The holidays are coming up, and while skincare can make a thoughtful gift, choosing the right product is essential! Unfortunately, many brands and advertisements make outlandish claims about the effectiveness of their formulations, which may be too good to be true. So, what beauty and skincare gift ideas should you buy, and which ones aren’t worth the hype?

The Skin Report is a podcast created to educate listeners on methods to improve skin health for people of all ethnicities and ages. This week, host Dr. Sethi discusses skincare and beauty items gaining popularity this holiday season. She looks at the beauty products listed within the Amazon Holiday Beauty Shopping Guide for this year and the Sephora 2022 gift guide and explains which ones are worth the investment. So tune in to hear which products she recommends and which ones she debunks!

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This transcript was exported on November 22, 2022 -view latest version here.

Skincare can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether it’s finding the right products, ingredients, or treatments, there’s a lot out there, but not always for people of African, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and East and South Asian descent. That’s why I set out to educate myself and others so that we can all feel beautiful in our skin.

Hello and welcome to the SKIN Report. I’m Dr. Simran Sethi, an internal medicine doctor, mom of three, and CEO and founder of RenewMD Medical Spas and Skin by Dr. Sethi. For the month of November, we tackle skincare trends and hot topics, either giving them credit or kicking them to the curb. As we wrap up and lead into the holiday season, we’ll see many ads and articles for beauty gift guides. Today, I want to take on two popular lists, Amazon’s and Sephora’s, and tell you what not to buy, especially for melanated skin. Stick around to find out what’s not worth the money and why.

Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanza, or even just a birthday, December has many gift giving opportunities. Alongside these, however, can be a lot of advertising, overpricing or gag items. If you’re compiling a shopping list, you want items that are worth your money or that of your friends and family.

For this episode, I went on Amazon to look at the suggested products under their holiday beauty shopping guide for this year. I want to share with you some items I would caution against and to thoroughly explain why so that you can apply this knowledge to future purchases.

First, I want to talk about the Flash and Go Express IPL laser hair removal system. At-home laser hair removal devices have been on the market for a few years now and all of them promise a cheaper and more convenient alternative to laser hair removal treatments offered at aesthetic medical clinics. This is one of those devices where the age old adage of, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” As all of my clinics offer laser hair removal treatments, I see so many people looking for hair removal treatments after having tried these devices. Unfortunately, these devices use very, very low energy to destroy hair follicles. It’s not just a lack of effectiveness that makes me worry of them, I’ve seen some disturbing side effects as well.

First, less tackle effectiveness. When it comes to any beauty device or product, effectiveness is a key requirement. These at-home machines have such low energy that they absolutely can not compare to the treatments performed at the office. In order to offer laser hair removal treatments in the United States, you need to have a physician’s degree, learn laser physics so that you do not harm the patient while doing treatments. Also, the practitioner performing the treatment and the patient receiving it have to wear protective eyewear as the laser beams will damage the eyes if not protected. Even then, most people need anywhere from eight to 12 sessions in the office to see results from laser hair removal. All of these factors indicate the level of power you truly need in the laser to be effective. Clearly, this can not be replicated in a small handheld device that can be used at home by an inexperienced user.

Which brings me to my next point, safety. This is where I really caution people with more melanated skin tones or those who have melasma. I also caution those who suffer from acne and post-acne dark spots called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is, again, most common in more melanated skin tones. IPL lasers, as this one, are light-based lasers. We know that our melanocyte do not like light, which can stimulate them to create excess melanin. Light-based lasers therefore can trigger more melanin production. As I primarily work with skin type four to six, I use other available laser technologies because my patients are at higher risk for hyperpigmentation when exposed to a light-based laser like IPL.

I know that I said that at-home devices are not strong enough to give results, but unfortunately they can lead to side effects. A consumer who has no idea on how to deliver treatments can still inadvertently harm their skin if they’re not using it correctly, and the risk of this is definitely elevated in darker skin tones.

Overall, save your $197 and go to an expert clinic that provides laser hair removal so that you can safely and permanently getrid of unwanted hair. And one more thing, if you are of South Asian, East Asian, African or Middle Eastern descent, ask the clinic if they’re using an IPL-based laser, which I do not recommend, and about their experience performing laser hair removal in your skin type. All those things are equally important.

Next, I want to talk to you about the MakeUp Eraser $14 towel, which allows you to run under water, then use to rub off makeup. While this sounds like a great idea and is certainly eco-friendly, I would not rely entirely on just rubbing makeup off with a towel, but why is that? First, makeup, pollution, dust and our own dead cells that collect on the face and mix with our natural oils called sebum. When these elements deposit in microscopic pores, it can lead to breakouts or just poor absorption of skincare products if not cleaned properly.

Pore cleansing has to occur deeply and microscopically, and this can not be done effectively with just mechanically wiping the skin. Pores need a product like an alpha hydroxy acid, AHA, or beta hydroxy acid, BHA, to effectively go and cleanse the pores out. My Complete Resurfacing face and body wash is in three of my skincare systems precisely because it is an AHA cleanser with coconut oil that effectively cleans out pores without stripping the skin of its natural oils. You can find it linked in the show notes.

There are different ways to cleanse the skin, using a towel to physically remove dead skin is different from using ingredients such as AHA or BHA to slough off buildup. Rubbing at the skin with a towel is harmful on a daily basis. It can lead to hyperpigmentation as it can break the skin barrier and irritate melanocytes, which remember, sit in our superficial epidermis. This is an especially important point for darker skin tones and/or anyone with dry skin.

If you are skin type four through six and are more melanated, your melanocytes will quickly react to this friction rub and lead to hyperpigmentation. This is very similar to what happens when you use face brushes or exfoliants that have large particles and can cause micro tears if used daily or aggressively, especially in darker skin tones.

You may recall from episode 14 that we discussed the different types of exfoliants, mechanical and chemical, and within those categories we touched on elements that people of color should keep in mind. I’d recommend going back and listening to that episode if you haven’t already.

Finally, unless you wash this cloth every day, after each use, it will hold bacteria and can also grow mold if not dried properly. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly and effective way to cleanse your face of daily dirt and debris or to remove makeup, you can use your hands, water, and an AHA or BHA cleanser.

Next, I want to tackle the FOREO BEAR mini, $142, and Sephora’s NuFACE Trinity facial toning device at $271. These devices can be found on both Amazon and Sephora and have popped up on holiday lists for years now.

What are these? These two at home devices are trying to stimulate collagen and elastin to promote skin tightening. Again, just like the home laser hair removal devices, these are very, very low in energy and can not possibly stimulate skin proteins like elastin and collagen to provide visible changes. You could theoretically derive benefit if you used these daily for over 30 minutes and do so for at least a few months before seeing results. But realistically, this is difficult, and again, very theoretical.

In terms of safety, I don’t have any safety concerns in any skin tones with this device. For products that cost hundreds of dollars, your money may be better spent on medical grade products that nurture collagen and elastin production, or if you’d like something even more effective, there are plenty of beautiful, safe and non-surgical treatments for tightening skin that aesthetic medical clinics offer. We will do episodes on this in the future.

The next item I want to tackle is less about the specific product and more about another more effective option we can consider. What is it? I’m talking about the Evian facial spray at $37. There is totally room for a water-based hydrator to spray on your skin to restore moisture, especially in the winter months. We’ll be doing an episode that goes further in depth on how to take care of your skin in the winter. I added the spray to the list because there are a lot of hydrating mists out there to replenish the moisture we lose throughout the day regardless of skin type.

As we are warm bodied and definitely warmer than our surroundings, especially in cold, dry weather, our skin continuously loses moisture throughout the day. If you heat a pot of water on the stove, the water will evaporate into the air and eventually the pot will become empty. Our skin behaves exactly the same way. Hence, why even when we apply moisturizer in the morning, our skin is dry in a mere few hours. In fact, even people with oily skin will lose oil and water throughout the day the way that those with normal and dry skin do. As a result, their skin thinks it needs to produce more oil and water to replace this. I naturally have oily skin on my forehead, nose, and chin, and I used to blot my face with tissue literally every few hours, and as a result, I was also blotting off my sunscreen.

Why am I harping on Evian water spray? When using hydrating sprays, we tend to apply it on top of makeup and sunscreen we already have on our skin. This may rinse off our makeup and sunscreen, which we would then need to reapply. Wouldn’t it be better if you could apply a product under your sunscreen that will protect your skin’s moisture and the moisturizer you applied throughout the day? That way you won’t have to potentially reapply your sunscreen or makeup above that.

For this very reason, I created my Hyaluronic Plump and Protect serum, which has now become our best seller Hero product and is part of every skincare system in my line. The Hyaluronic Plump and Protect serum is a proprietary combination of hyaluronic acid and snow mushroom extract that together create a blanket on your skin that completely locks your skin’s moisture where it should be, on your skin. The result is a dewy glow on the skin and reduction of wrinkles that every skin type can use. I recommend applying your moisturizer then the serum then sunscreen last. This way your skin will stay hydrated throughout the day and you do not have to worry about reapplying makeup, sunscreen, or spraying your skin every few hours. As I said, I have naturally oily skin in my T-zone. After using my Hyaluronic Plump and Protect, I literally do not have any excess oily production on my face all day and night long, which I love.

I put the Evian facial spray on my list today to explain why people use hydrating serums in the first place and the disadvantages of using them, including washing off makeup and sunscreen. There is an alternative way to protect moisture on your skin, and if interested, you can find the link to the Hyaluronic Plump and Protect serum in the episode description.

When you read through the Sephora 2022 gift guide, you may find theShani Darden PRO LED Light Mask on the list. With it being over $1,500, you definitely will want to know whether that price point is worth it.

LED light masks emit various wavelengths of visible light, especially blue and red light. Blue light helps with destruction of bacteria on acne prone skin, while red light is meant to stimulate collagen production. They’ve been on the market for a few years now, and because I treat so many women with melasma, the dangers of such masks on people with melasma became obvious after post-market use. I really caution people with melasma from using these devices. Unfortunately, they emit visible light, which includes wavelengths close to the blue light spectrum that promote melanin production in melasma.

If you listen to our episodes on melasma, you will know that studies have shown that skin types four and greater produce more melanin in response to blue light exposure when compared to the skin types three and lighter. If you have melasma or want to learn more about it, please listen to our October melasma series linked in the description as they have a wealth of clinical information regarding melasma, especially in darker skin tones.

When it comes to specific side effects of these masks, I have seen patients who had sufficient control of their melasma pigmentation, and after just one or two uses of LED masks, had a major melasma flare up. If you have melasma and are using the LED masks, remember to stay away from the blue light setting. Red light is still in a safer wavelength range, but again, this is not fully studied in melasma patients. My advice is to stay away from the LED masks altogether if you have melasma, or even a family history of it, as there is an 80% likelihood of developing it if you have a first degree relative with melasma.

How can we build collagen and erase wrinkles? You will have better luck turning to ingredients like retinol, which we’ve discussed extensively on the show before, to help with wrinkles. For collagen, there are plenty of serums, moisturizer, and dietary supplements that can help promote its production. Medical grade products will be more effective in reducing acne, fine lines and wrinkles and building up more collagen, and they’re a lot more economical.

If you want to dedicate a larger budget to collagen production and wrinkle reduction, you can use other treatments that are safe and more effective. Treatments like micro needling or PicoSure laser range between $1,000 to $800 a session, but they deliver so much more. If this is something that your budget can accommodate, definitely start exploring it as you will not be disappointed in that investment.

Before we wrap up, there’s one more product I want to take on today, the Bum Bum cream at Sephora. I put this on my list because of the cream’s claim to firm skin. Many creams claim this, so let’s talk about it and do they actually work?

Skin firming’s a process that requires building of more collagen and elastin, and when you look at the ingredients of Bum Bum cream, there aren’t any ingredients that do that. In order to tighten skin, you would at the very least need to have retinol in the formula, which that cream does not. Remember that a lot of creams out there state that they are adding collagen or elastin to your skin, but this is really just a gimmick in my opinion. A collagen or elastin containing cream is just a formula that you apply to your skin. It does not stimulate any sort of skin collagen or protein production, which means that the architecture of your skin is not changing or improving in any way.

These creams sound great in theory, but don’t deliver any benefit. I do agree that Bum Bum cream has some very hydrating ingredients and lipids, which are great for skin moisture protection and smoothing, but it certainly does not do any tightening. Buy Bum Bum cream to moisturize your body, but do not get it if you want to just tighten your skin.

I hope you found some answers in today’s episode. There are so many great skincare products out there, but it’s important to look at what they’re claiming and see if the ingredients or the device mechanisms match up. This is why education is so important to me. It can be easy to be misled in the beauty space when there are so many products and many of them are not independently tested the way that they are in the aesthetic medicine industry. If there is a product you’d like me to debunk or recommend, let me know and I will tackle it in a later episode.

If you’d like to learn more about science backed skincare or medical aesthetic treatments, please subscribe to and turn on notifications for the SKIN Report so you always know when a new episode is up. We have a newsletter that you can sign up for on so that you can stay up to date on all our new episodes, blogs, products, and more. Additionally, if you have a skincare of 5question or want to make an episode topic recommendation, please message me at We’ve received some great questions so far and I’ll try and answer them at the end of every episode, so keep them coming. Thanks for listening, and until next time, love the skin you’re in and celebrate your beauty.

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