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Health and beauty products you don't need

Some things in your medicine cabinet are superfluous -- and some could actually be harmful.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 7, 2012 3:09PM

Logo: Woman shopping at beauty store (Jack Hollingsworth/Brand X/Getty Images)How many bottles of lotions and moisturizers do you own? Too many, maybe.

In "9 unnecessary skin care products" on the website, Beverly Hills dermatologist Harold Lancer says that "what most people really need is a good face and body wash and moisturizing sunblock -- that's it."


This isn't some minimalist talking. It's a medical doctor who works with one of the richer (and vainer) populations on Earth.


Why do we think we need so many other products? Guess.

(Hint: It has to do with money.)

That's right: The same marketing forces that sell cupcake bakeries and greeting cards from pets would like you to think the moisturizer you put on your face isn't effective on your neck, or that you need a specialized unguent just for your heels or elbows.

But skin care products aren't the only not-strictly-necessary health and beauty items out there. From "foot masks" to hydrating serum to cotton swabs, these products are superfluous to most of us -- and some can actually be harmful.

The list below isn't comprehensive, but it should make you scrutinize your medicine cabinet more closely. It might also irritate you when you realize how much you've spent on products you don't need.

Only skin-deep?
Specific lotions.
According to Lancer, a good body lotion can be used on many parts of your body. One product reviewed favorably by is Nivea Cream, which isn't particularly expensive and can be used on hands, legs, arms, elbows and feet.

Neck cream.
In "Unnecessary cosmetics" on, writer Jenny Bailly suggests treating your neck just like your face: "Apply a moisturizer with sunscreen every morning, a retinol cream every night."

Hydrating serum. This product "seals" skin after invasive procedures, according to Lancer. But as part of your daily regimen, "it's fluff." A possible exception is for people who have sensitive, "reactive" skin all the time; in this case, serum could be soothing.

. Lancer says toner might have some benefit for enlarged pores and excessively oily skin, as well as those prone to the skin condition rosacea. However, dermatologist Leslie Baumann calls toner "a waste." Originally the product removed "soapy film" left by cleansers; today's products don't leave that residue, she told

Age-reversal products. People with fine lines and wrinkles will see a 5% improvement at best from over-the-counter products, according to Lancer. "Drastic" improvement, however, can happen only via a prescription product or surgery.

Other body parts

ShopSmart magazine, which is published by Consumer Reports, notes recent concerns about mouthwashes causing stained teeth and impaired sense of taste. More to the point, mouthwashes aren't the way to achieve fresh breath: "Regular flossing, brushing, and professional cleaning are all you probably need to keep your teeth and gums healthy." In fact, halitosis could be the sign of a digestive issue that needs tending. Besides, the magazine notes, mouthwashes mask the problem only for a few minutes anyway.

Cotton swabs.
As doctors are fond of saying, you should never put anything smaller than your elbow into your ear. Cotton swabs can introduce bacteria and, if inserted too deeply, even puncture your eardrum. Use a washcloth and soap instead.

Lip balm.
Some people do develop allergies to certain lip balm ingredients. A dermatologist quoted by ShopSmart recommends using plain old petroleum jelly, which is certainly the frugal way to do it. If you must have a lip balm, choose one with no added color or fragrance; the magazine suggests Dr. Bronner's Organic. Incidentally, the urban legend about Carmex containing irritants to ensure repeat business is bogus, according to

Lip scrub.
If your lips are flaky, here's a tip from makeup artist Emily Kate Warren: Apply that balm or Vaseline, then rub your lips with a tissue-wrapped index finger. "You'll remove the flakes without risking irritation," she told I've heard of a simple recipe for lip scrub: Mix raw sugar with petroleum jelly.

The rest of you

Did your mom pour peroxide on cuts? Or did she use alcohol, mercurochrome or iodine? Ixnay on all four, according to ShopSmart. Plain soap and water do just as good a job at cleaning out a cut or scrape, and the other solutions can irritate the already-damaged tissue. Wash injuries well and apply an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin, the magazine advises.

Foot masks.
Use a moisturizer for rough patches on your feet, that piece suggests. A frugal method is to rub petroleum jelly into your feet at bedtime and wear socks overnight. This feels somewhat icky initially, but you'll soon be asleep and won't know a thing.

Cellulite-reducing creams.
"Cellulite" just means fat deposits under the skin. According to dermatologist Lancer, no magic unguents currently exist that can make your body less dimply. Sorry.

Vaginal douches.
Sorry if that's TMI for you, but the process is utterly unnecessary and may even be harmful, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This fact sheet from notes that douching can cause irritation and/or infection. It's not an effective family planning method, either -- that's another urban legend, and a potentially costly one.

More on MSN Money:

Dec 10, 2012 9:34AM
Yes Gaia Angel, most people have bought into the the Vaseline name, and forget that it IS petroleum jelly. Petroleum: noun - an oily, thick, flammable, usually dark-colored liquid that is a form of bitumen or a  of various hydrocarbons, occurring naturally in various parts of the world and commonly obtained by drilling: used in a natural or refined state as fuel, or separated by distillation into gasoline, naphtha, benzene, kerosene, paraffin, etc.
I wouldn't put this crap on my skin, especially on my lips which would lead to ingestion. May as well drink a can of motor oil.
Check the ingredients of ALL products used on the body for possible carcinogens, etc. by going to
Dec 10, 2012 8:03AM
NEVER use petroleum based oils on skin. I am a licensed massage therapist and the only oils we WON'T ever use is petroleum based oils. Calcification build up brings on a whole set of complications of it's own as both petroleum jelly and mineral oils are by products of petroleum. Grape seed oil and apricot oil are far better suited to moisturizing any way.
Dec 8, 2012 5:08AM
My Dad's cardiologist suggested using plain old vasaline for treating dry skin.  Works wonders, is CHEAP (WAG has sales), jar lasts a LONG time.  This is especially important for diabetics - as my Dad is.
Dec 12, 2012 10:27AM

The only products I buy special are my facial moisturizer which I also use on my neck and ears, it has a bit of sunscreen in it, facial serum and eye gel.  I have been using the same products since I was 18 and I am now 37 but people think I am around 27!   I also have a lotion for hands and body and lip balm.  For really dry heals I use vaseline and cotton socks.  I switched to 99 cent shampoo and conditioner.  This past year and I love it! (my hairdresser also commented my hair looked and felt great)


My sister is a beauty products whore, she spends 100's of dollars a month, so wasteful!

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.