Are You in a Skin Care Rut?

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on January 11, 2018
photo of young asian woman looking in mirror

Ordering the same dish at your favorite restaurant is one thing. But caring for your skin in exactly the same way for years and years? That’s a different story. Make sure you’re giving your complexion the best treatment by tuning up your routine.

1. The rut: You only care for your face.

There’s no doubt that the skin on your face needs a solid care routine. But the rest of you needs love, too. And maybe even more so. “Because the skin on the neck, chest, and hands is thin, it’s at a particular risk for early aging,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

To ward off dark marks and wrinkles, cover those zones with sunscreen and moisturizer just like you would the skin on your face. Bonus points if you choose products have antioxidants, which can help repair damage that’s already there.

2. The rut: You exfoliate with a scrub.

Rubbing your skin with a gritty paste feels incredibly satisfying. But dermatologist Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, MD, says those products can be damaging.

“Exfoliants made with natural materials like seeds or ground-up shells have sharp edges that can cut and tear the skin,” she says. The result is skin that’s ruddy and inflamed, not soothed and radiant.

Chemical exfoliants, or those that have acids -- glycolic, lactic, or ones that come from fruits -- will slough away dirt and dead skin cells without cutting up your complexion. Start with a product that has a low concentration of the chemical, and use it one or two times a week.

3. The rut: You wash your face with soap.

True soaps have harsh ingredients that can be a little too good at the job, stripping away helpful oils on the skin’s surface and leaving it parched. Gentle cleansers that also have moisturizing ingredients will still whisk away oil and debris, but without causing any damage or redness. The products may even say “soap-free” on the label.

Cleansing oils and micellar water, or water mixed with tiny oil molecules, are other options that are more hydrating and less irritating than your trusty old bar of soap.

4. The rut: You spot-treat pimples.

You can think about the oil glands on your face like a network of pipes under your skin, Zeichner says. “We know that in people who have acne, all of those pipes are somewhat clogged and the next flare-up is unpredictable,” he says. If you only put medication on the zones where you see a zit, you’re playing an endless game of catch-up.

Instead, look for cleansers, masks, or leave-on serums that have acne medications like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. By treating your entire face, you prevent future breakouts instead of just healing current ones.

5. The rut: You skip moisturizer on oily skin.

When your skin feels greasy, a moisturizer doesn’t sound appealing. But even oily complexions benefit from hydration. In fact, withholding moisture can backfire. “Your skin ends up overcompensating and you end up even oilier,” Bae says.

Light lotions or creams marked “oil-free” will feel more comfortable on your skin and give it the hydration it needs without weighing it down. Some formulas even have a non-shiny, matte finish.

6. The rut: You think masks are just a fad.

To save your wallet and your sanity, there’s no need to jump on every skin care bandwagon. But masks, or concentrated treatments that you leave on for a short period and then remove, are definitely worth considering. “You see them all over social media so it seems like a fad, but lots of masks have real benefits,” Bae says.

Versions made with clay are excellent at drying up oily complexions and drawing toxins from the skin. Those made with hyaluronic acid can plump up dry complexions. And ones with antioxidants can help fade dark marks and repair past damage. Find one that addresses your own skin concerns, and be sure to gently exfoliate before you apply it to help the ingredients soak in.

Show Sources


Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research, department of dermatology, Mount Sinai Hospital.

Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, MD, procedural dermatologist, Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York; clinical assistant professor of dermatology, NYU Langone Medical Center.

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