Your skin is the largest organ in your body, so it gets a lot of abuse. You put your skin at risk when you leave it unprotected outdoors or in settings that are environmentally risky. You also put it at risk when you skimp on your at-home skincare routines.
Here's what not to do if you want to preserve your skin.
1. Get Overexposed
There was a time when people thought it was perfectly fine to slather their bodies in baby oil and spend the entire day baking in the sun. Dermatologists have since let us know that such sun worshipping will only put us on the path to premature aging -- and skin cancer.
Dermatologist Norman Levine, MD, author of Skin Healthy: Everyone's Guide to Great Skin, says, "If there's one thing that someone can do to avoid severe injury to the skin, it's avoid the sun. The sun," he says, "has effects on the cells that renew the skin. And when those cells are injured irreparably, you get skin aging and become more prone to skin cancer."
You can tell right away when someone's been spending a lot of time in the sun, Jennifer Stein, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, says. "Their skin looks very wrinkly and is covered in lots of brown spots. That's from years and years of sun damage."
2. Skimp on Sunscreen
Your sunscreen probably isn't shielding you from sun damage because most of us don't apply the recommended shot-glass-sized amount (1 ounce) of SPF 30 or higher sunscreen. That's the minimum experts say you need to protect yourself.
"Most people under-apply by one-fourth. Whatever you're putting on is probably too little. So at least double it," Jeffrey Dover, MD, FRCPC, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine, says. Many people also don't apply sunscreen every two hours as dermatologists recommend.
If you’re going to be outside, always wear protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, seek the shade, wear sunscreen, and reapply at least every 2 hours, more if swimming or sweating.
3. Head to the Tanning Bed
Think a tanning bed is safer than being outside in the sun? Think again.
Tanning beds give you a concentrated burst of ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B light. These rays cause skin aging and could triple your risk for melanoma skin cancer. "Never go into a tanning parlor," Levine says. "There couldn't be a worse thing to do to your skin."
You know about the health risks of smoking, including lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and stroke. But did you know that smoking can also lead to wrinkles? Study after study shows how extensively smoking ages the skin. "It does a lot of what the sun does. It just does it inside [the body] instead of outside," Dover says. "It makes the skin weak, tired, and listless looking."
Smoking also yellows the skin, interferes with its blood supply, and slows wound healing. "So if you injure your skin, it may not heal as well if you're a smoker," Levine says.