These Surprising Things Are Damaging Your Skin

by Miki Hayes

You're probably aware that some of your habits affect your skin — things like whether you wash your face everyday or whether you wear sunscreen for a day at the beach. But there are also some surprising things you may not have realized are affecting your skin. Especially because some of these things don't even have to do with what you put on or wash from your skin. Some things that secretly damage your skin are behaviors that may seem totally unrelated. To find out more about these sneaky habits that damage your skin, I emailed with a handful of experts.

Dr. Hadley King, MD, New York City dermatologist; Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Assistant Clinical Professor for the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center; Paula Simpson, holistic beauty expert and co-founder of ZSS Skincare Solutions; Jane Iredale, founder and president of Jane Iredale Cosmetics; Dr. Nancy Steely, ND, MBA Arbonne Senior Director of R&D, Nutrition; and Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection, all weighed in on damaging factors that you may not have realized affect your skin. Here are 13 of those factors and what you should do to keep your skin in tip-top shape.

1. Skipping SPF

Even though you probably remember to sport SPF during prolonged sun exposure, what about the day-to-day? Dr. King, Dr. Tanzi, and Iredale stress the importance of wearing sunscreen even if it's cloudy or you don't think you'll be outside very long. "Small amounts of incidental UV exposure add up and cause sun damage and increase your risk for skin cancer," explains Dr. King. So don't forget your SPF everyday, especially on areas that are almost always exposed like your face and hands.

2. Smoking

You probably already know that smoking is terrible for your heart and lungs (among other organs). And according to Dr. King, smoking is "one of the worst things you can do to prematurely age your skin." Basically, just don't do it.

3. Picking

As tempting as it can be, picking at your skin really only makes it worse. "It causes increased inflammation, scarring, discoloration, and risk of infection," says Dr. King. If you absolutely must pop a pimple, try this safe way instead. But if you can help it, hands off.

4. Allergy Medications

According to Dr. Tanzi, certain allergy medications can cause breakouts. Particularly steroid sprays "can lead to trouble in certain acne or rosacea-prone people," she explains. If you're worried that your skin is having adverse reactions to your allergy medication, talk to your doctor about what alternative would be best for you.

5. Sleeping On One Side

Dr. Tanzi and Simpson both warn against sleeping on the same side too much. Whatever side of your face is pushed into your pillow can develop creases and wrinkles that, over time, can become permanent. The best way to prevent these sleep wrinkles, says Simpson, is to try to sleep on your back.

6. Air Pollution

"Recent studies have shown that chronic high exposure to air pollutants have been associated with premature skin aging and inflammatory or allergic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and acne," explains Simpson. If you live in an area with a higher concentration of air pollutants, try to limit your exposure and select skincare with antioxidant properties to help fight free radicals.

7. Cell Phones

What with how often we touch our phones, all of the places we put them down, and other people we might let touch them, our personal devices are covered in bacteria. Using these dirty devices without cleaning them can lead to breakouts especially along the cheek and jawline, Simpson says. To keep your phone germ-free (or closer to it), Simpson recommends cleaning it daily with an antibacterial wipe.

8. Inadequate Sleep

It's called "beauty sleep" for a reason. Dr. Steely explains that when you sleep "your body has time to repair and regenerate, and inadequate sleep can contribute to inflammation, which impacts the immediate and long-term appearance of the skin." If you have trouble falling asleep or clocking as many hours as you need, try some of these tips.

9. Touching Your Face

If you have a habit of touching your face or rubbing your eyes, you may want to stop. Dr. Steely explains: "Repeatedly touching your face or resting your chin on your hands can introduce dirt, oils, and bacteria to the skin that can contribute to acne." As for rubbing your eyes when you're tired, Dr. Steely says this behavior can "break the delicate capillaries under the skin as well as damage the tissues in this area and increase the risk of wrinkle development earlier in life." I know these habits can be really difficult to break, but if you can, you just may see fewer acne flareups and dark circles.

10. Not Removing Makeup Before Bed

You may know that sleeping in makeup is an easy way to clog your pores and cause breakouts. But Dr. Steely further explains that removing your makeup before you sleep "allows the natural oils in your skin as well as natural bacteria on your skin to support moisture and repair." If makeup is blocking this healing process, you likely won't wake up with that glowing complexion that you could have had sleeping with a fresh face.

11. Not Washing Pillowcases

In addition to pillowcases, it's important to wash anything that comes in regular contact with your face like washcloths and makeup brushes and sponges. Dr. Steely warns that not cleaning or changing these products out frequently enough can lead to dirt, bacteria, and oils from your skin staying on these items and contributing to the development or exacerbation of acne.

12. Poor Diet

According to Vargas, "some of the biggest skin mistakes for women in their 20s are eating poorly, skipping meals, eating junk [food] at night, [and] too much alcohol consumption." What you put in your body can have a direct effect on the health of not only your skin but also your hair and nails. Make sure you have a proper intake of vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet to maintain optimal skin health.

13. Using The Wrong Skin Care

Vargas also stresses the importance of using the right skin care for you. Not using products regularly or using products made for much older women will not help your skin concerns. Skin care requires continued use to see results (generally at least two weeks for your skin to adjust to a new product), and using products that are not targeted for your specific concerns will at best not help and at worst exacerbate current problems and cause irritation. For an effective skincare routine, make sure to select products that are right for you (talk to a doctor or dermatologist if you're unsure), and stick to it.

Images: sarflow, Takmeomeo, Unsplash, jill111, Unsplash, quinntheislander, kaboompics, AlexVan, Unsplash, RyanMcGuire, Foundry, CaioTavares/Pixabay; Miki Hayes (2)