The 9 Worst Things You Can Do To Your Skin, Ranked

Photographed By Erin Yamagata.
If the most important relationship you have is with yourself, we'd argue the second-most important one is with your skin. After all, you have to live in it every day for the rest of your entire life. And yet, try as we may to be good to our skin, we end up hurting it in little — and big — ways all the time. (The good news is, it's usually always willing to give us a second or third or hundredth chance.)
We asked dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, to weigh in on the worst things we can subject our complexions to. She ranked the habits in order from bad to cardinal sin-level — and while some are to be expected, others may surprise you. How many of them are you guilty of?
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Click ahead for the countdown of the nine behaviors to nix ASAP if you love your dermis. But first, grab a glass of water to sip as you read.
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9. Pimple-Popping

To be honest, we were surprised this one was the lowest-level offender. The problem is less with popping your pimples and more with the fact that the vast majority of us do it incorrectly and without taking sanitary precautions. Still, by forcefully breaking the surface of the skin, not only are you opening the door for bacteria to get in, you're also damaging the tissue, leading to inflammation which slows down the healing process.

Dr. Jaliman says, "You increase your chances of scarring and brown and red spots, but also run the risk of creating more spots on skin by spreading bacteria. I would never suggest popping pimples yourself — if the problem persists go to a doctor and have it treated professionally."
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8. Staring At Screens

You’re looking at one right now and you've probably been looking at one all day — whether it's for work or just scrolling through social media. And it's not a good thing for your sleep, your eyesight, or your skin. "Monitors emit UV light — albeit not as much as they used to — which is particularly damaging to skin health as it penetrates right down to the collagen store which triggers premature aging," explains Dr Jaliman. "This is particularly problematic if you already have photosensitive problems, like lupus, which can trigger rashes, fever, and chronic fatigue if overexposed. While monitors are much better than they were, I would recommend putting a UV filter on your monitor so that it emits less UV light." (On top of that, we have "tech neck" to worry about, too...)
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7. Eating Too Much Sugar

According to Dr. Jaliman, "Eating a lot of processed sugar stiffens collagen (taking it from a spongy cushion under skin to a flattened one that won’t plump anymore), which causes wrinkling. If you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables with a high concentration of antioxidants, then your skin is going to glow. Not only that, sugar causes inflammation that can make acne more aggressive and swollen. Pack your diet with leafy greens, proteins, and healthy fats, and your skin will show its gratitude.
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6. Skipping Face Washes

We’ve all guilty of this one after a late night, but we tend to think it's only bad in terms of the makeup we're leaving on our skin. Not the case. In fact, removing the build-up of pollution that hits us just by walking around the city is even more important.

"Air pollution consists of a mixture of harmful toxins and carbons that increases something in our skin called metalloproteinase (an enzyme) that starts attacking collagen production," explains Dr. Jaliman. It also increases inflammation, as skin is fighting off toxins and put under enormous pressure. "Interestingly, even if you don’t live in a congested area, there will be some kind of air pollution, although not as severe as others," she says.

After cleansing, Dr Debra recommends using a micellar water to get rid of all leftover residue — not just from pollutants and makeup, but from the hard minerals in the water, too.
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5. Not Sleeping Enough

We knew sleep was good for us (they don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing), but we didn’t realize just how important it was for skin health.

"Sleep deprivation decreases the barrier function in skin, so there is more water loss and increased dryness. It also increases the [production of the] stress hormone cortisol, which behaves like a sledge hammer to collagen production and elastin. It decreases the growth hormone which is needed to help skin repair cells overnight. For skin to fully go through this nightly repair process, you need to getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night," advices Dr Jaliman.
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4. Excessive Drinking

Your skin definitely doesn't have as much fun taking shots as you do. "Alcohol dehydrates your body and skin, plus it creates a histamine reaction, which causes redness and flushing from dilating blood vessels," says Dr. Jaliman. "It's also an inflammatory, which is why your face looks swollen the next morning." Repeated inflammation from drinking damages muscle tissue, which stops it from springing back so fast and instead leads to sagging. It also puts a huge amount of strain on your liver as it tries desperately to detox the body; while it’s doing that, it’s too busy to do the same filtering process on your skin, which is why you get a huge "alcohol pimple" as a hangover gift. Oh, and there’s more: Too much alcohol also robs your skin of its vitamin A, which helps with cell renewal and brightness. Is there no end to this torture?
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3. Not Staying Hydrated

If you don’t water your skin, it will shrivel just like a plant. You’ll have more fine lines as skin starts to crinkle and you'll have dry flakes on your face, body, and lips to deal with. You’re also much more likely to suffer more breakouts, as water naturally flushes out toxins. “We excrete waste through our skin,” dermatologist Michele S. Green, MD explains. “Dehydration hinders that process, which leads to a sallow, unhealthy complexion.” There's disagreement on whether you need eight glasses or a gallon of water a day, but chances are, you won't overdo it. Additionally, stock up on water rich foods like cucumber, celery, and citrus fruits.
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2. Smoking

You knew this one was coming...

"Nicotine causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the skin, which decreases the blood supply to the skin, which starves it of oxygen and other nutrients like vitamin A," says Dr. Jaliman. "There are also 4000+ toxins in tobacco smoke that attack collagen and elastic fibers, which causes the skin to sag and wrinkle prematurely. It adds at least ten years to your age."

It’s not just what’s in cigarettes, either: The physical act of smoking ages you, too. "Smoking instigates repetitive facial expressions which cause wrinkling. For example, if you’re puffing on a cigarette, you get the smoker's creases on the lips and when you inhale a puff of smoke, you crinkle your eyes," says Dr. Jaliman. Over time, those wrinkles get deeper and don’t spring back because you’ve damaged the elastic fibers.

That’s not to say that if you’re currently a smoker, you’re doomed. "Lots of people have this attitude of, 'Oh I’ve already smoked; the horse is out of the barn and it’s too late,’ but it doesn’t work like that. This skin repairs itself and the body repairs itself, too. Obviously, it’s never going to be as good as someone who didn’t smoke, but quitting will start to reverse the damage," she says. Words of comfort, indeed.
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1. Tanning

Coming in at the top spot on the list of bad behaviors is tanning. In particular, tanning beds. The sun is bad, but nothing beats the artificial lights. The reason for this is twofold. "Firstly, unlike when you’re in the sun, you don’t feel yourself burning [in the beds], so there is no sense that you’re damaging your skin. Secondly, (and this is the main one), they use UV light, which causes wrinkles, sagging, and sun spots. You’re increasing your risk of melanoma (if you’re under 35, it’s up by 75%) and basically killing your skin," warns Dr. Jaliman.

UVA rays penetrate right down to the subcutaneous tissue where collagen and elastic fibers live, which aggressively reduces the spring and plumpness in skin, causing – you guessed it – premature aging. "You can even have this on a cloudy day as it penetrates through the clouds, but there is now research to suggest that even the reflection of it off clouds causes damage, so it doesn’t even have to break though for it to be a problem. It can also penetrate through glass, so unless you live in a cave somewhere, you will need to protect yourself with SPF daily," Dr. Jaliman advises. Good thing the latest self-tanners on the market are so damn good.
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