9 Ways You're Effing Up Your Skin & Don't Know It

Photographed by David Cortes.
Ask any celebrity with a radiant complexion how she gets her gorgeous glow, and her sage advice will often be, “I always take off all my makeup before bed.” And while that’s an indisputably good lesson, it’s one we’ve heard and heeded since we first started experimenting with concealer and lipstick. In other words, there simply has to be another reason (or several) we’re still experiencing random breakouts and inflammation.

That’s why we wanted to find out all the sneaky ways we could be damaging our skin — without even realizing it. Our expert recruits? Christie Kidd, a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist whose clients include Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Alexandra Wagner, a licensed esthetician and skin-care specialist.

Turns out, there are plenty of surprising ways we’re hurting our chances of a crystal-clear complexion. Thanks to Kidd and Wagner, we’ve nailed down the top nine. Keep reading to find out what they are and how you can fix them.


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Ever notice blemishes appearing on your cheeks and the bridge of your nose? Your sunglasses and cell phone might be to blame (after all, when’s the last time you wiped down either?). “Even just touching a part of your face with unclean hands can trigger zits,” Wagner says. “Often, I can tell when people are touching a part of their face as a habit — the skin in that area appears to have more acne and blackheads.” The fix? Keep your hands off your face, and clean your sunnies and phone often.
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Think twice before you go running to the store for a powerful exfoliator designed to buff away dry, flaky patches or clean out clogged pores. According to Kidd, anything too abrasive — like harsh exfoliators and sponges — might harm, rather than help, your skin. “Pimples don’t need to be aggravated even more,” she says. “It’s best to use a topical serum for exfoliation, which allows cellular turnover to happen without scrubbing off your skin. I also recommend simply using your cleansed hands, which are softer and gentler, to wash your face.”
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We usually trust whatever our favorite brands tell us about their products, but it’s important to pay attention to ingredient lists and find out what could irritate your skin type. For example, Wagner suggests avoiding sulfates, which lurk in many skin-care and hair products. “Sulfates can strip your skin of oil and cause your glands to overproduce oil, creating acne,” she explains. “Also, keep an eye out for parabens, phthalates, triclosan, PEGs, and synthetic fragrances, all of which can throw off your hormones.”
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Working out has many benefits, but your post-gym skin-care regimen is just as important. In fact, it could be the key to maintaining a clear complexion. If you’re lazy about washing your face immediately after a sweaty treadmill session, you run the risk of major breakouts. As an alternative, Wagner suggests packing your favorite toner and some cotton balls in your gym bag. “This way, you can balance your pH and quickly clean off any leftover sweat and bacteria,” she says.
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Swimmers, beware: “Chlorine can dry out the skin and cause oil glands to overproduce oil,” Wagner says. If you’re a water baby, just be sure to cleanse your skin immediately after a dip in the pool to thoroughly remove any traces of chlorine. Wagner suggests using a mild cleanser followed by moisturizer.
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Cleaning your makeup brushes and sponges is a drag, but Kidd promises that a little diligence goes a long way. “I often hear about girls using the same brush over and over again to apply foundation without ever washing it,” she says. “These tools can harbor bacteria and while they may not be the main cause of your breakouts, they’re certainly not helping.” She recommends quickly rinsing them after every use, if possible.
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It’s tempting to believe that your diet doesn’t affect your skin at all, but Wagner insists that it does and that most people are stubbornly in denial about it. “Excessive sugar can really cause acne,” she says. “Sugar spikes insulin levels, which leads to more breakouts. We’ve solved a lot of skin issues when people listen and decide to seriously cut sugar out.”
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This may seem obvious, but many people are automatons when they’re applying their daily cocktail of products. Pay attention to your complexion: Is it changing because of the season? Dried out because you’ve been traveling? Red and irritated thanks to stress or hormone levels? For example, Wagner says, “Everyone has different skin, but almost everyone sees more dryness in the wintertime.”
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Just like rinsing your face with piping-hot water dries out your skin, so does cranking up the heat. “The buildup on your skin’s surface can block pores and lead to great potential for acne,” Wagner says. If you’re truly concerned about your skin, try bundling up instead of blasting the heat.
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