The last time I saw my dermatologist (I admit that it wasn’t for my yearly skin check, but rather because I was desperately seeking laser hair removal) she told me to stop nearly all of my habits. Yes, I walked in there looking to leave with a little less fuzz and walked out questioning my morals. Starting with the advice that I should see her more than once every few years when I wanted something removed, she rattled off a few other bits of wisdom.
As a beauty writer, it got me thinking — what are the top habits our dermatologists wish we’d all stop doing (for the sake of our skin health, of course)? I reached out to some trusted skin docs and asked them to sound off on their biggest patient pet peeves.
SKIMPING ON SUNSCREEN
Seriously. You might think that if it’s overcast you don’t have to rub on extra SPF. Or maybe you’re under the impression that the sunscreen in your makeup is enough to keep you covered. It’s not. Be warned: UV light exposure causes skin cancer and premature aging. It’s that simple. “Even brief sun exposures throughout the year can add up to significant damage,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. “These brief moments can include driving with the sunroof open or walking around outdoor shopping centers during peak sun hours — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — which exposes your skin to damaging UV rays.” If you’re living under the illusion that “it’s important to get enough vitamin D,” know that sun exposure isn’t the best (or only) way to get it. Even with sunscreen, you should still be able to get your vitamin D fix, and deficiencies can be counteracted with a daily supplement.
PICKING YOUR PIMPLES
Even if you’re one of the many who inexplicably find pimple-popping to be a stress-relieving activity, it’s time to cut that habit. Picking your pimples is the fastest way to spread bacteria and breakouts, and also leads to inflammation and redness. “At some point, you are going to pick your face with long nails, dirty fingers, or apply too much pressure, leading to skin trauma and scabbing,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He recommends stepping up your acne regimen instead. “This way, you’re not only getting rid of pimples you already have, but you’re preventing new ones from popping up in the future.”
TAKING HOT SHOWERS
You might love a long, hot shower, but it’s not doing your skin any favors. “Excessive exposure to water, particularly hot water, can strip the skin of essential oils and disrupt the skin barrier,” explains Zeichner. Try limiting your shower to less than 10 minutes and using only lukewarm water. “The ideal temperature should be somewhere around 84 degrees F, which is what you would imagine a heated pool would feel like in the summertime.” Also, remember to moisturize within five minutes of getting out of the shower to lock in hydration.
TANNING — FOR REAL
You’ve heard it before, but you’re about to hear it again because it’s that important: Tanning is always a bad idea. “Any change in the color of your skin is a sign of damage,” explains Dr. Joel Schlessinger, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon based in Omaha, Nebraska. “The skin darkens after UV exposure in an attempt to repair any damage and prevent further injury. These repairs can cause gene defects that lead to skin cancer.” With repeated exposure to UV rays, either from the sun or tanning beds, your skin is at a much higher risk for skin cancer and premature aging. And indoor tanning is even worse than outdoor tanning. “This is because you can do it at any time, and frequent visits don’t give the skin a chance to recuperate,” says Schlessinger. “Additionally, the lamps in tanning beds give off 10 to 15 times more radiation than the sun, making it a fallacy that they are somehow ‘safer.'” Sadly, the newer tanning booths use bulbs that are even more deadly, so do try to stay out if you know what’s good for you.
NEGLECTING YOUR NECK AND CHEST
Even if you’re taking steps to protect your face from the sun, free radicals in the environment and general signs of aging, all of those efforts could be betrayed if you leave your neck and chest to fend for themselves. “The skin on the neck and chest are among the thinnest of the body, making them extremely susceptible to environmental damage from UV light,” warns Zeichner. “Over time, the neck — especially on the sides – and the ‘V’ of the chest can develop what we call poikiloderma.” This leaves the skin susceptible to developing dark and light spots, and broken capillaries become prominent.
AGGRESSIVELY REMOVING YOUR EYE MAKEUP
We get it: You’re exhausted after a long day and just want your makeup offand your jammies on. But before you tug away at the sensitive under-eye area, know this: Even low-grade inflammation caused by rubbing can promote pigment production and cause damage to elastic fibers. “You may not realize it, but aggressively removing eye makeup can actually cause trauma to the skin,” says Zeichner. “Instead, use gentle, circular motions — and don’t forget an eye cream to help keep the skin around the eyes looking young.”
SKIPPING YOUR YEARLY SKIN CHECK
You might feel like you have enough doctor’s visits on your plate, but your yearly visit to the dermatologist isn’t one to let slide. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an annual visit to ensure you’re doing all you can to protect against skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer. “Skin cancer and melanoma are easily treatable if diagnosed early, but not if they progress too far,” says Schlessinger. “Any mole that is black, bleeding or changing rapidly deserves to be seen by a dermatologist.” Hey, it could save your life.
ASSESSING SKIN CONDITIONS YOURSELF
Googling that rash you’ve been scratching at on your lower stomach area might help give you a hint as to what could be going on with your skin, but it’s not wise to settle on an Internet-guided solution, experts warn. “Some skin conditions, like acne and rosacea, can look similar to one another, but the effective treatments for each are very different,” explains Schlessinger. “This can lead to using the wrong products for your condition, which can make your problems worse.” Keep a careful eye on your skin, and then see a dermatologist if you have any concerns, since that’s the only true way to determine what’s really going on and to find the best treatment method.
IGNORING NEW SKIN SPOTS
“If you see a new spot, please get it checked,” says Zeichner. “If detected early, you can cure skin cancer.” He recommends examining yourself regularly in a well-lit room such as the bathroom. “Don’t forget to look at your back and hard-to-reach areas, such as between the fingers and toes.” Have a loved one help look at you in areas you can’t see yourself, and, if you see a spot that is new or different, make sure to see your dermatologist to have it checked out. “Atypical moles break the ABCDE rules: They are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, contain multiple different colors, are larger in diameter than the size of a pencil tip eraser and are evolving over time,” he explains. Take note — and get to your doctor — if you notice that type of spot.