Habits That Wreck Your Skin

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on January 11, 2018
3 min read

You want to treat your skin right so it looks great. But some of the daily routines you may not think about can add up to damage over time. Keep your complexion on track and know which habits to change.

The urge to skip the sink is completely understandable, especially after a long day. But just because you can’t see grime on your face doesn’t mean it’s not there -- and over time, your complexion will pay the price. “Dirt, oil, and pollution build up and lead to both inflammation and breakouts,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Use a gentle cleanser with moisturizers like glycerin or botanical oils to keep your complexion hydrated. And if you can’t get to the sink or just don’t want to, a few passes with a facial wipe will work in a pinch.

Nicotine reduces blood flow to your skin, which means it doesn’t get enough oxygen and nutrients. And the chemicals in tobacco damage the collagen and elastin proteins that give your skin structure, says dermatologist Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, MD, of the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York. “A smoker’s skin is thin, dull, more wrinkled, and less able to heal,” she says.

Plus, years of puckering your lips to hold a cigarette or squinting your eyes to keep out smoke may deepen lines and lead to more wrinkles in those areas.

While antioxidants like vitamins A and C can ease some of the damage, the only surefire fix is to quit for good.

Sunshine feels good on your skin, but it also has ultraviolet (UV) rays that are damaging. “UV light leads to both premature aging and skin cancers,” Zeichner says.

And it’s not just beach days when you need protection. The sun can damage your skin even when it’s cold or cloudy outside.

A broad-spectrum SPF blocks both UVA and UVB rays and keeps you fully protected. Look for a minimum of SPF 30, and if you’re outside, plan to reapply every 2 hours. Be sure you use enough: A full teaspoon is just about right for your face, including your hairline, around your nose, and under your chin.

Some studies have found that diets heavy on sugar can speed up the aging process. That goes for sweet treats like lollipops and ice cream as well as starches in refined carbs like white bread and pasta. A skin-friendly diet should focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Research shows that fresh fruits and veggies may help prevent damage that can lead to aging skin. Produce also has antioxidants that can help repair your skin, Bae says.

When you’ve got a pimple the size of Mount Vesuvius brewing on your face, you want it gone ASAP. Popping it is not the answer because that can lead to scars and infections.

How about a cream? Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two of the most common and effective treatments. But keep in mind that different products have different amounts of these ingredients. Why not reach for the highest dose? You might not need to, Zeichner says. “Studies have demonstrated that 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is as effective as 5% or 10% strengths,” he says.

High concentrations of medication can lead to irritation, especially if your skin is sensitive. That could leave your complexion looking even angrier than before. Zeichner recommends a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide product. For salicylic acid, 2% is gentle enough for most people, but if you find you’re flaring up, scale down to a lower concentration.

Scales and flakes are the first sign of dryness. Though exfoliating will slough away loose patches on the spot, that rough treatment can actually disrupt the barrier that balances moisture in the skin, Zeichner says.

So rather than scrubbing away, soothe dryness with hydration instead. Fragrance-free lotions and creams with moisturizers like glycerin, dimethicone, petrolatum, and butters like cocoa and shea absorb quickly and leave your skin quenched but not greasy.