TIME

3 Skin Products You Need to Stop Using

Girl with skincare product
Marili Forastieri—Getty Images

You may think that as long as an item is on store shelves, it’s got a proven health and safety record. But the truth is, the long-term impact of personal-care creations aren’t always fully understood until years after they go to market.

That’s the case with several high-profile health and beauty products on the market today: Doctors and scientists are discovering that despite their popularity and “healthy” image, they may not be so good for us, or for the planet. So we asked Lisa Donofrio, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University, for her take on the recent headlines. Here’s her advice on which ingredients to avoid, plus her recommended alternatives.

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Antibacterial soaps and body washes
Liquid hand and body soaps that boast “antibacterial” claims often contain an ingredient called triclosan, which has been linked to antibiotic resistance and hormone disruption. (Triclosan is also present in some toothpastes and cosmetics.) “It gets into the water supply and kills off beneficial bacteria,” says Dr. Donofrio. Plus, she adds, research hasn’t shown a true health benefit to antibacterial products. “We need to be a little dirty; it’s good to give our immune systems something to do so they don’t turn on us.”

The FDA has warned manufacturers that in the coming years, they’ll need to prove that products containing triclosan are more effective in preventing illness and reducing the spread of infection than regular soap and water, or they’ll have to reformulate their products. And Minnesota recently issued a ban on triclosan, which will go into effect in 2017.

Antibacterial bar soaps can contain a similar chemical, called triclocarban, that should be avoided as well. Instead, says Dr. Donofrio, choose bars, liquid soaps, and body washes with natural antimicrobials (she likes formulas that contain benzoyl peroxide or sulphur, which are gentler on the environment and don’t foster drug resistance), or use an alcohol-based sanitizer to clean your hands when you’re not near soap and water.

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Face and body scrubs with microbeads
These tiny plastic beads are added to face and body washes as an exfoliant, and they help scrub away dead skin. The problem is, recent studies have shown that they also slip through water filtration systems and are making their way into our streams and oceans, potentially hurting fish and wildlife. The synthetic ingredient was recently banned by Illinois, and several other states are following suit.

In light of this news, a “natural” exofoliant may seem like the way to go—but Dr. Donofrio cautions against face and body washes that contain ground up pieces of nuts, seeds, and pits, which can have jagged edges and scratch or irritate skin. Her best alternative? “A coarse washcloth is a great exfoliator, as are scrubs that contain fine sea salt or sugar.”

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Anything with parabens
These preservatives are found in everything from shampoos to soaps to lotions, and are used to prevent bacteria growth and extend shelf life. But they are also absorbed into our bodies, and research suggests that they may be tied to hormone disruption and certain cancers. “They bind to estrogen receptors and pose a potential health risk since they are stored in body fat,” says Dr. Donofrio. “Since we are uncertain if they pose a real or theoretical health problem, why tempt fate?”

Parabens are listed on ingredient labels—as methylparaben, propylparaben, or other words ending in -paraben—so it’s easy to choose products that don’t contain them, says Dr. Donofrio, or to limit your exposure by keeping their use to a small amount of skin area. Preservative-free products, or those with natural preservatives (such as grapefruit-seed extract, rosemary extract, or citric acid), likely won’t last as long, but if you use them regularly you should still finish them before their expiration date.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

This Scent Can Help Heal Wounds, Study Says

Sandalwood
Getty Images

By activating olfactory receptors in your skin

Get a whiff of this: Skin cells have olfactory receptors, and when those receptors are exposed to sandalwood, a popular ingredient in perfumes and incense sticks, the resulting changes in cell activity could facilitate wound healing, says study author Dr. Hans Hatt of Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany. The research was published Wednesday in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

While people typically think of olfactory receptors as having to do with smell, this isn’t always the case. Humans have about 350 olfactory receptors in the nose, but previous studies have shown they also exist in sperm, in the prostate, in kidneys and in our intestine. This is the first time that olfactory receptors have been found in keratinocytes—cells that form the outermost layer of the skin. And Hatt’s team discovered that when those receptors in the skin—called OR2AT4—were in proximity to synthetic sandalwood, they became activated, prompting cell proliferation and cell migration.

Hatt said it was difficult to convince the scientific community of his team’s findings. “I feel a mission to convince my colleagues, and especially clinicians, that this huge family of olfactory receptors plays an important role in cell physiology,” says Hatt.

Hatt is curious about the other discoveries this research could lead to, including applications for cancer, because some cancer T-cells have olfactory receptors, as well as in cosmetic or wound-healing applications.

“It will be a lot of work to study the function of these receptors, but it may open an enormous group of exciting targets,” Hatt said.

TIME skin care

3 Ways to Exfoliate Without Using Microbeads

Honey dripping off Dripper
Getty Images

Illinois is banning microbeads in facewash. Here's what to use instead

News about Illinois’ ban on facewashes that contain microbeads raise serious environmental concerns that are being heeded by a number of states. But for the vain among us, it begs the question: What to use instead of microbeads if you want that squeaky-clean feeling?

First, it bears a reminder that aggressively scrubbing your face is not a good idea, both because it can cause tiny tears in the surface of your skin—making it prone to infection and inflammation—and also because you don’t want to disrupt the skin’s acid mantle, which is there to keep in moisture and keep out pathogens.

There are thousands of products that claim to safely remove dead skin cells, but sometimes, simple is best. Here are three easy ways to clean your face that won’t break the bank, expose you to harsh ingredients or ruin your face.

Make Your Own, With Honey

Honey has long been a mainstay in DIY natural beauty, and for good reason. Honey is naturally antimicrobial, which makes it an effective cleanser on its own. You can rub a tablespoon between your hands and will find it gets nice and slippery—the consistency of a fancy face wash. It’s also humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture and can help keep your skin dewy—something a lot of harsh exfoliating scrubs cannot claim to do—and it contains gluconic acid, a mild acid that is considered benign by public health experts.

A recent review in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology concluded that: “Honey is particularly suitable as a dressing for wounds and burns … dandruff … In cosmetic formulations, it exerts emollient, humectant, soothing, and hair conditioning effects, regulates pH and prevents pathogen infections.”

Some natural beauty mavens like to mix their honey with baking soda—which is something you want to be careful with because it’s quite alkaline. Your skin’s pH is widely thought to be around 5.5 (though a 2006 study placed it closer to 5), and it has what’s called an acid mantle on it. That’s an important barrier to keep intact, both to protect against infections and to keep in moisture. Try honey on its own, and if you want that scrubby feeling, mix in just a pinch of baking soda.

Use a Konjac Sponge

You could spend upwards of $150 on an electronic face scrubber, or you could drop $11 and get yourself a reusable sponge made, as the name suggests, of fibers from the root of a konjac plant. It comes rock hard, but put it under warm water and it softens into a springy dome that you can use with or without a cleanser to slough off dead skin cells. It’s gentle enough that you can use it daily. Some brands make konjac sponges infused with things like charcoal, which is a natural detoxifier for the skin. You could go that route if you want to, but I prefer the basic one. One konjac sponge will last you six weeks of twice-daily use.

Use A Gentle Peel With Lactic Acid

There are two main ways to get rid of the dead skin cells that dull the look of the surface of your skin. There are manual exfoliants—like scrubs and konjac sponges and face cloths—and there are chemical ones. The latter use acids to dissolve the material that keeps skin cells bound together, making dead cells easier to remove. (There is some evidence that some acids also support cell turnover. Cell turnover slows as we age, which is why these acids are also touted as antiagers.)

These kinds of exfoliants can be natural or synthetic, and can cause irritation in some people. There are tons of different acids in products on the market—well known ones include alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid and glycolic acid. Lactic acid appears to improve water barrier properties, which helps the skin retain moisture, while also being an exfoliant. You should not use products containing acids in the morning because they can increase sensitivity to the sun. And always wear SPF on your face, whether you’re using a scrub or not.

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