With that in mind, we spoke to aesthetician Renée Rouleau and NYC dermatologist Dr. Amy Wechsler to get the DL on how we’re inadvertently sabotaging our complexions, plus tips on how to cease and desist. Read on for the full scoop, then ditch those practices like a, well, bad habit.
We've covered this before, but both Rouleau and Dr. Wechsler were adamant about this one. "In the quest to look younger and have smoother, clearer skin, people are doing too many aggressive exfoliating treatments that are actually injuring their skin," says Rouleau. How, exactly, does over-exfoliating harm your visage? By causing dryness, inflammation, destroying healthy cells, promoting skin discoloration, and stripping away healthy oils and bacteria. Says Rouleau, "You do want your skin hygienically clean, but not clean like you want your kitchen floor. There is a certain amount of good bacteria that the skin needs to keep it healthy and functioning well, so you don’t want to strip it by over-exfoliating." This advice pertains to physical exfoliators (beads and scrubs), chemical (acids), and even your beloved facial cleansing brush.
If you opt for a chemical exfoliator, the type of acid also matters, says Dr. Wechsler, who recommends beta-hydroxy acids to her clients over the more common alpha-hydroxy acids. "While AHAs have benefits, they tend to be more irritating and stinging than BHAs, and can over-exfoliate the skin," she says. "Using a BHA also has the benefit of treating acne." Which brings us to...
Using Acne Products On Your Acne
Yes, we realize this sounds like crazy talk, but Rouleau swears it makes sense, so hear her out. "A skin care line geared toward acne is designed to fight bacteria and dry out breakouts. For someone (like a teenager) whose skin is covered in severe acne, this is appropriate. But, for most people who get some breakouts (but not on the majority of their face like a teen might get), acne products can make the situation worse."
How? According to Rouleau, these products are designed to be extremely drying, which is fine for your zits, but not so great for the rest of your unblemished visage. This will result in over-drying, which leads dead skin cell build-up. The cell build-up will then act as a barrier, she says, to trap oil under the skin, causing more clogged pores and breakouts. So, what should you do? "These are the three most important elements for controlling clogged pores and breakouts," Rouleau says. "Light exfoliation, to remove dry skin cells to unclog pores and also help fade those red, post-breakout marks; disinfecting, to eliminate bacteria and help prevent the spread of breakout as well as to dry up infection; and hydration, as water-based moisture helps keep cells healthy to discourage dry skin cell buildup."
On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who refuse to use moisturizer because they have oily skin and are convinced they either don't need it, or it will break them out. Wrong, says Dr. Wechsler. "In reality, if skin gets too dry — especially if you’re already using acne treatments, which can be very drying (see above) — acne can get worse," she says. Instead, look for a light, oil-free, non-comedogenic formula that doesn’t contain glycolic acid or another exfoliant — Dr. Wechsler says these will be too stressful to your skin in conjunction with an acne treatment.
Using A Washcloth Or Loofah To Wash Your Face
And, just like that, we're back to that E word. "While you think that you may be scrubbing deeper into your pores or sloughing away all your dead skin, cloths and loofahs harbor bacteria and cause you more skin problems in the end," says Dr. Wechsler. Instead, she recommends you find a gentle, exfoliating cleanser and use that to cleanse your face from your hairline to your collarbone. Save the loofah for everything underneath that area, and be sure replace it regularly.
We know better than anyone that this whole SPF thing can be hella confusing. Apparently, most of us are so concerned about whether we are using the right dosage and reapplying the correct amount of time that we forget the basics. "Many people forget to check expiration dates, or they store them in hot places like the glove compartments of their cars," she says. "These are things that degrade your sunscreen, resulting in less protection than you thought."
Skipping Nighttime Treatments To Let Your Skin "Breathe"
Rouleau says that one of the most common misconceptions she sees is people avoiding using skin care products at night in order to give their skin a break — a.k.a. let it "breathe." According to her, this is 100% false. "Skin cells are like fish — they need water to live," she says. "Without it, your cells dehydrate and the health of the skin is compromised. Not to mention, increased oil production and breakouts." At night, you should be focused on healing — your skin is in its reparative state, is at rest, and is not being assaulted by environmental stressors, making the p.m. the most perfect time to treat your skin. "Performing your nighttime-specific routine with the use of moisturizer can really help repair your skin and help to control how quickly your skin ages," explains Rouleau. "At bedtime after cleansing and toning, apply a moisturizer, 365 nights a year."
When it comes to taking care of your visage, you should take a "the more, the merrier" approach to products and treatments, right? Not so, says Dr. Wechsler. "Many of us have five different face creams/moisturizers/toners that we use on our skin every day, twice a day," she says. "Not only does this make our beauty routines exhausting, it could also be irritating your skin." By overtreating your complexion, she says, you are actually exacerbating inflammation, which can lead to breakouts and other not-so-fun skin conditions. Her suggested daily routine: A gentle daily cleanser, two good moisturizer (one with an SPF 30+ for day and another for night use), and — depending on your skin type and if you need some extra help — anti-acne treatments, exfoliants, antioxidant serums, or a retinoid or retinol treatment.
Come again? We were always told that it's healthy for us to take a break from our makeup and let our skin breathe. This, the logic goes, helps avoid clogging and suffocating the skin. "As an aesthetician with 25 years of hands-on experience with skin, I actually disagree with this philosophy completely," says Rouleau. Okay, we're listening... "For starters, a foundation makeup can come in the form of a moisturizing liquid (if your skin is dry and more mature), an oil-free liquid (if your skin is combination to normal), or a powder (if your skin is oily and acne prone). As long as you’re using makeup that’s appropriate for your skin type, you shouldn’t run into any problems with clogging your pores."
According to Rouleau, wearing makeup that's appropriate for your skin type offers protection against UV rays. "UV rays from the sun are the number one reason for skin aging — not genetics, smoking, and believe it or not, even age," she says. Because most makeup has built-in SPF (or at least UV-protecting ingredients, like titanium dioxide), Rouleau reasons that, along with regular SPF use, they can help you protect your skin much more effectively.
Taking A Long, Hot Shower To Open Your Pores
People still do this? According to Dr. Wechsler, yes, and it's messing with their skin. "Everyone loves the way a long, hot shower feels, and there is belief that the steam from the shower can help your pores," she says. "Hot water dissolves your natural body oils and makes skin dry. Instead, aim for shorter showers in warm water. Once you’re out of the shower, use three separate towels to dry off (one for your face, one for your body and one for your hair), and moisturize your face first, then your body."
Slathering On A Rich Eye Cream To Prevent Wrinkles
We've been under the impression that the thicker the eye cream, the better it is for our wrinkles. Apparently, this is not the case. "Many heavy eye creams typically contain heavy oils like mineral oil or petrolatum," says Rouleau. "Since these ingredients are not absorbed easily, they sit on the surface and suffocate the skin. They can also travel into the eyes while you're sleeping, causing excessive puffiness in the morning. Your skin acts as a sponge — it absorbs what it needs and the rest just sits on the surface. Eye creams should be absorbed, yet still leave the skin feeling moist and supple." And now you know.
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Illustrated by Isabelle Rancier