The Danger Of DIY Dermatology Treatments
You’ve heard the phrase: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But, between the YouTube tutorials and COVID-19 quarantine closings, DIY beauty treatments can be so darn tempting. So, what’s safe to tackle at home and what’s better left to the pros? We asked two cosmetic dermatologists what skincare treatments we can and can’t take into our own hands.
The Rise of DIY Dermatology
Our experts agree that more and more people are trying to recreate beauty treatments they’ve seen on social media — particularly Instagram and YouTube videos — from the comfort of their own homes. “I have had patients try many different cosmetic treatments during quarantine,” says Samer Jaber, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City. The promise of a quick fix combined with the chaos caused by coronavirus shutdowns has escalated the trend.
While some of these videos seem innocuous (think: the club soda face wash), others are downright scary. Interested in a full face of makeup using only nail polish? It’s got over 3 million views to date. How about DIY microblading? Nearly a million people (so far) have watched. A 25 percent at-home TCA peel at home? There have been over half-a-million views of that one.
It seems fairly obvious that attempting those types of procedures outside the confines of a doctor’s office, spa, or salon is a bad idea, but it’s important to understand just how dangerous a professional-strength treatment in the wrong hands can be.
The Dangers of At-Home Beauty Treatments
No matter your skin concern, pretending you're an at-home aesthetician or dermatologist can have dire consequences. “Since COVID-19, my telederm business has skyrocketed largely due to patients with concerns from unsupervised home care,” says Amy Spizuoco, DO, a board certified dermatologist and founder of True Dermatology in New York City. “Many patients have caused skin damage or burned their skin with what’s typically considered mild treatments, such as vitamin C and even garlic.”
Both of our experts have treated patients who purchased chemical peels online (often from Amazon or foreign countries) and damaged their skin. “I have had patients try aggressive chemical peels during quarantine that they saw on YouTube or Instagram that, unfortunately, resulted in burns and a significant amount of hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Jaber cautions. While some burns, he says, are treatable with “appropriate medical prescription therapy,” not all patients are so lucky.
Complexion tools and at-home devices can also do harm. “Many patients have bought comedone extractors and have put craters in their faces,” Dr. Spizuoco shares, adding that she’s also treated a patient who suffered broken capillaries from trying out a DIY “pore vacuum.” One of Dr. Jaber’s patients took mole removal into his own hands and swapped one concern for another. “I saw a young man that tried to remove a mole on his nose with bleach based on a video he saw on YouTube, and he traded a normal mole for a scar,” he says.
On the mild side, the risks of trying aesthetic treatments like microneedling — which creates micro-wounds to stimulate collagen production — at home include bruising and redness, though infection, scarring, and hyperpigmentation are all possible. The same holds true for eyebrow microblading, and there is the additional possibility of ending up with uneven, splotchy, or discolored brows due to poor quality pigments.
Don’t Be Fooled by ‘Natural’ Products
And don’t be fooled by online promises of product hacks and ‘all-natural’ beauty solutions. “Natural does not always mean safe or effective,” Dr. Spizuoco explains. “I’ve seen chemical burns with tea tree oil.” Dr. Jaber agrees. “‘Natural’ does not mean it is safer or better for your skin, and it does not mean hypoallergenic or better for sensitive skin,” he cautions. “Plant-based skincare products can irritate the skin.” After all, poison ivy is natural.
Beauty Treatments That Are Safe to Try At Home
When it comes to DIY dermatology, Dr. Spizuoco has a very short list of what she considers safe. “The only treatments I consider safe for home use are hydrating face masks, when used appropriately,” she says. “Pimple popping, comedone extractions, chemical peels, and microneedling, all should be left to the doctor’s office.”
Unfortunately, this sage advice isn’t stopping people from experimenting. But because there are so many factors that contribute to how our skin may react to a treatment (think: other skincare products, diet, sun exposure, prescription medications), it’s unwise to try anything without talking to your dermatologist first. “If you are going to do a treatment at home, please be aware of the risks,” Dr. Jaber warns.
With that in mind, there are a few professional treatments that have far less potent at-home versions that may be safe to incorporate into your routine.
1. Light Peels
Dr. Jaber suggests that people who insist on trying an exfoliating chemical peel (after consulting with their doctor, of course) use something very superficial, like a salicylic acid or glycolic acid peel. “Make sure when you try your peel that your skin is not irritated or inflamed and always start with the lowest concentration possible,” he says. It’s important to discontinue use of any products containing salicylic acid or retinoids a few days prior to avoid unnecessary irritation and inflammation. “If you have skin of color, please be especially careful, as irritation or burning of the skin can result in discoloration,” he shares. We like the Algenist Blue Algae Vitamin C Dark Spot Correcting Peel and Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Pad for at-home use.
At-home kits for dermaplaning — which uses a blade to remove layers of dead skin cells — have hit the market recently. “At-home dermaplaning can be a nice treatment to decrease fine facial hairs and improve skin brightness, but be aware it only lasts for a few days,” Dr. Jaber says. Patients should take care not to cut the skin and be choosy about the equipment. “If you are going to try dermaplaning at home, I would not recommend using a straight blade which is used in medical offices,” he says. “Try one of the high-end home dermaplaning devices that minimize the chance that you can cut your face.” Our picks? The StackedSkincare Dermaplaning Tool and Dermaflash LUXE Anti-Aging Dermaplaning Exfoliation Device.
“Dermarolling can be done safely at a very shallow depth, like 0.25 milimeters, when properly sterilized,” Dr. Jaber says. Think of it as a less invasive form of microneedling that can still pack a punch. “With long-term use, it can improve skin texture and very mild scarring,” he shares. The BeautyBio GloPRO Microneedling Facial Regeneration Tool is a go-to for many, as is the Sdara Skincare Derma Roller.
Even if there are a few beauty treatment dupes that can safely be performed at home, don’t introduce any new procedure or product without first talking to your dermatologist. “It’s extremely important to consult your doctor because many of these DIY home treatments can lead to scarring and, worse, infection,” Dr. Spizuoco says. “In my opinion, only face washing and moisturizing should be done without a dermatologist consultation.”
Sure, your derm or aesthetician might make a treatment look easy, but that’s only because they have years of experience. “It's important to remember that dermatologists and plastic surgeons go to school for years so that they understand the anatomy of the face and potential complications and side effects of procedures,” Dr. Jaber notes. When in doubt, leave it to the pros.