Popular / Skin news or advice

Skincare Myths: The Real Scoop on Coconut Oil, Lemon Juice and Baking Soda…

This post originally appeared on, where I’m a longtime contributor and  lifestyle columnist. From time to time I’ll be sharing some of my most popular stories that appeared elsewhere. 

We’ve all heard from friends who use coconut oil for everything, or others who swear that fresh lemon juice faded all their freckles, but you might want to read this before you try your next kitchen inspired skin treatment. David Lortscher, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology. “The skincare and beauty world is fraught with hyped-about trends,” he says. Some of them are not so great at all (please don’t use Elmer’s glue anywhere near your face!) He’s heard of some popular routines from both his patients and the general beauty community and wanted to clear things up.

The following trends are ones Lortscher says to avoid:

  • DIY Lemon Juice Treatment: Lemon juice may have an exfoliating effect on the most superficial corneocytes (dead skin cells to you and me) of the epidermis, but there are much better ways to exfoliate. “Using lemon juice on your skin can cause significant dryness, redness and irritation,” he says. “Although the vitamin C in lemon juice may in theory have a beneficial effect in lightening skin, the furocoumarins (the chemical compounds) in lemon juice can interact with sunlight and cause blistering rashes and hyperpigmentation  in some people.” Because using a DIY lemon juice treatment as a home remedy for acne and/or dark spots can backfire, Lortscher does not recommend it. Instead, try formulas (Including some by Curology ) that contain azelaic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide and tretinoin, which effectively combat acne and keep dark spots at bay!

  • DIY Baking Soda Treatment: Some people try baking soda as a cost-effective scrub or mask. “Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is pH 9; the pH of the skin is 4.5-5 or so. (To review the pH scale: 1 is acidic, 14 is alkaline, 7 is neutral). Scrubbing your face with a paste of baking soda would be very harsh and disturb your skin’s natural barrier, or acid mantle. (Acid mantle refers to the characteristic of the skin’s surface that protects from harmful growth of micro-organisms and from external irritants.) It’s just not worth risking, as your skin may react to this assault by becoming red, raw and sensitive—and in susceptible people this irritation can lead to acne breakout.” Instead, you can try a carefully formulated drugstore brand like Biore Baking Soda Cleansing Scrub which is great at unclogging blackheads without irritating skin.

  • Coconut Oil for Skincare: This one really depressed me, since I’ve been singing the praises of coconut oil everything for a while now. Contrary to popular belief, Lortscher says that most oils are well-tolerated on acne-prone skin. “For example, mineral oil and non-sulfated jojoba oil are usually fine,” he says. “However, coconut oil commonly blocks pores.” Wait, what? How can that be? It’s so gentle. “This may happen slowly and imperceptibly, so coconut oil is one oil that we discourage our patients from using.” But before you despair, Lortscher  says coconut oil can be beneficial when used on wet hair as a mask or on dry hair to tame frizz. “Hair products formulated with coconut oil are readily found in the market, or you can use pure coconut oil in its solid form (warm it up between your palms to make it a liquid before using). A little goes a long way, so be sure to only use a small amount. Avoid applying directly to the scalp, as this can clog pores and contribute to acne.”

Don’t give up on all your favorite treatments though. Lortscher offers some of hi derm-approved beauty trends:

  • Micellar Water:  Micellar water seems to be everywhere lately and seems to have taken the industry by storm. “Makeup removing wipes can be abrasive and can cause skin irritation for some, so we love that micellar water’s been gaining ground,” Lortscher says. “Micellar waters are fuss-free non-rinse, soap-free cleansing waters that contain micelles (tiny oils suspended in soft water). They can be used to cleanse and remove makeup in one step. These products are usually perfectly fine to use.” You’ve probably seen most micellar waters packaged as a one-step mild cleanser, toner and makeup remover. “They are gentle, and do not strip moisture from your skin.”

  • Teledermatology & Custom Skincare: If you’re tempted to sign up for an online dermatologist, it seems like a pretty good idea. The custom beauty trend has been picking up—from foundations to shampoo to skincare. You can now get a skincare prescription to treat your acne without ever leaving your couch. That’s what teledermatology has enabled thousands of people to do. “This dermatology trend will only grow because it’s so effective and convenient,”Lortscher says. “Gone are the days you need to get a referral from your primary care physician, wait weeks for an appointment, and pay a huge copay to be seen by a dermatologist. All you need to do is upload some selfies and answer some questions about your skin online.” The best online derms will allow you to change your formulations as your skin changes or as Lortscher puts it, “On any day, at any time, you can ping your assigned dermatology provider with any questions or concerns you may have. You’ll never have to fight acne alone ever again.”