The best way to keep your skin from getting wrinkled, saggy, and speckled is sunscreen, SPF 30 at the minimum. Broad-spectrum formulas (meaning they shield against both UVA and UVB rays) with Mexoryl or Helioplex offer the longest-lasting protection. (We like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55 and La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40.) Apply a whole tablespoon to your face, and the equivalent of a shot glass on your body. For workdays, reapply before your commute home if the sun is still out—even if you'll be in a car. And for days when you'll be outside for an extended period of time, reapply every two hours. We know it's a pain, but come on—you'll get the last laugh instead of the first laugh lines.
Like you need another reason to quit? Seriously—it's time. Because if you keep smoking, you'll not only damage your health, but you'll develop more and more deep wrinkles and blotchier skin tone. In fact, every decade of smoking results in a perceived extra 2.5 years of age, according to research published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Drinking Too Much
Now, we're not taking away all your fun—you can still have a glass of something. But drink more than one cocktail a day, and your skin suffers. Alcohol increases the level inflammatory agents in the bloodstream—"which can hasten skin sagging over time," says Fredric Brandt, a dermatologist in New York City and Coral Gables, Florida.
Picking The Wrong Products
Using stuff that's wrong for your skin type is a hugely common mistake, says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann, author of The Skin Type Solution(Bantam). Here's what you should know:
COMBINATION SKIN: Choose a foaming cleanser for oily skin. Use a lightweight moisturizer, like H2O+ Face Oasis Hydrating Lotion SPF 30,but dab a thicker one, likeOrigins Plantidote Mega-Mushroom Face Cream,on dry spots.
Skin care doesn't stop at your jawline. "These areas are almost always exposed, and yet they rarely receive same level of hydration and sun protection as the face. But the skin there is more delicate and just as vulnerable to photoaging," says Los Angeles dermatologist Howard Fein. The fix is simple: The next time you apply serum, face cream, or sunscreen or give yourself an exfoliating treatment, extend everything down to your décolletage.
A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute showed that fifty percent more melanoma cases occurred in women ages 15 to 39 in 2004 than in 1980. The lesson here? Everyone needs to get a mole screening with a dermatologist once a year—and you should also check yourself every month, remembering to examine less-obvious places such as your scalp, the soles of your feet, and under your nails. Look at the American Academy of Dermatology's guidelines here. Even if your moles pass the test, don't underestimate the power of gut instinct: "If you look at something twice," says Philadelphia dermatologist Eric Bernstein, "show it to a dermatologist."
Resting your chin or cheek against a phone—cell or old-school—can lead to breakouts, whether or not the phone is clean and bacteria-free. "Just leaning your face against it can cause friction, occlusion, and heat, all of which can make you break out," says Bay Area dermatologist Katie Rodan. If your chatting habit is too ingrained to shake, consider a headset.
Sorry—while squeaky-clean pores may initially feel good, "harsh cleansing or too much exfoliating can actually exacerbate oil production and worsen breakouts by spreading bacteria," Fein says. A gentle alternative: Use a glycolic peel, such as Avon Anew Clinical Advanced Retexturizing Peel, three times a week.
Staying Up Late
"Sleep deprivation causes stress, which can aggravate all skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis," says Karyn Grossman, a dermatologist in Santa Monica and New York City. "Sleep is also the time when your body repairs the damage from the day, and interrupting that process will slow down cell turnover." In the short term, this can mess with the way blood flows to the skin, which can make your complexion sallow.
Not Washing Your Face At Night
Letting skin marinate in makeup—not to mention a day's worth of oil buildup—can lead to clogged pores and zits, especially if you're prone to acne. "Your body temperature increases slightly when you sleep, which can enhance absorption of whatever's on the surface," says Rodan. "So you really want only beneficial ingredients on your face when you sleep."
Eating Junk Food
Conventional wisdom used to be that diet didn't affect your complexion. But sorry—no more. A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that people who replaced processed carbs with high-protein foods and whole grains broke out less. The reason? "High-glycemic foods cause your blood sugar to rise, triggering a surge of insulin. The insulin stimulates oil-producing hormones called androgens, leaving you with pimples," says Baumann. Cut the junk, and you could see an improvement in acne in about six weeks. Instead, reach for snacks like peanut butter, nuts, and avocado—these healthy fats provide nutrients for the hair, skin, nails, and basic metabolism.
Neglecting Your Eyes
Not only is the skin around your eyes thinner than practically anywhere else on the body, it's also the victim of a lot of abuse. First, resolve to stop rubbing. "Every time you do, you risk breaking delicate blood vessels, which leads to darkening, dulling, and thickening of the surrounding skin," says New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco. Then make sure you always apply an anti-aging eye cream. If retinol is too strong, consider peptides (try Olay Regenerist Eye Lifting Serum or Philosophy When Hope Is Not Enough Facial Firming and Lifting Serum) or Baumann's current favorite ingredient for the eye area, zinc (found in Relastin Eye Silk). "It's been shown to increase elastin production, which can reduce crepiness," she says.
We know, we know: It's tempting. But the reality is that squeezing a pimple just pushes bacteria deeper into the pores, causing inflammation, infection, and scarring—and almost doubling the zit's life span (from about one week to two). Napalming it with the harshest chemicals in the bathroom won't help, either. "Treating any breakout with too much benzoyl peroxide damages the skin around the spot and can cause more irritation," says Boston dermatologist Jeffrey Dover. Here's what you should do: Use a spot treatment with no more than 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide at night, and reapply it to major zits in the morning. Try Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment For persistent acne, a prescription retinoid, such as Retin-A, helps prevent blocked pores—but doctors warn it can exacerbate the redness of existing pimples, so avoid slathering it over full-blown ones.
Skipping the Gym
Along with lifting your mood, exercise increases blood flow to the skin, causing a healthy-looking flush. Both immediately and over time, it has been shown to decrease tension, which can result in better skin. "When you're stressed, cortisol levels rise, and that leads to acne and other skin aggravations," says Rodan. "Lessen your cortisol spikes, and your skin will become smoother and clearer." (Of course, you should wash your face immediately after that workout.)
Bronzer? Fine. Self-tanner? Fine. The real thing? So not fine. "In trying to protect itself from continued exposure to the sun, skin thickens and produces melanin, the pigment that darkens cells," explains Miami dermatologist Flor Mayoral. "Any pigment change from UVA or UVB light can cause premature aging and increase the likelihood of skin cancer." And tanning beds can be even worse, since they emit concentrated UVA light, which penetrates deeper than the combination of UVA and UVB rays found in sunlight, Mayoral says. (Indeed: They've recently been considered to be on par with arsenic and mustard gas in the top cancer risk category.) Be sure to protect yourself by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 every day, and if you're in the sun, reslather it every two hours. And never, ever use a tanning bed. Instead, try a self-tanner from the St. Tropez collection (we like St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse).
Overloading On Products
"I ask patients to walk me through their routine, and they bring in shopping bags full of products," says New York City dermatologist Patricia Wexler. "They add things without checking to see whether they're duplicating ingredients or realizing that some aren't compatible." Sometimes, active ingredients cancel one another out—Other times, they double up and cause irritation or skin damage. "Negative interactions are most likely to happen if someone is treating different problems at the same time, such as sun-damaged skin and adult acne, and the ingredients are either too harsh together or incompatible," says Baumann. The biggest culprits: retinol, glycolic acid (aka AHA's), vitamin C, and benzoyl peroxide—avoid layering them, or at least try to use them at different times of day.