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We Revisit the Old (and Often Terrible) Beauty Advice from the Magazines of Our Youth

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Main image – Abigailtulenko/Stocksy

For many of us, our first introduction to the intoxicating world of beauty came in the form of the humble teen magazine. 

In a broadly post-print world, it’s hard to imagine now just how ubiquitous these glossy little publications truly were to the developing brains of generations of beauty lovers. And even though the beauty world has changed dramatically since then, there’s something to be said about having such an early influence. 

Ask any woman of a certain age, and she’ll likely still remember some of the more questionable magazine beauty advice fed to her in her formative years.

Such is the nostalgia we hold for these magazines of yore that we’re seeing something of a renaissance on today’s social media. 

One truly incredible Instagram account, Teen Magazine Museum, run by author Morgan Baden, is a trip down editorial memory lane. Baden has shared some of the most off-the-wall beauty advice she found in her extensive magazine collection.

But does any of this advice actually hold up? Or should it be relegated to the past, just like many of the titles that delivered it to us? 

We’ve asked skincare and beauty experts across the board to review some of the most bizarre beauty advice from the Teen Magazine Museum and give us the answers.


Image – Ivanhaidutski/Stocksy


The scrub down

Many mags back in the day would recommend DIY exfoliants – be it sugar, salt, or even crushed-up aspirin. An October 1987 issue of one teen magazine states: “Start by mixing 1/2 cup of table salt with enough lemon juice to make a paste. Gently massage in the mixture. Let dry. Rinse off and slather moisturizer on.”


Image – Tatjanazlatkovic/Stocksy


But most people with even a base knowledge of skincare now wince at the thought of applying something so abrasive to our delicate little faces. 

Nina Prisk, of Update Aesthetics, says that “using ingredients found at home, such as sugar and salt, directly onto the skin in order to exfoliate it can be abrasive on the skin and risk causing irritation, inflammation, as well as damage the skin’s natural barrier – its first line of defence against infection.”

Dermatologist Dr Andrei Gerghina goes one step further, advising against using any scrubs on the face, DIY or store-bought. He claims that he likes “to think of physical exfoliants and sandpaper—barbaric and unpredictable.”

Rather than using scrubs to buff the skin, he recommends chemical exfoliators, claiming they “not only help with skin turnover but also increase collagen and elastin, improve the size of visible pores and fine lines and wrinkles, and help diffuse melanin granules for a more homogenous skin tone.”


Burning up

Way back in July 1990, one mag promised that vinegar could help turn a sunburn into a tan, writing: “Dilute two cups of vinegar in a sinkful of cool water, and apply the mixture to sunburned areas with a washcloth.” Celebrity aesthetician Ian Michael Crumm explains that this theory is “a dangerous misconception. A ‘base tan’  is your skin actually responding to cell damage and does not negate the harmful effects of UV radiation.”

Dr Gergina agrees that “there is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan, as any form of tanning (including a base tan) indicates skin damage from harmful UV radiation.” 

He also explains that “it’s essential to protect your skin from the sun by using broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30+) and seeking shade.” If you really do want to get some colour into your skin, opt instead for a spray tan or even some over-the-counter tanning drops.


Eye eye, captain

One beauty hack that’s still around today, magazines also used to recommend cucumber as an eye cream to minimise puffiness.

An October 1990 issue of a teen publication said: “Peel and puree one cucumber and run through a sieve to catch seeds. pour cucumber juice into a measuring cup and add enough whole milk to double the amount. Mix these together. Apply to skin using cucumber slices.” 


Image – Katarinaradovic/Stocksy


It also offers a different vegetal method. “If your eyes are swollen from allergies, too little sleep or tears, potatoes have the natural ability to absorb excess water and help eliminate puffiness. Place a 1/4-inch slice of potato over closed eyelids.”

Even I could tell you this probably isn’t a great idea, but Crumm puts it a little more scientifically. “Modern skincare products designed for reducing eye puffiness are a safer and more effective choice.”


Just stop oil

While many of us have now embraced our natural dew, older skincare advice was very much focused on preventing oil production and drying out the skin for a matte finish. 

One particularly memorable option was to use astringent fruits as a toner for oily skin types. “Berries, such as strawberries and blueberries, act as a natural astringent and can help reduce the size of pores,” an October 1990 magazine advises.


Image – Kalengankonge/Stocksy


But Prisk explains that this is an extremely harsh method to minimise oiliness, saying that “it can result in skin dryness and irritation. It can also aggravate sensitive skin or anyone with an existing skin condition.”

But not only is fruit juice a rather harsh solution to oily skin – it actually doesn’t work, either. 

Dr Gerghina explains that because it’s “too harsh and drying for the skin, it can actually lead to a reflective increase in oil production.” Stripping oily skin is both dangerous and ill-effective – the worst of both worlds!


A fruity idea

Another bizarre skincare DIY you may remember is the advice to use grapefruit as an acne treatment. “Grapefruit fights bacteria in the oils in the skin, so it’s good for acne-prone complexions,” the February 1991 issue of a magazine reads. But while it can feel cooling and soothing on an angry zit, there’s no real evidence that this can have a beneficial impact on acne. 

In fact, Prisk claims that it “will pose a risk of skin irritation, inflammation and also a chemical burn.”

Luckily for us, there is now a wealth of genuinely effective spot-fighting ingredients on the market. Crumm advises that “treatments with proven ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are a better choice.” Save the grapefruit for breakfast!


Colour me confused

Magazines used to recommend some rather strange DIY hair colouring methods. “For redheads: Bring vibrant colour back to faded-out locks by using 1 cup of cherry or strawberry yoghurt,” offers the October 1990 issue of the same publication.


Image – Maitepons/Stocksy


However, it now appears that it’s best to leave hair treatments to the professionals. Crumm explains that “it can stress the hair and scalp.” 

Dr Gerghina agrees that these treatments “can lead to hair breakage as well as scalp irritation.” If you do want to give your hair a treat, maybe look to the shelves of the chemist, rather than the greengrocer.


The takeaway

While there’s certainly nostalgia to be found looking back over the beauty advice prevalent in magazines of our youth, they may not the best sources to go looking for beauty tips. 

Crumm explains that “this advice from the past reflects a time when DIY beauty remedies were more prevalent and less regulated.” 

It’s always worth doing a bit of extra research before trying out any beauty tip that sounds a little too good to be true – as more often than not, it is.


Meet the experts

Nina Prisk is an aesthetic nurse prescriber and owner of Update Aesthetics Cosmetic Clinics, both in London’s Harley Street and Cornwall. Prisk is a lecturer and ambassador for global industry brands. She advocates for the importance of a multi-faceted regime that incorporates both injectables and skincare products. Qual: RGN, INP, BSc, MSc.


Dr Andrei Gerghina is board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeron and practises cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology.


Ian Michael Crumm is a celebrity aesthetican and beauty expert as well as co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr. Elyse Love. He is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety, is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness and believes that #ProtectedSkinWins.



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Freelance Beauty Writer

Annie Walton Doyle is a journalist based in Manchester, UK. For over ten years, she's worked within the beauty industry, writing for publications like Bustle and Hello Giggles about skincare, makeup, fragrance, and more. When not writing, she enjoys knitting, weird books, nature, and mysteries.

Expertise: Makeup, nails
Education: Goldsmiths, University of London

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