16 subtle ways you could be damaging your skin without realizing it
Your skin goes through a lot. On any given day it's exposed to a slew of products, pollutants, and - depending on where you live - harsh weather.
That means skin needs good care to function and look its best. But a lot of us may be inadvertently engaging in skin-care practices that do more harm than good.
INSIDER spoke with dermatologists about skin-care habits and behaviors we're better off dropping. Here's what they had to say.
1. Assuming natural products are better
Just because a product is natural, doesn't mean it's better for your skin.
In fact, natural products can even harm the skin. Earlier this year, for instance, a group of doctors reported on a woman who got second-degree burns on her foot because she tried to treat a fungal infection with garlic.
And that's not the only example.
"Poison ivy is natural but it can also cause a bad skin rash," dermatologist Dr. Allison Arthur told INSIDER. "Another natural product I see being used a lot is coconut oil. Using that as a moisturizer in areas like the arms and the legs is typically fine, but I don't recommend using it on the face because it can clog pores and make acne worse."
She added that essential oils, used on their own or mixed into products, can also cause allergic reactions in some people.
2. Self-treating skin conditions
"Sometimes when patients come to see me they have [been using] hydrocortisone cream, antifungal cream, diaper cream, calamine lotion, honey, Listerine, vitamin E, [antibacterial ointment] - and sometimes those products are actually aggravating the condition," Arthur said.
If a rash is severely itchy, interfering with your life, and not getting better within a few days, don't slather it with every cream in your medicine cabinet. Make an appointment with a dermatologist in your area.
3. Assuming baby products are better for sensitive skin
"Don't assume baby products are the most gentle," Arthur said. "A lot of those popular [baby] products actually contain things like fragrance, which can cause irritation or allergic [reactions]."
4. Thinking hypoallergenic products are better for sensitive skin
A product labeled "hypoallergenic" can still cause allergic reactions - even the Food and Drug Administration says so.
"There are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term 'hypoallergenic,'" the agency writes on its website. "The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean."
And it may not mean much. A few years back, a group of researchers tested 135 children's skin-care products labeled "hypoallergenic" and found almost 90% of them contained at least one known skin allergen.
Arthur said you should also be skeptical of unregulated claims like "dermatologist-tested" and "dermatologist-recommended," neither of which have standardized definitions.
The best way to find out if you'll react to a product is to read the ingredients list. And if you're not sure what you're allergic to, ask a dermatologist about patch testing, which can help you identify specific problem ingredients, Arthur explained.
5. Laying in the sun to get your vitamin D
Sun exposure does prompt our bodies to create the essential nutrient vitamin D, but it can also lead to skin cancer. For that reason, Arthur explained, sun exposure shouldn't be anyone's primary source of vitamin D.
"If cigarette smoking caused your body to produce vitamin D, would you start smoking cigarettes to raise your vitamin D levels? That's how dermatologists feel about getting unprotected sun exposure as a source for vitamin D," she said.
Instead, Arthur recommends getting an adequate supply from foods or oral supplements.
6. Trying to scrub away acne
Avoid over-washing, scrubbing, or exfoliating acne blemishes - it'll likely backfire.
"A lot of times people have the false impression that acne is related to a hygiene issue and they think that they can just wash it away," Arthur said. "And while we do encourage patients to wash their face twice a day, if you over-wash it can lead to increased oil production and cause a lot of irritation."
7. Popping pimples
Whenever you can, resist the urge to pop your own pimples.
"While it may be satisfying, we do know it can lead to scarring," dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick told INSIDER. "And ultimately the scarring can actually be a lot harder to treat."
Plus, picking at your skin can lead to nasty and dangerous infections. (Don't believe it? There are plenty of horrifying stories on the internet to convince you.)
If you do get a pimple that you just can't stand, a dermatologist or aesthetician can treat it in a way that minimizes damage and inflammation, Garshick said. Or you could always satisfy the urge to pop by watching other people do it on YouTube.
8. Never changing your pillowcase
A seldom-replaced pillowcase can accumulate lots of rubbed-off hair and skin products. That can be a recipe for clogged pores, Garshick said. Make sure to replace and wash yours regularly.
9. Exfoliating too hard and too often
"A lot of the time people hear that exfoliating is good for the skin, and certainly to a degree it is," Garshick said. "But there is such a thing as over-exfoliating, which can be problematic. It can cause irritation and it can cause dryness [...] that actually makes your body to want to produce more oil."
She recommended exfoliating only once or twice per week - and being careful about the type of product you use.
"Sometimes products have a lot of those beads in them, and even though they feel really good, they can actually be pretty harsh on the skin," she added. "Exfoliants don't necessarily need to feel harsh on the skin in order to get the job done."
Garshick suggested trying out chemical exfoliants like glycolic or salicylic acid, which slough off dead skin cells without any scrubbing at all.
10. Taking hot showers
"As good as it feels, [a long, hot shower] is not great for the skin," Garshick said. "The water is stripping your body of its natural oils."
But there's a way to combat the drying effects of hot water: moisturizer.
"If you are going to take a long hot shower, or if you're going to take multiple showers in a day, the most important thing that you can do for your skin is immediately when you get out of the shower, pat your body dry and then apply a thick moisturizer," she said.
11. Using makeup remover wipes
Arthur advised against using wet wipes and makeup remover wipes on a regular basis.
"Those are just another source of potential allergens," she said. "We see a lot of cases of people who get rashes from wet toilet wipes."
Instead, she recommends removing makeup with a gentle face wash.
12. Sleeping in makeup
"If it happens just once in a while, it's probably not going to cause any issues, but it's not recommended," Arthur said.
Sleeping in makeup can clog pores, first and foremost. But if you fail to wash off your makeup at the end of the day, you're also leaving your skin covered in accumulated sweat, oil, and environmental pollutants, she explained.
13. Using too many products — or too much of a product
When it comes to using new skin products, Garshick says less is more.
"Generally speaking, if you are going to introduce new products to the skin, try to do it one at a time, and give your body a chance to see how it works before adding too many things all at once," she said.
That same rule also applies to the quantity of product you use. A tiny pimple doesn't require a whole finger full of topical acne medicine, Garschick explained.
14. Relying too heavily on your sunscreen
Strange but true: Wearing sunscreen might backfire if you use it as justification to spend more time in the sun. In fact, some research shows that people who report using sunscreen don't actually get fewer sunburns.
"Another bad habit is believing that just because you are wearing sunscreen, you can sit out in the sun all day," Garshick said. "We still recommend avoiding peak sun hours between 10 a.m and 2 p.m., finding shade, and wearing a hat and clothing when possible to protect the skin."
15. Using toner
Toner is sometimes touted as a way to improve acne-prone skin, but it may not help with blemishes at all.
"Many patients feel alcohol-based toners give their skin a clean freshness when in actuality it can be very drying and irritating to the skin," dermatologist Dr. Ritu Saini previously told INSIDER. "Some use it for acne control because these products are drying. However, the result is often excess oil production to compensate."
That, in turn, could lead to even more breakouts. To keep skin clean without over-drying it, the AAD recommends washing the face with a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that contains no alcohol.
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16. Cleaning cuts with peroxide or antibacterial ointments
"People think that cleaning a wound with peroxide ... prevents infection and helps with healing," she said. "However, peroxide is irritating to an open wound."
Instead, she recommended covering wounds with a plain ointment like petroleum jelly.
Petroleum jelly keeps wounds from scabbing over, which speeds up healing, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). As long as you're cleaning the wound every day with mild soap and water, there's also no need to use antibacterial ointments, the AAD adds.
Plus, some people can end up allergic to the ingredients in antibacterial ointments - that's another good reason to stick with plain ones.
"Plain ointments also help avoid the unnecessary risk of creating an allergy to antibacterial creams and ointments," Hanson said.
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