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5 Dermatologists on the Worst DIY Beauty Disasters They’ve Ever Had to Treat

Sergey Mironov

Put down the syringe — we’re begging you.

We, at Allure, get it — seeing a dermatologist takes time and money. And with the vast amount of information skin-care influencers put out for free on social media, its not surprising some viewers are not skipping the trip to the derm’s office and taking matters into their own hands. We flock to TikTok and YouTube to get the scoop on the latest and greatest in skin-care: what ingredients will treat our skin woes, which products are and aren’t worth our time, and what new tricks and hacks will completely change our skincare game. If they work out, great! And if not, no harm no foul, right?

Except for when there is harm. Not all beauty advice found online is as quick and harmless as we may believe it to be, especially considering that many of these gadgets and techniques are promoted by strangers with little to no experience or formal education in skin-care. You might see a stunning after video that “proves” the effectiveness, but what happens once the camera turns off? Disaster. (Looking at you, SPF contouring.)

While some channels and influencers do put out high-quality and well-researched information, the onus is ultimately placed on the viewer to determine the efficacy and applicability of the information. And just because dermatologists may give a new trend the green light on social, it doesn’t always mean that it’s right for your skin type or skin-care routine. This is when it’s helpful to have someone who completed medical school and is board-certified in dermatology to tell you what’s right for your skin in person.

So, if you’re tempted to try the latest hack in order to avoid seeing a dermatologist, think again. That “hack” might wind up sending you to the very same dermatologist you were avoiding seeing in the first place. We spoke to five board-certified dermatologists about the worst DIY beauty disasters they’ve ever had to treat, so you know to give these at-home hacks a hard pass.

Meet the experts:
  • Elaine F. Kung, MD, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, assistant professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Hospital, and founder of Future Bright Dermatology.
  • Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Davie, Florida. She’s also the cofounder of Precision Skin Institute.
  • Sheilagh Maguiness, MD, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of skin-care brand Stryke Club.
  • Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, a Westport, Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer of Ideal Image.
  • Angela Casey, MD, a double board-certified dermatologist based in Ohio and founder of Bright Girl youth skin-care line.

Scarring from Self-Injected Fillers

If you were thinking of skipping your appointment to get fillers and injecting them yourself instead — don’t. Just… don’t. Angela Casey, MD, a double board-certified dermatologist based in Ohio and founder of Bright Girl youth skin-care line, shared one instance of this bad idea going very, very wrong.

“A new patient sought medical care at my office after self-injecting hyaluronic acid serum into her cheeks at home. She had watched a video on YouTube about how to do this,” she says. “She caused infection, inflammation, and scarring in her skin. We had to treat her with antibiotics and oral prednisone.” And to make matters even worse, this patient used topical hyaluronic acid for her injections, which is critically different than injectable hyaluronic acid.

“Injectable [hyaluronic acid] is a sterile product which has undergone FDA testing and approval as a medical device and is specifically manufactured by pharmaceutical companies for injection,” explains Dr. Casey. “Topical [hyaluronic acid] is not subject to these same FDA regulations, and a topical [hyaluronic acid] serum in a bottle is not a sterile product.”

Though she was able to treat the infection and inflammation, Dr. Casey notes the patient did have some permanent scarring.

A Staph Infection from At-Home Dermaplaning

In the hands of a professional skin-care provider, dermaplaning can do wonders for the skin. Using a razor or surgical scalpel to shave the face “removes the fine vellus hairs on the face along with a small amount of the stratum corneum (the top layer of your skin),” explains Sheilagh Maguiness, MD, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based board-certified dermatologist. “It can give the immediate appearance of clearer, glowing skin – as if you’d just had a chemical peel.”

While Dr. Maguiness explains that dermaplaning is “likely safe to do at home for individuals with normal skin, using a sterile, new, dermaplaning razor device,” not everyone’s skin is suitable for this technique. She would not recommend an at-home treatment for anyone who “struggles with acne, rosacea, eczema, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or other conditions that can lead to comedones, pustules, inflammation or bumps on the skin.” In such cases, dermaplaning can backfire and lead to long-term effects.

Dr. Maguiness has observed multiple cases where dermaplaning backfired, “resulting in inflamed, acne-like bumps, ingrown hairs, and secondary bacterial infection. These kind of complications can take months and different topical therapies to manage and may result in hyperpigmentation.”

For those those with acne, rosacea, eczema or those prone to hyperpigmentation, Dr. Maguiness stresses that “dermaplaning may cause a lot of problems… The close shaving can traumatize the hair follicles and leave microabrasions in the skin, which can be a set up for infection and ingrown hairs, or worsening of acne.”

A Lemon Juice Peel Gone Wrong

Using lemons is a widespread ingredient in at-home skin-care “hacks” shared on social media (looking at you, Pinterest). The line of thinking is that vitamin C is good for your skin, and lemons have loads of vitamin C. Therefore, lemons = great for your skin. Sure, lemons may be a great addition to your diet, but not so much for topical application.

Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Daive, Florida and cofounder of Precision Skin Institute, saw this first-hand after a patient tried an at-home “lemon juice peel” she found online (which was intended to exfoliate the skin by applying lemon juice for an extended period of time.)

“She created a severe skin allergy, with a blistering rash which she tried pacifying with Vaseline slugging, and that caused severe congestion of her pores and major pimple breakouts,” she says. “We had to treat her for several weeks with antibiotic tablets and topical steroids to heal her skin and avoid major scarring. Then, she had to undergo a brightening skin-care regimen with laser treatments to correct long-term consequential pigmentation.”

The acidity of the citric acid in lemons “is an alpha hydroxy acid exfoliant that has low pH and for sensitive individuals — [this] can cause skin inflammation and skin barrier disruption,” she explains. In addition to vitamin C, lemons also contain profilin, which “is in allergen for 2 percent of the population,” says Dr. Blyumin-Karasik.

So next time you need a little skin brightening, keep your lemons in the fruit bowl and grab a dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum instead.

Burns From a Garlic Clove Acne Hack

Going “natural” is always tempting for all things wellness. However, as a board-certified dermatologist based in Westport, Connecticut, Deanne Mraz Robinson, puts it, “natural isn’t always safe or best.”

Dr. Robinson’s patient found this out the hard way when she gave herself a “second-degree burn on [her] face after putting a whole cut clove of garlic on a pimple.”

Many of these online “hacks” contain an (albeit very small) kernel of truth. “Garlic contains allicin, which has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties making it a great addition to our diets,” says Dr. Robinson. But when applied topically to the skin, it can cause contact dermatitis and in cases of prolonged exposure, a burn,” says Dr. Robinson.

This injury was no joke — with a second-degree burn (meaning that both the dermis and epidermis layers of the skin are burned), Dr. Robinson noted how this patient “needed treatment and laser treatments to minimize scarring after [the burn] had healed.”

Before thinking there won’t be any severe repercussions to trying a skin-care hack because it’s “natural,” consider the wise words of Dr. Robinson. “Poison ivy is natural, but it is not good for your skin… many things are natural that are not meant to be applied to the skin.”

Worse Rosacea From Gua Sha

If you’ve spent time on #SkinTok, you’ve seen these delicate jade gua sha tools grace your screen. This traditional Chinese healing method of massage and lymphatic drainage uses a smooth stone or object to scrape the body. Proponents of gua sha claim this scraping technique increases circulation and collagen production. However, because the stone scrapes across the skin, gua sha isn’t suitable for everyone, and individuals with certain skin conditions should avoid this trend.

“I recently had a patient who I have been treating for rosacea who decided to gua sha with a tool she purchased online under the direction of online videos,” says Elaine F. Kung, MD, a New York City based-dermatologist, assistant professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Hospital, and the founder of Future Bright Dermatology.

‘She wound up worsening her rosacea and created more visible blood vessels on her face. She reversed all the headway we made with her condition overnight by doing gua-sha at home,” she explains. “We had to perform an intense pulse light treatment targeting blood vessels to bring down the redness and reduce the blood vessels she created.”

That said, patients without skin conditions like rosacea aren’t exactly in the clear when it comes to gua sha. As gua sha scrapes the top layer of the skin, some frequent users may find changes in their skin texture due to the physical exfoliation.

“Think of the skin as like a piece of fabric that covers your body,” says Dr. Kung. “Just like clothing, when we rub clothing too much, there’s pilling, like texture change to our clothes. The same thing can happen with our skin if you cause friction on it too frequently.”

Dr. Kung recommends that patients question any “hacks” they see online and run any new skin-care trends by their dermatologist first before trying the trend for themselves. “Many of my patients follow advice on social media that may not be suitable to them,” she says. “The dangerous part is the advice is not from credentialed skin-care professionals… [and] some of these problems caused by DIY procedures may be irreversible.”

Originally Published in Allure by Lauren Burwell.

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