Basically overdoing everything that's worth overdoing. Because consuming too much sugar, salt, caffeine, and booze shows on your face. Alcohol dehydrates and inflames your skin, making it dull and blotchy, says Fredric Brandt, a dermatologist in New York City. Ideally, you'd have just two drinks at parties and sip water in between to help flush out the booze, adds David Bank, a dermatologist in Mt. Kisco, New York. Avoid sugary mixers and—we're sorry to say it—the dessert cart. "Sugary foods break down collagen and elastin in the skin, causing dullness and wrinkles over time," says Brandt. Too much salt and coffee are dehydrating, too. Stick to a cup of joe a day if you can stand it...or maybe allow yourself one vice.
Don't consider this a free pass to skip washing off your makeup at night: If your skin is dry skin, lather up less often, since doing so strips away natural oils. Wash with a creamy or oil-based cleanser at night (they're gentler on dry skin) and rinse with just water when you wake up. "It's enough to clean your skin in the morning, and you'll retain more of your own moisturizing oils," says Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist in New York City. Try L'Oréal Paris Go 360 Clean Deep Cream Cleanser.
Sloughing off dead skin cells isn't supposed to hurt. If a scrub or peel stings or leaves your skin red and blotchy, toss it; along with flaky skin, it's wiping away your skin's natural hydrating oils. Gritty scrubs (which often contain rough natural exfoliators like kernels or seeds) and harsh peels can cause irritation and inflammation, which leads to clogged pores—and even brown spots and wrinkles, Brandt says. Use a gentle exfoliator with microbeads or sugar (we like Olay Regenerist Advanced Anti-Aging Regenerating Cream Cleanser) just once or twice a week, or a mild peel with lactic acid once a week (try Dr. Brandt Laser A-Peel or Philosophy The Microdelivery Peel).
"Women overwash, they overtreat, they overtouch," says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in New York City. If you have a honking zit, here's your new routine: Use a salicylic acid cleanser with moisturizing ingredients, such as soy, at night. Try Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser followed by a 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide treatment (such as Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment). Skip stronger concentrations (five and ten percent are common), since using "too much benzoyl peroxide can actually dry out the zit and stop the medicine from penetrating. It will get irritated and stay around even longer," Graf says.
Getting less than seven hours of shut-eye can make your skin duller and fine lines (like the ones around your eyes) more obvious. "Your skin can rebound from the occasional late night, especially when you're young, but a few in a row will catch up with you," says Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist in New York City. If you have trouble falling asleep, don't start watching How I Met Your Mother reruns: Bright screens suppress melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy and regulates our circadian rhythms. That second part is a biggie. When melatonin levels drop and your circadian rhythm gets thrown off, your skin cells can't turn over as efficiently, causing even more wrinkles and dullness over time, says Phyllis C. Zee, the director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. A warm shower or bath before bed is much better for inducing sleep, says Michael Breus, a psychologist and sleep medicine expert.
Your sleeping conditions matter. First things first: your pillowcase. "It collects oil, dead skin cells, bacteria, and excess night creams," says Bank. "As you toss and turn, all of that is deposited right into your pores." He recommends changing them at least once a week (twice is better). While you're at it, swap out the regular cotton version for something smoother, like satin, silk, or Egyptian cotton, since rough pillowcases can actually cause wrinkles. And if we can convince you to make just one more change, plug in a humidifier. It counteracts the skin-drying effects of air conditioning and heat.
Slathering SPF over your entire face (even in the winter) is a good start, but you can't ignore the rest of your body—and certain areas are missed too often. "In my practice, I'm seeing an epidemic of skin cancer along the hairline, the jawline, and the ears," says Dennis Gross, a dermatologist in New York City. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher all over your face and exposed skin from the neck down. And keep in mind that light cotton clothes won't totally protect skin on their own in the summer.
It's simple: Get a mole check each year. If you're forgetful, schedule it near events you'll remember, like your anniversary or birthday (happy birthday, right?). Mole checks are nonnegotiable, no matter how good you think you are about self-exams. "We look in more nooks and crannies than you ever will," says Patricia Wexler, a dermatologist in New York City. It's a quick and painless screening. If you need anything removed, your doctor will likely ask you to return later for an additional appointment, says Graf. Go ahead, book it now—we'll wait.
Washing your face before bed or after Spinning can be a pain. We get that. But letting makeup, dirt, and bacteria linger can cause breakouts, dullness, and even wrinkles over time, says Graf. Which brings us to face-cleansing wipes: A single towelette removes a day's worth of grime, and you won't need to haul yourself to the sink. Try Olay Fresh Effects S'Wipe Out Cloths for normal or dry skin, Clearasil Ultra-on-the-Go Rapid Action Wipes for acne-prone types, and Garnier Soothing Remover Cleansing Towelettes for sensitive complexions. Keep them on your nightstand or in your gym bag so you actually remember to use them.
Please, we beg of you, just quit. On top of a long list of evils, smoking breaks down elastic fibers in the skin (which is why smokers' complexions look yellow) and revs up the enzyme responsible for breaking down collagen (and that definitely leads to wrinkles), says Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist in New York City. Your skin can bounce back once you quit. "Within two weeks, you see improvements," she says. "The texture improves; it's a little smoother. Over time, the brightness comes back."
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You moisturize, you cleanse, you own an exfoliator-and you even use it sometimes. So why isn't your skin Jessica Alba perfect already? Maybe it's because seemingly innocuous, everyday things (like your 4 P.M. Skittles) are quietly sabotaging your skin. Here's what you need to avoid in the name of a gorgeous, glowing complexion.