea riding the wave of weirdness is using this traditional stomach medication to minimize oiliness. However, this might end up doing more harm than good. “Milk of magnesia contains magnesium salts, which may help absorb oil. However, because of the extremely alkaline pH, I do not recommend it as a substitute for traditional makeup primer,” Zeichner cautions. Go for an oil-absorbing primer to avoid doing damage to your skin.



Beer as a Clarifying Shampoo

Beer as a healing ointment old wives' tales

Igor Tarasuk


Although alcohol in general makes you look sallow and hungover, beer is lauded in some circles as a topical beautifying skin- and hair-care product. Apparently the hops (the flavoring agent that makes beer bitter or citrusy) are powerful antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, according to Zeichner. “Beer also contains brewer’s yeast, which is rich in B-complex vitamins which have skin soothing and brightening effects. Both of these properties make it useful in treating the skin and the hair,” he explains.

Go for a hoppier beer with a lower alcohol content to mitigate the drying properties. For hair, pour on your head instead of shampoo and conditioner and rinse thoroughly to balance oily roots and drier ends. For your skin, using a flat beer as a toner can help brighten and soothe.



Mayonnaise as Hair or Body Mask


Mayonnaise as Hair or Body Mask Old Wives' TalesMayonnaise For Hair

Although it sounds a little gross, mayonnaise can be used to both to boost moisture levels in the hair follicle and to hydrate the skin. Zeichner says this is because “mayonnaise contains natural fats and oils that can hydrate and protect both the outer skin layer and the hair” – although it may not be any more hydrating than a specifically formulated cosmetic product. In this case, I say skip the mayo and stick to your go-to masks that actually smell good.

Applying Gelatin as a Nail Treatment


Gelatin for Nails Beauty Old Wives' Tales



Dry, peeling nails are a bugbear to many people and can be really tricky to successfully treat. Per one old wives’ tale, a cheap option is gelatin, which you can soak your nails in for a cheap and fast fix. FYI: gelatin is a baking ingredient usually added to pies to help them set. It’s basically 100% pure protein and can be purchased in powder sachets and mixed with water. Dr. Zeichner agrees: “Soaking the fingers in a gelatin solution may help strengthen the nails by binding nail layers, forming a protective seal.”



Slices of Potato as a Zit Treatment

Potato slices for zits old wives' tales


One of the weirder old wives’ tales is the application of a potato slice over a zit. And while it’s not totally without merit, Zeichner recommends our starchy friend more as a post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation treatment rather than for active blemishes. “Potatoes are rich in vitamin C and niacin, which may help brighten dark spots on the skin, including those left behind after pimples go away. They also help provide a protective layer over the skin if you place it on top of a pimple. However, they do not take the place of traditional acne medications in terms of effectiveness.” To try out, cut a small slice of potato and apply to the affected area for as long as possible — overnight, if you can.

Slices of Bananas for Bruising


Slices of Banana Old Wives' Tales for bruising

Rosanna Davison Nutrition


Banana slices have been touted as a way to take down bruising. Zeichner, however, suggests that the peels may be a better option: “Banana peels contain high levels of antioxidants. Applying the peel over a bruise and securing overnight provides a protective barrier and may help reduce inflammation to allow the bruise to heal up faster.” However, sleeping with a banana peel taped on your skin sounds like a nuisance, use arnica cream instead to minimize the purple-blue-toned swelling.


Cold Water as a Pore Tightener

Beauty Old Wives Tales Cold WateriStock

Perhaps the most famous of all skincare old wives’ tales is the belief that a splash of cold water will “close” pores. However, there is little truth to the tale. “Cool water may help constrict blood vessels and remove excess oil from the skin to minimize the appearance of the pores. However, there is no muscle around the pore, so cool water does not truly constrict your pores” says Zeichner. And, unfortunately for pore fanatics out there, nothing can really tighten pores. The best you can do it minimize the appearance of them with things like blurring primers or foundation.


Annie Walton Doyle is a freelance writer based in Manchester, UK. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Daily Telegraph, Bustle and more. When not writing, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature and mysteries. Follow her Twitter @annieannieannie or Instagram @anniewaltondoyle.


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