7 Beauty Mistakes That May Be Ruining Your Skin

It's happened to the best of us. You hear a rumor about an awesome "home" beauty treatment and next thing you know, you're putting toothpaste on your face. What harm could it do? Actually, putting random things on your skin can damage it unintentionally. And there are all sorts of skin mistakes most of us make on a regular basis that can be easily avoided. Check out some of the top beauty mistakes that may be preventing your skin from reaching its full potential.

1. Not Wearing Sunscreen

The sun is the number one cause of skin wrinkles and aging, as well as a primary cause of most skin cancers, including deadly melanoma. A lot of the sun damage sustained by your skin won't show up until later in life, when it is much harder to prevent and reverse the damage. So if you're interested in flawless, ageless, and healthy skin when you're older, it's best to make a habit of using sunscreen now. Look for at least an SPF30 broad-spectrum sunscreen, and apply it liberally.

Remember, sunscreen ingredients become less effective over time — chemical sunscreens degrade in the sun, and physical sunscreens can get rubbed off — so reapply every couple of hours if you're outside. And no, the SPF in your foundation or BB cream isn't enough. You aren't likely to apply enough makeup to get the advertised SPF rating.

2. Not Removing Your Makeup

I'm not just talking about falling asleep with a face full of makeup. You actually need to use a makeup removing product before you even cleanse your face. Most cleansers are not formulated to remove makeup (and if they are, they are too harsh for your skin — see the next point below). Once I started removing my makeup before cleansing (or "double-cleansing"), I saw an immediate and drastic improvement in my skin texture. Having makeup residue clogging your pores can prompt breakouts even long past your hormonal teen years.

I now enjoy using a gentle cleansing oil (DHC Cleansing Oil is my favorite) that emulsifies and rinses off cleanly. Balms (such as Clinique's Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm), two-phase makeup removers, and micellar water (like Bioderma) are also popular. The important thing is that the remover takes your makeup off effectively and doesn't irritate your skin.

Once your makeup is gone, all you need is a super gentle cleanser to remove any leftover traces. Which leads me to my next point…

3. Using a Too-Harsh or High-pH Cleanser

Remember learning about pH way back in high school? The higher the number, the more alkaline (or basic) the solution, and the lower the number, the more acidic the solution. Your skin's pH is ideally at an average of 5.5, which is slightly acidic. The natural oils and acids of your skin create a fragile but oh-so-important barrier called the acid mantle. This thin barrier keeps bacteria and other contaminants out of your skin, keeps your skin soft and supple, and protects the moisture barrier function of your skin, keeping water in.

Unfortunately, many of us are destroying our skin's natural barrier every time we cleanse. Many harsh surfactants used in foaming cleansers, such as sodium laureth sulfate, have extremely high pH. They are super effective cleansers, but they also strip the natural oils from your skin, raise the pH of your skin, and damage the acid mantle. Acne, eczema, general irritation, and sensitivity may result.

Ever had that squeaky-clean feeling after you cleansed? That's a sure sign that you've stripped the important oils from your skin. Want to learn more? This post by Skin & Tonics goes in-depth about the importance of skin pH.

In practical terms, look for cleansers that don't deviate too far from a pH of 5.5. Cleansers from Sebamed and Paula's Choice, as well as Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser and Hada Labo Tokyo Hydrating Cleanser, are supposed to be at or very close to pH 5.5. Non-foaming cleansers are less likely to strip your skin, but even lotion, cream, and gel cleansers can have too high of a pH. Listen to your skin. It should not feel tight, dry, or itchy after washing.

4. Using Harsh Scrubs

Speaking of disrupting your skin's moisture barrier — one of the worst things you can do to your skin is to scrub it with a harsh physical exfoliator. Please, please, please, for the love of Bob, put down that apricot scrub! If the exfoliating particles are jagged or uneven, they can cause micro-tears in your skin. Even smaller particles, like sugar or microbeads, can be problematic because most people don't use them gently enough (microbeads are also dangerous to wildlife, so I'd skip it). Over-exfoliating can further disrupt your moisture barrier, causing dry, flaking, peeling, reddened skin that is vulnerable to infection.

There are gentle ways to exfoliate out there. I personally love using a gentle enzyme powder exfoliator (the powders by Amore Pacific and Tatcha are readily available but they are pricey; try this Murad Transforming Powder Cleanser & Exfoliator instead). A peeling gel such as Cure Natural Aqua Gel or Peter Thomas Roth Firmx Gel is a very gentle exfoliating alternative. Chemical exfoliators, like AHA and BHA, are also good options, but you have to be careful not to overdo them, either.

The simplest and cheapest way to exfoliate might be to simply use water and a muslin cloth or baby washcloth.

5. Drying Your Skin

So you've got the occasional breakout. The culprit has to be oil, right? So you should remove all the oil, right? Wrong. Acne can have many causes, but drying out your skin or blasting it with harsh chemicals is not the answer. Dry skin can't heal as well, and a compromised moisture barrier leaves your skin vulnerable to bacterial infection, making your skin problems even worse.

If your skin feels dry and irritated, you may need to back off on the treatments and increase moisturizing. Products with hyaluronic acid will help put moisture back into your skin.

6. Trying Every Beauty DIY

I'm all for doing things yourself, but sometimes, putting the latest DIY concoction on the sensitive skin of your face might not be the best idea. A search on Pinterest turns up several DIY beauty ideas that could go terribly wrong. Using a baking soda mask (pH 9), for example, will strip your skin of its natural oils and disrupt the acid mantle. Just because baking soda is great for scrubbing your bathtub, and just because it is "natural," doesn't mean you should put it on your face.

Putting lemon juice on your face is another dangerous idea (acid burns, anyone?), and even great natural ingredients that are effective in properly formulated products, like tea tree oil and essential oils, can damage your skin. In addition, keeping a homemade concoction around for extended periods of time, without preservatives (yes, sometimes preservatives are a good thing), means that bacteria can grow in the product. Pretty gross, huh?

I'm not saying don't DIY anything, but be discerning of anything you put on the sensitive skin of your face, and be sure to research the DIY product before jumping all in.

7. Taking a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Skincare is such a personalized thing, it's a mistake to think what works for someone else will always work for you. For example, other people can use AHAs, BHAs, and acidic forms of vitamin C every day, but my skin can only tolerate them every few days, otherwise it gets itchy and sensitive. Other people can get away with one rich moisturizer, but my dehydrated skin does much better with various hydrating toners, serums, and light moisturizers layered over each other. Everyone's skin is different and your beauty routine will require customized tweaking.

Listen to your skin. Treat it like a finicky lover who needs to be wooed in just the right way. Treated right, your skin will be healthy, beautiful, and loyally protective — love your skin, and it will love you back.

What do you do to take care of your skin?

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Guest's picture

Sometimes what you eat helps more than what you put on your skin. For example, many fruits and veggies will help protect your skin a lot more than sunscreens will, especially those sunscreens with toxic ingredients. Also, baking soda is a GREAT quick exfoliator.