Despite our efforts to achieve glowing, flawless skin, many of us are making mistakes that stand in the way of the finest potions and lotions. Here, the 14 biggest mistakes women are making with their skin, and the fixes to set things right. Gorgeousness, here we come!
Mistake: You're not wearing sunscreen every single day
We are all sick of hearing this advice (it gets more play than Lady Gaga!), but dermatologists are probably just as tired of repeating it. This is the single biggest mistake most of us are making with our skin, and there's no need: it's an easy gaffe to fix.
The Fix: You know it already: Wear an SPF lotion or cream with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection every single day. But why every day? While UVB rays are strong in summer, UVA rays stay the same year-round. "If you go outside to shovel shovel snow on the most overcast day of the year, you're getting the same amount of UVA as if you were on the beach during the summer," says Dr. Jeannette Graf, a Board certified, clinical and research dermatologist. Slather up, whether or not the sun's out.
Mistake: You think the SPF in your makeup is good enough.
We love a time-saving double duty product as much as the next lady, but this kind of two-fer just doesn't cut it. Why? Because dotting foundation on to even out skin tone or sweeping a powder across the t-zone simply isn't a generous enough application to offer real sun protection.
The Fix: "You really need to use an SPF cream or lotion," says Dr. Graf. In the winter, wear a moisturizer with SPF, but "during the summer you really need to bump it up and use a real sunblock that doesn't have any other ingredients but sunscreen and antioxidants," advises Dr. Graf. "You need that extra protection."
Mistake: You pick and squeeze.
We've all been there--it's just so hard not to!--but it's a habit that's not doing anything to help. "When you have a pimple under the skin, there is absolutely no way that you are going to be able to do anything about it in terms of squeezing," says Dr. Graf. "Nothing will come out and nothing good will come of it if you touch it." That is, unless you call scarring a good thing. (Nope!) Another mistake? Using a warm compress to draw out whatever is in there. That just expands the irritation even more, explains Dr. Graf.
The Fix: "If you start to feel a blind pimple under the skin, take it to the dermatologist's office for a shot." Can't make it to the doctor? Apply an ice pack, suggests Dr. Graf. The cold will help constrict the blood vessel and could help make the blemish smaller.
Mistake: You over-dry your skin.
It's the battle of the blemish, and we're all just trying to use our strongest artillery. But this plan of attack actually backfires. Over-drying the skin creates irritation and redness, and what's worse, dry skin leads to clogged pores. Keep this up, warns Dr. Graf, and "you're actually going to get more breakouts and more clogging."
The Fix: Take the path of moderation and lay off the full-on product offensive. You might need to try using your acne treatments every other evening or only a few times a week.
Mistake: You treat your entire face like it's a problem area.
It's like trying to use a chainsaw to shape your eyebrows. While you might have a few oily areas, like across your t-zone, you don't need to treat your entire face with products formulated for oily skin. When you treat combination skin like an oil slick it leads to irritation. And you know where irritation gets you--more clogging and more blemishes.
The Fix: As adolescence turns into adulthood, what was once oily skin is more often combination skin, explains Dr. Graf. Evaluate your skin type and treat it accordingly, whether you're dry, oily, or somewhere in between.
Mistake: You only protect your face from the sun.
Since we're trying to protect ourselves from the signs of aging, it makes sense that we'd focus on putting our best face forward. But as Dr. Graf warns, "one of the biggest places I see aging is on the chest." Also scary: covering up with clothing isn't much help. "A white t-shirt gives you an SPF of about 5," explains Dr. Graf.
The Fix: Any day you're going to be outside for a prolonged period of time, apply sunblock from head to toe, not just on your face and exposed arms and legs. Don't forget your ears!
Mistake: You're religious about using oil-free or non-comedogenic products.
Women with oily or blemish-prone skin have been taught that these words are the preventative gold standard for a break-out. In fact, many of us won't buy products that don't boast these terms on the bottle. But we might want to think again. "The terms non-comedogenic and oil-free are not FDA-approved terms. That's really just a selling point," explains Dr. Graf. The terms date back to the 1950s when beauty products used industrial-grade mineral oil that could break you out. "Today's mineral oil is a totally different cosmetic grade and is not going to break you out."
The Fix: If you're someone with oily skin who lives in fear of a break-out, you should use a pH-balanced foaming cleanser on your face, and you might want to add in a silicone-based powder or gel, suggests Dr. Graf. But you don't need to rely solely on products billed as oil-free or non-comedogenic. Seek out products you like, regardless of meaningless marketing terms.
Mistake: You're over-exfoliating.
Quick science lesson: Over the course of 28 days, the bottom layer of your skin--the basal layer--migrates toward the surface of your skin. When it gets there, it dies. Enzymes in the dead skin cells then cause the dead layer to fall off. That natural process is called exfoliation. Got it?
"If you see a 3-year-old child, that process is working perfectly. As we get older, that's not working as well. Why? Because the enzymes in our skin require hydration and moisture in order to be activated. When we lose that natural moisture over the years, our enzymes don't work. We have that dead skin cell layer that hangs on, and we need to remove it. That's why we use exfoliators."
But exfoliation needs to be gentle in order to be effective. "I've seen doctors on television talking about exfoliating. 'If it burns, great.' I see this, and I want to cringe."
The Fix: Steer clear of harsh scrubs and exfoliators like BuffPuffs, which can break blood vessels, and apricot scrubs, whose needle-sharp pits will break your skin and cause redness. At home, "using a peel kit or microdermabrasion kit is great. Using it every single day is not," says Dr. Graf. Any deeper exfoliation should be done in the care of a skin care professional, she says.
Mistake: You're using the right products at the wrong time.
You've got an all-star line-up of retinols, sunblock, and microdermabrasion kits in your medicine cabinet. But when you use your products is as important as what you're using. "Everybody's using the kitchen sink in the morning," complains Dr. Graf. Retinols are light-sensitive, so using them during the day isn't such a bright idea.
The Fix: "You want to use protective products in the daytime," says Dr. Graf, so slather on sunscreen twenty minutes before you leave the house. At bedtime, bring out the big guns, like exfoliators and retinols, "when your skin's natural circadian rhythms renew themselves," explains Dr. Graf.
Mistake: You use products with gold or metal in them.
It might seem super luxe to use creams flecked with gold, but you're better off keeping your money in your pocket. "They can cause contact dermatitis and there's no evidence that they do anything except drain your wallet."
The Fix: Invest your money in gold you can wear around your neck. And when you feel like splurging on a rich potion, pick something that smells divine or has a luxurious texture--but is free from any precious metals.
Mistake: You go to sleep with your makeup on.
We've all been there: You get home late and can't quite muster the energy to wash off the day or your makeup. (And waking up looking as "done" as Kim Kardashian can seem kind of screen goddessy.) "A lot of people will go to bed with makeup on. And a lot of people who don't go to bed with makeup on won't wash their face in the morning," says Dr. Graf. Both are big mistakes.
The Fix: Wash your face morning and night. But doctors sympathize with real life; they just want us to be prepared. "You go out on a Friday night and come home at 2am--it's going to happen. At the very least, have those pre-moistened makeup removers at your bedside. I'd rather you do that than not do it at all."
Mistake: You don't give your skincare products a chance.
We live in a quick fix world, so when we don't immediately see results from a new skin care regimen, we can get frustrated and give up. We then bounce from product to product, trying to find the magic potion.
The Fix: Exercise some patience. We take multivitamins, Dr Graf explains, knowing they're good for us, even when we don't see results. Sometimes you have to give your products the same measure of faith. "When you're using a skincare product, don't be so hard on the product. Understand that it's doing something for you." And that means waiting more than two days to see a difference--more like four to six weeks.
Mistake: You smoke.
If your health isn't motivation enough to quit, let vanity convince you. The toxins in cigarettes cause decreased oxygen flow to the skin, resulting in a dull complexion, explains Dr. Amy S. Pappert, assistant professor of dermatology at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Repeatedly contracting your muscles to inhale, or squinting to protect your eyes from smoke can deep, premature wrinkles around the mouth, frown lines, and crow's feet.
The Fix: There's no better time to quit than now. Talk to your doctor about a game plan, and comb online resources like the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association. Your skin, not to mention your family and your friends, will thank you.
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