They've been passed down from generation to generation -- woman to woman. Those popular myths about hair, skin and beauty -- and most of them are flat out wrong or just wishful thinking. Certified dermatologist Dr. Sumayah Talieferro sets the record straight.
Myth 1: Crossing your legs will give you varicose veins.
Sitting down and crossing your legs won't cause varicose or spider veins, but standing may. Pronounced veins often crop up on people who either have a genetic predisposition to them or have jobs that require them to stand a lot, said dermatologist Kevin Pinski. Standing makes the vascular network work extra hard to pump blood from the legs up to the heart. If the valves, which keep blood flowing in one direction within your vessels, aren't functioning properly, a pooling of blood can occur and result in unsightly veins. Pregnancy, which puts added pressure on the circulatory system, or a trauma -- getting hit by a softball or a car door, for example -- can also lead to varicose veins.
Myth 2: You can get rid of cellulite.
Ah, if only. "This remains one of the holy grails of cosmetic dermatology," said University of North Carolina Professor Timothy Flynn. Nothing can be done to permanently eliminate it -- not even liposuction. Cellulite consists of fat deposits that get trapped between the fibrous bands that connect the skin's tissues. Firming creams, however, often contain caffeine to tighten and smooth the skin. But a basic moisturizer will also work to hydrate and swell the skin, making cellulite a less obvious.
Myth 3: Shaving will make your hair grow back darker and thicker.
"Hair that hasn't been cut grows to a point," said dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd. "It's widest at the base and narrowest at the tip." When you shave a hair, you cut it at the base. The widest part then grows out, and the hair appears thicker. But shaving doesn't change the width, density or color of hair.
Myth 4: Putting Vaseline on your face nightly will prevent wrinkles.
Marilyn Monroe allegedly slathered the thick salve on religiously to stay youthful-looking, but that doesn't mean you should. As the skin ages, it loses its ability to retain moisture, and skin that's dry looks older. Petroleum jelly can make wrinkles less apparent because it's adding moisture to the skin, which softens lines, but it can't actually prevent aging.
Myth 5: Wearing nail polish all the time will make your nails turn yellow.
This is true, but you can wear enamel all you like and still avoid discoloration. Nails are porous, and they absorb the pigment in polishes. Darker colors, especially reds, have more pigment, so they often stain your nails. The solution: Before applying polish, paint on a clear base coat.
Myth 6: You can shrink your pores.
It's actually impossible to change the size of pores, but you can make them look smaller -- and using egg whites, a beauty trick Grandma may have tried, does work. "Egg whites tighten the skin, giving the illusion of smaller pores, but it's a temporary effect," says Tulane University Professor Elizabeth McBurney.
Myth 7: If you use wax to remove hair, fewer hairs will grow back.
Wax rips the hair out at the follicles. And any repeated injury to the follicles over time -- we're talking 20 years -- could damage some follicles to the point that they don't grow back. So employ waxing for its ability to keep your legs smoother longer than shaving can, not for diminishing hair growth.
Myth 8: Preparation H deflates puffiness.
This is a secret of makeup artists everywhere, and there's a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this hemorrhoid cream can reduce undereye baggage, but no clinical studies have been done. One of the product's ingredients, a yeast derivative that is said to reduce puffiness, is no longer found in the version that's available in the States. (The cream was reformulated in 1994.) The other ingredient that is credited with reducing inflammation is phenylephrine, which temporarily constricts blood vessels. Nevertheless, using Preparation H around the eyes can cause dry and inflamed skin, says McBurney, so use this only where it's meant to be used, south of the belt line.
Myth 9: Rubbing your eyes creates wrinkles.
You won't get crow's-feet just from kneading your eyes when you're tired. But the tug of gravity and the repetitive movement of facial muscles, as in smiling or frowning, can break down the collagen in your skin and create wrinkles over time. So that silly taunt you heard as a child -- "If you keep making that face, it will freeze that way" -- has merit.