My mom will be 71 next month, but I swear she has the skin of someone 20 years younger. I’m positive it’s because she has been a lifelong devotee of good skincare. One of my earliest memories consists of sitting in the bathroom, watching her in the mirror. “If you don’t take care of your skin,” she’d preach, looking like the Wicked Witch of the West in her green clarifying Mary Kay mask, “you’ll look like a crocodile handbag by the time you’re 50.”
We never take our mothers’ advice to heart until way late, though, so I slathered myself with baby oil and tanned throughout my teens and early twenties, and now – in my late thirties – I feel like my skin looks only marginally younger than my mom’s. But, in a last-ditch effort to not look like a crocodile handbag, I’ve learned a lot about caring for it in the last few years. And, even despite growing up indoctrinated with the Gospel of Proper Skincare (thanks, Mom) there are a lot of common mistakes I didn’t know I was making – and I bet you might be making some of them too.
1. Sleeping with makeup on.
No surprise, my mom was an absolute stickler for this (I swear she’d have been more upset with me for not washing my face than she would’ve if I had broken curfew). Turns out, momma was right: your skin naturally renews itself at night, and snoozing with a bunch of old makeup caked on it can disrupt the process, not to mention clog your pores and irritate your eyes.
2. Washing your face in a too-hot shower.
We all like a scalding shower, but if you’re washing your face in it, you’re blasting away all its protective natural oils. Wash your face before you get in, ideally with a gentle facial cleansing oil that will help lock moisture in; that way, even if you have to rinse off some residue from shampoo or conditioner, you won’t be stripping your skin to do it.
3. Not reapplying sunscreen.
Kudos if you’re putting sunscreen on in the first place – daily use has been shown to slow the signs of aging – but there are times (if you’ve been sweating, if you’re going to be outside all evening, etc.) that you may need to reapply. Also: don’t count on the SPF in your foundation to give you all-day protection. You need a separate sunscreen, put on as the last step in your morning skincare regimen, before the makeup.
4. Not cleaning your brushes/pillowcase/wash cloth/phone often enough.
If you stop and think about all the stuff that touches your face on a daily basis, it’s kind of a lot. And if that stuff isn’t cleaned regularly, it can harbor a ton of pore-clogging bacteria and cause pimples. Ewww.
5. Touching your face.
Along the same lines, your hands also carry bacteria (think about how many surfaces they touch), and bringing them to your face can lead to breakouts. Similarly, you should never pick at your skin – as tempting as it may be.
6. Using too many products at once.
If you’re like me, you have a cabinet or drawer full of various lotions and potions that you can’t wait to slather on – especially if you subscribe to one of those monthly beauty boxes where you get trial-sized products, or you load up on samples at Sephora (guilty). The problem with using them all at once, though, is that it’s much harder to narrow down what’s effective (or what’s irritating your skin) when you’re piling things on. Furthermore, they may not even have a chance to be effective if you’re making our next common mistake …
7. Using heavy products before lighter ones.
Yep, you need to be applying your products in a certain order to maximize their impact. If you’re gooping on a heavy cream before, say, a lightweight serum, the lighter stuff isn’t going to have the chance to fully absorb. As a general rule of thumb, you should always apply lighter-viscosity products first, and give them a chance to absorb a little before adding the next layer.
8. Using products not made for your skin type, or mistaking your skin type altogether.
The right product can work wonders for your skin – if you’re using the right product, that is. But many of us aren’t. If you’ve had a couple of pimples pop up here and there, that doesn’t mean your skin is “acne-prone.” A little bit of shine doesn’t necessarily mean you’re oily. Using a product that addresses a need you don’t really have can do more harm than good. The very best thing to do is ask a dermatologist.
9. Giving up on a product too soon.
This one’s a biggie for me, because patience is not my strong suit; if within a few days I don’t wake up looking radiant AF, I’m sorely tempted to move on to the next. But experts say that if you’re looking to diminish lines and wrinkles or lighten up dark spots, you should allow a product at least 6-8 weeks to do its job. Also, products made to increase cell turnover (such as anti-wrinkle retinols) may actually cause pimples to flare up for a brief period. It’s known as a “purge,” and can make your face look worse before it gets better; blemishes develop under the skin, and some antiaging products bring them to the surface faster, which sucks and you’ll want to switch up your routine immediately – but you’ve gotta hang in there, stick with it, and you’ll be rewarded with a nice glow-up.
Look, exfoliation is a good thing – in fact, it’s critical to a proper skincare routine. However, you’re aiming for a gentle sloughing off of dead skin cells, not for bone to show through in places. The skin is a protective organ; if you remove too much, you leave it inflamed and vulnerable to irritation and discomfort. And exfoliation doesn’t just happen with scrubs and abrasive cleansers and too-harsh rubbing with a washcloth – keep in mind that other products like alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (AHA and BHA) and retinol exfoliate cells too, so you could actually be doubling up. If your skin is red or irritated, feels tight, or is dry in patches, throttle back on the sandpaper, sister (dry patches may make you want to exfoliate even more. Don’t). Even when you dry your face after washing it, you should gently pat, not scrub.
11. Waiting too long after cleansing to apply moisturizer.
If you’re doing other stuff before getting around to applying your moisturizer, stahhp. Put on your creams and serums immediately after cleansing, when skin is hydrated and more receptive to absorbing all the good stuff. Plus, it helps lock in the moisture, which is kinda the goal, right?
12. Not moisturizing oily skin.
If your forehead looks like someone attacked it with some Crisco, you might think you don’t need to add moisture on top of it – but you’d be wrong. In fact, sometimes the skin can be oily because you aren’t moisturizing enough; it’s dehydrated, so it’s literally producing oil to make up for it. I know that moisturizing oily skin can seem counterintuitive, but it’s necessary. Look for a brand that’s oil-free or non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores).
13. Relying on products to completely undo/prevent damage.
There are some amazing skincare products on the market, but none of them – I repeat, none of them – can entirely make up for the damage you do. Excessive exposure to sun and pollution, stress, smoking, not drinking enough water, drinking too much alcohol, these are all abuses that not even the most potent potions can undo. You can’t ignore your skin’s basic needs, or flat-out mistreat it, and then expect a remedy in a jar. Nope.
14. Investing in the wrong products.
I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: skincare can cost an arm and a leg and a left boob. But if you spend your skincare budget wisely, you can use it on better-quality products. Cleanser, for example, is only on your skin for a little bit – so rather than spending $40 on a bottle of something you’re just going to rinse down the drain, buy a more inexpensive brand (since there are plenty with quality ingredients) and use the difference on a product that’s going to stay on your face for a long time, like a Vitamin C serum.
15. Using bar soap/products not formulated for the face.
Please, for the love, don’t use anything not made for the face on the face. This includes regular bar soap, and – (throws up arms to protect face) – things like coconut oil, which has been touted as a miracle potion but will really just clog your damn pores. Stick to putting it in your coffee, and other weird things.
16. Not paying attention to your neck and chest.
Yay for nailing your skincare routine and having a flawless face, but don’t forget to extend that love to your neck and chest too (and if you really wanna be conscientious about it, the backs of your hands). You don’t want a smooth, youthful complexion perched atop a dry, crepey neck and décolletage. Use your products – especially sunscreen! – on those areas as well.
So now that you’re aware of all the skin sins you may inadvertently be committing, you can get that radiant look we’re all after. You know better, now do better. Go forth and glow!