A dermatologist’s take on DIY skincare

As a dermatologist, I’m a firm believer in evidence based medicine. We study dermatological issues and their treatment options throughout our training. We study molecules used in skin or hair care products religiously, reading the research available on them, which active ingredient works, how they work, the dosage, their benefits and side effects and how effective they can be for a particular condition.

Therefore, I personally do not advised nor can I validate the popular culture of “DIY” (do it yourself) or home remedies for skin or hair care.

Yes, dermatologist keep saying that the basics to skin care are ABC (Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C), and many of the active ingredients used in skincare are plant derived, this can be confusing to many of us. One can find the “ABC’s” easily in one’s kitchen, pantry, or garden so why shed your money buying expensive products containing the same?

Let me break it down for you in simple terms:

The skin has three layer, the epidermis (uppermost), the dermis (middle) and the subcutaneous tissue (fat and lowermost). the diagram on the right is the epidermis, which is composed of several layers.

The upper layer of the skin (epidermis) is described as resembling a “brick and mortar” structure.

The main function of the skin is acting as a barrier, protecting our body from various environmental substances and it does a pretty good job at it too.

This means many of the DIY’s of tomato paste, lemon juice, etc may not even be able to reach the inside of your skin through that “brick wall” to perform the functions you are expecting them to do.

This is why we have well formulated creams, ointments, serums etc because they contain other agents that help deliver the desired active ingredient (be it vitamin A, B or C etc) to cells in the skin.

Secondly, vitamins are present in various forms, for example for vitamin A we have beta carotene, retinol, retinal, and the most active form retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is the one that binds to receptors present in the cells of our skin to bring about beneficial changes such as anti ageing, anti acne etc.

Simply applying a paste of vitamin A rich fruits such as papaya does not achieve the same result, because vitamin A in fruits & vegetables are in the form of beta carotene.

Thirdly, DIY,s could potentially be doing more harm than good. A common example is a condition called “PHYTOPHOTODERMATITIS” where patients develop an irritant dermatitis when the skin is exposed to certain plants/citrus fruits and sunlight.

Patients develop a red rash on areas of exposure, burning sensation and may develop fluid filled lesions as well. The rash would then heal with pigmentation.

Left image is also called “Margarita burn” -phytophotodermatitis due to the limes present in a margarita cocktail followed by sun exposure. Right image– pigmentation left behind when the irritation subsides.

Just because DIY/Home remedies are all natural does not necessarily mean they are completely harmless and safe

Lastly, even though some skin care products use active ingredients such as various forms of vitamin A, B or C, they have been extensively researched in the labs, animal and human studies. Scientists study the active form of these vitamins, the strength at which these ingredients that have been proven to be effective to produce a desired effect (eg: niacinamide- vit B3, strength of at least 4 % works to reduce pigmentation, repair skin barrier, vitamin C of 20% works as an anti-oxidant, anti ageing, salicylic acid of at least 2% helps unclog pores and so on and so forth).

Simply grinding vegetables, or whisking eggs making a paste for your skin, is not going to achieve the same result

How does one know the strength of the vitamin present in that paste?

Yes, Cleopatra may have bathed in milk to maintain a beautiful youthful skin. We now know that milk has lactic acid which helps in exfoliation of the skin, and we have products designed particularly for that now with or without lactic acid, so people wont have to be bathing in milk for a glowing youthful skin.

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

The only time dermatologist advised on using ingredients available at home is for coconut oil. We advised coconut oil application for patients with conditions causing dryness of their skin, who are not able to afford regular moisturisers.

Consuming fruits and vegetables provides you with more nutrients that can be beneficial for skin & hair rather than external application of various DIY concoctions of eggs/lemons/mango etc