We all want gorgeous, glowing complexions, and our shopping habits prove it: Americans spend between roughly $1,000 and $2,000 per year on skin-care products — most of which often end up in the junk drawer — and the dermatology-drugs market is expected to reach a whopping $34.5 billion by 2023. But despite our best efforts and intentions, many of us don’t love what we see in the mirror, and sometimes figuring out the reason requires a little sleuthing. Here are 10 mistakes you might be making in your skin-care routine and how to fix them.
1. Skipping sunscreen. Safety first, kids. If you think you only need to wear sunscreen on sunny summer days, think again. “The sun emits harmful UV rays year-round,” says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). “Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin.”
Do this instead: Slather on SPF 30 or above any time you’re going to be outside (rain, snow or shine) 15 minutes before you plan to leave the house, choosing a waterproof formula if you expect to swim or perspire. Re-apply regularly to ensure consistent protection. And don’t skimp: Experts say most adults need a full ounce of sunscreen, or enough to fill a shot glass, to cover their exposed skin.
2. Not eating a balanced diet. Our bodies need a full complement of vitamins to produce healthy skin cells and collagen. So if you want a dewy complexion, subsisting on ramen noodles for lunch and mac and cheese isn’t going to cut it. Refined carbohydrates are linked to acne. Alcohol makes us puffy and red and can age us prematurely. Skimp on vegetables and protein today, say hello to crow’s feet tomorrow.
Do this instead: Give your skin a daily feast of skin-boosting vitamins and antioxidants by filling your plate with a rainbow of produce. “Make sure they are a bunch of colors — red cabbage, green lettuce etc.,” says New York-based dermatologist Dennis Gross. “Eat veggies that have a lot of color. Nature color codes them for us. The more colors you eat, the better.” Round out your meals with lean proteins, omega-3-rich fish, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats. These foods “are good for your whole body, and that includes your skin,” says Dr. Rajani Katta of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. You can also talk to your doctor about addressing gaps in your nutrition via multivitamins and supplements.
3. Washing your face too frequently. It may seem counterintuitive, but over-cleansing your skin can actually cause it to become more oily. That’s because when you strip the naturally occurring sebum, your sebaceous glands ramp up production to compensate. The result: More shine, and a more conducive environment for breakouts.
Do this instead: Gently wash your face using a mild cleanser. Those with oilier complexions can wash up to two times a day, according to the AAD, while drier types can often get away with once-daily cleansing.
4. Exfoliating the wrong way. Done right, exfoliation creates a smooth, supple canvas for absorbing facial treatments or wearing makeup. Done wrong, and you’re setting yourself up for irritation, dryness or breakouts.
Do this instead: Those with dry, sensitive or acne-prone skin may prefer cleansing the skin with a washcloth. For those with darker skin tones, avoid aggressive exfoliation which may result in dark spots on the skin.
5. Using too-hot water. Beyond the obvious threat of burns, overly hot water dries your skin, leaving it more susceptible to wrinkles, flakes and painful cracking. It also can trigger an immune response in some people, resulting in rashes and hives.
What you should do instead: Use the coolest temperature you can tolerate, and keep your showers short. Not only will this save your skin, but it also can cut down on water-heater costs.
6. Not removing your eye makeup. This is a big one. Leave your eyeliner and mascara on, and you’re practically begging for an infection. “In some patients, makeup on the eyelid can cause problems such as irritation and infection of the surface of the eye and also damage to eyelashes,” says Scottish ophthalmologist Shahriar Nabili. “Some patients can also develop problems with the tear duct and watery eye.” And if the situation gets bad enough, it could even threaten your vision.
Do this instead: Soak a cotton ball or pad with a mild eye-makeup remover and press it to your closed eyelid. Gently stroke from the inside corner of your upper lid outward until all makeup is gone.
7. Picking at your face. Did you know that human fingernails can harbor staphylococcus bacteria, fungi and other horrors? And yet there you are, using them to extract blackheads like it’s no big deal. News flash: IT IS A BIG DEAL. Picking and mashing can lead to infections, scarring and bruising (and leave you looking like a mess, to boot).
Do this instead: Spot-treat pimples with a benzoyl peroxide-, salicylic acid- or sulfur-based product, and see a dermatologist if your acne persists. Otherwise, hands off.
8. Sleeping too little. It’s called beauty rest for a reason, friends. Not getting enough shut-eye wreaks havoc on our skin in myriad ways. Beyond causing dark under-eye circles, sleep deprivation raises our stress levels, which can lead to oiliness, breakouts and premature wrinkles.
Do this instead: Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep. It’s worth it.
9. Wearing the wrong kind of foundation. Sad to say, but there is no one-size-fits-all foundation. Oil-based foundations may be great for dry or aging skin, but they’re terrible for shinier faces. On the other hand, powders can cake or settle into fine lines.
Do this instead: Pick a foundation that’s made for your skin type. If you’re acne-prone, opt for an oil-free, noncomedogenic formula. If wrinkles are a concern, look for liquid or cream bases containing emollients. And don’t forget to switch to a lighter or powder-based version in the summer, when heat and humidity can melt your makeup right off.
10. Not seeing a dermatologist. Ultimately there is no substitution for regular visits to your doctor. Self-diagnosing conditions such as acne or psoriasis could lead you to treatments that either don’t work or exacerbate your problem. And catching skin cancer early greatly increases a patient’s chances of survival.
Do this instead: Schedule a mole check with your dermatologist annually. In between visits, regularly inspect your skin for any changes — and if something worries you, book an appointment right away.