Following basic skincare commandments like removing your makeup every night, moisturizing, and wearing sunscreen daily is key to a radiant complexion, but despite our best efforts, our skin is still sometimes prone to breakouts, inflammation, and dryness. Chances are, a number of our day-to-day activities and practices that may be second nature to us to help us get through the day are sneakily ruining our skin.
InStyle spoke with dermatologist Dendy Engelman, of Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York to find out what commonplace routine practices could actually be damaging our skin, and what we can do to avoid and fix it.
1. Using Dirty Brushes
Cleaning your makeup brushes might sound like a bore, but neglecting your tools also means you’re neglecting keeping your skin healthy. “When you are using the brush, it has collected oil and dead skin cells, after which you leave out, and it is collecting dust, bacteria and whatever else you just sprayed in the room. Now you use the same brush the next day and you have essentially put all that back on your face and matted it in with foundation/blush/powder. You’ve created an environment for bacteria to fester. Bacterial build-up can cause infections like impetigo, or for products you use near the eyes, it may cause blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids),” explains Dr. Engelman.
The quickest way to keep your brushes squeaky clean and bacteria-free is by spraying them with Japonesque Waterless Brush Cleanser ($16; ulta.com), a cleanser that involves no rinsing—just spray and go.
2. Skipping Post Workout Showers
Cleaning your skin post-gym session is just as important as the workout itself. “I recommend showering as soon as possible after a workout because sweat, oil, bacteria can proliferate on the skin and lead to acne and/or folliculitis,” says Dr. Engelman. Stash a pack of Simple Micellar Wipes ($7; walgreens.com) in your gym bag to conveniently clean skin in one sweep. These wipes have micelle bubbles in them to trap and lift and get rid of the sweat and oil from your workout.
3. Neglecting to Regularly Clean Your Pillowcases
Getting a night of solid rest might be your top priority at the end of a workday, but regularly cleaning your bedding should also be on your radar. As you sleep on dirty pillowcases, dirt and oil are wrecking havoc on your complexion. “Anything that transfers dirt and oil to your skin—like your pillowcase—can be the reason for acne and skin irritations," Dr. Engelman says. "This is called acne mechanica, a type of acne that is the result of materials or objects touching your face. When you allow your pillowcase to remain unlaundered, you risk a buildup of hair product residue, dirt, make-up residue, dead skin cells, oil and anything else from the environment that could have come in contact to transfer to your skin."
Dr. Engelman recommends washing your pillowcases every other week, and switching pillowcases after a late night when you crash with makeup and extra hair products on your strands.
4. Getting Handsy
You may find yourself using your hand to keep your face off your desk during the mid-day slump, and while it might keep you awake, your hands are also transferring a countless number of bacteria to your face. “Throughout the day, our hands come into contact with so many things that it’s hard to even keep track—like our phones, doors, pens, and keyboards. These all have bacteria and can transfer from your hands to your face. So, even though it's difficult, focus on eliminating facial contact with your hands,” Dr. Engelman recommends. Also, regularly washing your hands throughout the day will help lower the amount of bacteria that reaches your face.
5. Your Showers Are Too Hot
A piping hot shower may sound like a good idea on a frigid day, but your skin may not agree. “Hot water can strip the natural oils from your skin, leaving it dry and vulnerable to cracking, especially in the winter. Some experts say limit contact with water and others say that it's important to "soak and grease," which means spend at least 20 minutes in the shower or bath and then immediately apply moisturizer to the skin after bathing,” says Dr. Engelman. If you are going to turn up the heat, sherecommends applying a hydrating oil like Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream All-Over Miracle Oil ($28; lordandtaylor.com) to the skin while it’s still moist, and within one minute of getting out of the shower or bath to help skin retain its moisture.
6. Getting Too Rough
Whether you practice mechanical (scrubbing skin with an abrasive product) or chemical exfoliation (like a glycolic acid peel), there is such a thing as overdoing it. “Excessive exfoliation can break down the stratum corneum whose job is to be a barrier against pathogens. If the barrier function is damaged, skin becomes vulnerable to infection from microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungus, and leads to sensitivity and irritation,” Dr. Engelman warns. Play it on the safe side and start by exfoliating one to two times a week, and increase in frequency as tolerated by your skin, and use a gentle exfoliator like Fresh Sugar Face Polish ($62; sephora.com).
7. Your Poor Diet
There is truth to the saying, “You are what you eat.” A couple ways to determine if a certain food is bad for your skin are: if you’re eating it too much, or you have an allergy, which Dr. Engelman says can lead to a number of problems including acne lesions, inflammation, or puffiness.
“Our body is a lot stronger than you think but at the same time moderation is key," the dermatologist says. "A balanced diet rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils helps to supplement the hydrating ability of your skin. They keep the membrane around each skin cell healthy to lock moisture in the skin. Also foods rich in Omegas, such as flax seed, wheat cream, and olive oil, and Vitamin E, like almonds and spinach, can help capture moisture and contain antioxidants that repair damaged skin tissues.”