When it comes to caring for your complexion, getting facials or even seeing a dermatologist isn't what matters most. It's how you treat your skin every single day that's crucial, and some common missteps can seriously mess with your beauty. Stop making these 8 mistakes and get on the path to healthy, young-looking skin at any age.
Mistake: Forgetting to use sunscreen every day, including during the winter
UVB rays—the ones responsible for burning—are much stronger during the summer, but UVA ones tend to remain pretty constant all year long, explains Arielle Kauvar, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. UVAs won't turn your skin pink, but they do contribute significantly to both skin aging (including wrinkles and brown spots) and skin cancer. UVAs also penetrate glass and clouds, which means they're streaming into your windowed office as well as your car. The upshot is that protecting yourself is simple: Slather on a broad-spectrum SPF 30 (or a moisturizer with SPF built in) every day, year round.
Mistake: Taking long, hot showers
Steamy showers may do wonders for sore muscles and a sour mood, "but they're guaranteed to turn your skin into a dry, flaky mess," says Kauvar. Hot water can strip skin of essential moisture and oils, leaving it red and itchy. This can worsen already dry skin, aggravate conditions like eczema and rosacea, and—since itching can lead to scratching—put you at risk for infection. For healthier skin, turn the temp down to warm and exit long before your skin starts to prune. (If your mirror gets steamed up, the water is probably too hot.) Pat yourself dry and apply lotion (or coconut oil) to your still-damp skin to lock in moisture.
Sloughing away the layer of dead cells from your skin's surface is a surefire way to look instantly younger—unless you overdo it. You might not realize that gritty scrubs and cleansing brushes aren't the only means to exfoliation; many anti-aging ingredients in creams and serums serve as chemical exfoliators. "It's not unusual for people to routinely use a retinoid, an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), and a mechanical cleansing device, so they wind up red and irritated instead of glowing and radiant," says David Bank, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in Mount Kisco, NY. If your skin is starting to look inflamed, try dialing back on how often you use your power washer or AHA.
Mistake: Catching too few z's
"It's hard to get the skin of your dreams if you don't regularly get enough sleep," says Bank. Yes, undereye circles are a concern, but night is also when your skin does the bulk of its repair work, like creating new cells and mending or shedding old, damaged ones. Your skin also makes the most of any creams you apply at night, adds Bank. "Products penetrate more deeply, yielding faster results." There's no hard-and-fast rule about how much beauty sleep you need, but based on a recent review of more than 5,000 studies, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get at least 7 hours a night.
Mistake: Going to sleep without washing your face
In an ideal world, you'd wash your face twice a day—when you wake up and before you go to bed. But since few of us lead perfect lives, most experts would be happy if we'd just cleanse before hitting the hay. "Sleeping with makeup, oil, and other impurities on can block your pores and lead to breakouts," says Bank. It also disrupts cell turnover, which can leave skin looking dull. To easily remove debris, keep no-rinse face wipes in your nightstand.
Mistake: Trying to scrub away acne
Acne isn't a hygiene problem—it's a hormonal issue. And excessively cleaning your skin with harsh soaps or exfoliating beads won't banish blemishes, says Kauvar. "It will just make your acne flare and cause so much irritation that you won't be able to use products or medications that might help clear the condition." Instead of trying to scrub your pimple-prone skin into submission, wash it gently with a cleanser that contains salicylic acid, which unclogs pores and smoothes skin by sloughing off dead cells.
Mistake: Picking, scratching, squeezing, and popping
Whether you're tempted by a pimple, scab, or growth, the consequences of being hands-on with skin lesions can be ugly. "Picking will increase inflammation and may lead to permanent scarring," says Kauvar. Scratching may appear to bring some relief to conditions like eczema, but it will ultimately aggravate the problem. "Scratching increases the sensitivity of your nerve endings and causes your skin to feel even itchier," explains Kauvar. Safer (and more effective) solutions include spot treating blemishes with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid and moisturizing skin daily to keep itching at bay. Got a growth that doesn't heal? See a doctor ASAP; it may be a sign of skin cancer and shouldn't be ignored.
Mistake: Getting a base tan
Many people still mistakenly believe that getting a base tan from a tanning salon is a healthy way to protect skin from sunburn. But it provides only the equivalent of an SPF of about 3, and the cancer-causing UVA rays you're exposed to in an indoor tanning bed are roughly 12 times stronger than the ones you get from the sun. Meanwhile, just one indoor tanning session increases the chances of developing melanoma by 20%. And forget the claim that you can't get burned in a tanning bed: One study found that nearly 20% of sessions result in a sunburn.