Skin-Care Experts Cop To Their Worst Mistakes

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
You know what makes Throwback Thursday pictures so fun? The cringe-worthy moments. We love those images of perms-gone-wrong and excessive eyeliner because we’ve all been there. Even those ladies who seem to have it all together now have at least one #tbt revealing a regrettable beauty choice in her past. But, they're not the only ones — turns out the nearly infallible beauty experts we turn to for guidance have made missteps with their flawless complexions, too.
Yes, some of the top facialists and most respected dermatologists in the business have at one point botched a self-tan, failed at-home waxing, fried in a tanning bed, skipped wearing sunscreen, rubbed her skin raw, picked and squeezed breakouts, over-tweezed, and doused her face in caustic agents. In short: Skin pros, they’re just like us!
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We rely on these skin-care geniuses for their impeccable complexion-saving advice, but we're sharing proof that even the most brilliant brains in the business sometimes learn the hard way. Ahead, they're dishing their worst skin regrets to teach us what not to do. Lesson? Learned.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Jeanine Downie, founder of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey

"I was a lifeguard from the ages of 16 to 20 and did not wear sunscreen," Dr. Downie confesses. The sun-protection options at the time weren’t very appealing, and the lotions left a chalky cast on her brown skin, she explains. "My mother is a pediatrician and told me many times over to wear sunscreen, but I ignored her and received several sunburns as a direct result," she says. "Due to the sunburns, I developed melasma at the very young age of 21."

Dr. Downie has struggled with the hyperpigmention for decades and now finally has it under control. "I am now the sunblock queen and reapply every two hours," she says.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Audrey Kunin, founder of DermaDoctor

Dr. Kunin often extols the virtues of exfoliation. "Removing the dull, surface cells will restore glow and vibrancy to your skin," she says. But, exfoliation can be a double-edged sword. "Jagged scrub particles can create micro-abrasions, which cause redness, irritation, and leave you open to infection," Dr. Kunin warns. And, she found out the hard way — her aggressive scrubbing resulted in an infection on her chest.

Instead of rubbing skin raw, Dr. Kunin advises a multitasking approach like her DermaDoctor Physical Chemistry exfoliator, a microdermabrasion scrub containing smooth particles and a gentle glycolic peel.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Doris Day, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University medical school

"My father always told me not to rub my eyes," Dr. Day says. Since he was also an M.D., he may have been on to something. “I didn’t listen and I ended up with puffiness and redness," she says. The slightest bit of damage can stress the fragile skin and supporting tissues around the eyes, Dr. Day explains. So, any repetitive or stressful behavior — rubbing, squinting, pulling — shows up quickly in the form of swelling, discoloration, and wrinkles over time as a result.

To reverse any manhandling she did to her eyes, Dr. Day avoids rubbing as much as humanly possible and wears large sunglasses whenever there’s the tiniest beam of sun. "And, I’m even more careful not to squint, thanks to Botox!"
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Jessica Wu, a dermatologist in Los Angeles and author of Feed Your Face

Breakouts drove a teenage Dr. Wu to extreme measures. "At one point I stuck my head inside a pot of hydrogen peroxide, hoping to dry out my breakouts," she admits. "Instead I ended up with a mass of oozing scabs that took forever to heal." She also had a nightly ritual that included a magnifying mirror and sewing needle. “All of this left me with scars on my cheeks that I’ve had to work hard to fade,” Dr. Wu explains.

Dr. Wu gives her skin — and her patients’ skin — a more gentle approach nowadays. The source of acne is deep within your skin, so battering the surface isn’t going to help, she says. "Scrubbing is only going to cause more irritation and spread acne-causing bacteria."
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Carolyn Jacob, founder of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology

In her pursuit of the bronze, the teenage Dr. Jacob basted her skin in baby oil and sunbathed. "I once burned so badly that I developed blisters on my legs," she says. And, the lack of actual sun didn’t deter her efforts. "I wanted to have a tan year-round," Dr. Jacob says. So, she became a regular visitor of tanning beds.

Now, she shudders at the thought of abusing her skin that way. "The use of tanning booths increases your risk of developing melanoma by 100%," she says, "not to mention terrible discoloration and wrinkles."

Dr. Jacob dropped the habit in her 20s and has reformed her sun habits by wearing SPF containing antioxidants every day. She also uses a retinoid like Renova to help strengthen collagen and elastin, which suffer structurally from UV damage while also fighting pigmentation. "My skin looks tens of years younger than my friends' who continued tanning, and luckily I haven’t developed a melanoma," says Dr. Jacob.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Joanna Vargas, a celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection

At her first job as an aesthetician, Vargas worked with women who took an old-school, one-size-fits-all approach to skin care. When one of her coworkers suggested Vargas could benefit from a glycolic peel, she jumped at the chance to have one.

"Trying to be grateful, I endured what I thought was pretty intense pain," Vargas says. And, when the peel was removed, Vargas was covered in huge cysts. "All the girls assured me that those cysts were trapped under my skin and needed to come out, but I knew I had a horrible allergic reaction to the peel."

It took a visit to a dermatologist and a prescription for her skin to recover. But, Vargas hasn’t forgotten the lesson she learned: "Never try something for the first time without patch-testing, and never let an aesthetician excuse a terrible error in treatment by saying 'that’s just your skin,'" Vargas says.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Katie Rodan, an adjunct clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine and cocreator of Proactiv and Rodan + Fields

When Dr. Rodan, one half of the duo that created the famous Proactiv+ 3-Step System, battled acne during her teenage years, she thought she was the cause of her skin problems. "I thought for sure I was doing something wrong," Dr. Rodan says. "It’s my diet, my makeup, my cleansing routine, my pillowcase." As a result, she cut out chocolate and French fries from her diet, avoided makeup, and changed her pillowcase nightly. "All of these measures were to no avail," she says. "I find self-blame to be one of the biggest and most widely held myths among my patients," Dr. Rodan says. "I regret wasting valuable time trying to find out what I was doing wrong rather than getting the help I needed."
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Renee Rouleau, a celebrity aesthetician and owner of Renee Rouleau Skin Care Spa in Dallas

"I have always picked at my skin, and that’s actually what led me to be an aesthetician," Rouleau says. Even after completing her training, Rouleau continued her bad habit of squeezing and poking at her face. "I felt I was justified because my hands are licensed."

Rouleau finally implemented a hands-off approach when she realized that the picking was slowing down the healing process. "When we pick, we end up inflicting injury on ourselves," she says. So, she gave up picking for her New Year’s resolution.

"You have to use willpower and talk to yourself," she says. "Walk away from the mirror!" And, let your skin care do the work, not your fingers. Look for an anti-inflammatory spot treatment to shrink the redness and kill bacteria to shorten the duration of a breakout, she advises.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Jennifer Linder, founder of Linder Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center in Scottsdale, Arizona

"When I was young, I believed that skin had to be squeaky clean to be healthy," Dr. Linder says. She used a heavily fragranced bar soap as her daily facial cleanser. "It just dried me out and made me irritated and itchy."

Looking back, she wishes she’d known how much of a difference a gentle, soap-free cleanser can make. "My skin would have looked and felt so much more healthy if someone had told me all skin types — even breakout-prone skin — need to have hydration and can benefit from gentle cleansing," she says.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Jeannette Graf, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City

It’s easy to understand why someone with a medical degree would have the confidence to wax her own legs, but Dr. Graf discovered that she’s not cut out for some procedures.

On her maiden home-waxing voyage, Dr. Graf spread a thick layer of wax onto a large section of her lower leg. "I didn’t realize how much it was going to hurt to remove it," she says. She tried to pull off too large of a section and ended up seeing stars. Now, she knows the better solution is to apply a thin layer and work in small sections. Or, she offers this option: "Now I have a professional do it."
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Laura Hittleman, director of beauty services of Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Arizona

There’s a reason no one looked good in the '90s — we all over-plucked. "When I was younger, we had no guides, brow kits, or direction," Hittleman says. "I just knew what I wanted my brows to look like!"

She thought she was creating a better shape and cleaning up her arches, but instead Hittleman ended up with very sparse, severe brows. "I created way too much space between my brows and had no perception of shape or what an arch should look like."

The upside is that she had to develop patience as she waited for her brows to grow back in. And, she’s learned some valuable lessons she shares with clients. "Always have your brows professionally done [at least once]," Hittleman says. "You’ll learn the correct tools and learn the tricks about how to measure the proper proportions, where to tweeze, and how to create the proper thickness." Then, you can maintain the shape — with the proper tools.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dr. Gervaise Gerstner, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City

"I love spray tans, but I’ve learned the hard way that you have to do some prep work," Dr. Gerstner says. Her first couple of appointments she ended up with streaky toes and fingers and some uneven patches on the rest of her body.

Her formula for a long-lasting faux tan is to only apply one light coat. "Any more can look cakey and will develop 'chips' a week later," she explains. And, now she applies moisturizer to her hands and feet to avoid the splotchy, stained effect that happens when tanner deposits on dry skin.
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