When it comes to our skin, we’re all just out trying to do our best, right? We test out products, wash our faces regularly, moisturize... but it turns out that some of our most persistent habits can be very bad for our skin. The good news is that most of them have easy fixes—so you can turn bad habits into good ones.
1. You don’t replace your loofah frequently enough.
"Washcloths and loofahs can harbor bacteria, mold, and yeast, among other harmful things," says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D. "Make sure you allow your loofah to dry completely each time and replace it frequently." For people who use washcloths instead, Schlessinger recommends grabbing a fresh one every day—but don’t use it on your face. "This is very irritating to the skin," he explains, "and ends up causing dry areas, breakouts, and even sores."
2. You don’t moisturize oily, acne-prone skin.
Many of us have heard that if you have oily skin, you shouldn’t use moisturizer the same way people with dry skin do. But that’s not entirely true. "If you’re acne-prone, it’s best to use non-comedogenic products that won’t clog your pores," says cosmetic physician Stanley Kovak, M.D., founder of the Kovak Cosmetic Center.
He says that drying skin ultimately causes inflammation and increased oil production, which can actually lead to more acne. Essentially, Kovak explains, it’s all about hydration. "Hydrated skin is essential to controlling acne and keeping a fresh, radiant complexion."
3. You don’t shower right after a workout.
Sweat becomes easily trapped inside tight-knit clothing, which can lead to acne, irritation, and other problems. Even though you may rush from the gym back to work—or even straight home—Schlessinger stresses the importance of showering ASAP.
"Showering after a workout is ideal because the less time bacteria have to sit on your skin, the better," Schlessinger says. For the best results, he recommends washing your body with an antibacterial body wash and focusing on areas where your skin touched the exercise equipment, or anywhere you’re prone to breakouts (like your chest and back).
If showering immediately isn’t an option—and of course it isn’t, always—the second-best thing is to change out of your exercise clothes as soon as possible and swipe down your most acne-prone parts with some cleansing wipes, which you can keep in your gym bag as an extra layer of defense.
4. You use a high SPF so you apply less sunscreen (or apply it less frequently).
"People tend to put on less sunblock than what is recommended," Kovak says. "This means that when they use a tiny amount of SPF 80 sunblock, they’re essentially putting on the equivalent of 20 SPF."
And using a high SPF doesn’t mean you can go longer without reapplying. No matter how high the SPF is, it still needs to be reapplied frequently—there really is no such thing as too much sunscreen.
Schlessinger seconds this advice. "The absolute best thing you can do for your skin is to apply sunscreen every single day," he advises. "Because many signs of aging are caused or exacerbated by sun damage, sunscreen is the best anti-aging treatment in your skin care routine."
And on an inherently more important note, Schlessinger also advises that sunscreen is your first line of defense against skin cancer—even if you’re sitting inside all day, you still need sun protection. "Most car, home, and office windows protect against UVB rays," he explains, "but they leave you unprotected from UVA rays that cause premature signs of aging as well as skin cancer."
Moral of the story? Wear a broad spectrum every day. That way, you can shield your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
5. You always shower in the morning.
Showering in the morning is so common—after all, many of us like to hop out of bed and shower so we feel nice and fresh for the day ahead. But this routine may be harmful to our skin.
"Showering at night can help you sleep better and keep your sheets cleaner," says Schlessinger. "By washing off all of the dirt, oil, and impurities that have gathered on your skin throughout the day, you’ll be able to maximize your beauty sleep." When we go to sleep dirty, all that ick from the day is transferred to our bedding, which leads to a cycle of all that ick going right back into our skin.
"Getting a clean start in the evening is especially beneficial for allergy sufferers because it washes away the pollen and other impurities you’ve come in contact with throughout the day," Kovak says.
6. You don’t clean your makeup brushes.
Besides being good for keeping your makeup looks #onfleek, cleaning your makeup brushes on a regular basis is also a fundamental aspect of a good skin care routine. "If not properly cleaned, makeup brushes can carry hordes of bacteria that can cause serious damage to the skin," Schlessinger says. "Not to mention the buildup that gathers on dirty makeup brushes causes them to deteriorate quicker, affecting your makeup application."
Tragic all around. But the key to avoiding this travesty is simple: Clean your tools regularly. You should spritz your brushes once a week with a cleansing spray and deep clean them once a month with shampoo or gentle soap. Schlessinger says this is the best way to prevent buildup from causing infection, as well as problems like acne and irritation.
7. You turn to the tanning bed (or sunbathe) to clear up acne.
Many people with problematic acne have touted the benefits of tanning as a way to clear up acne. According to Kovak, that’s not so true. "While tanning can briefly hide the visible irritation of acne, it can, in fact, make acne worse, as it leads ultimately to dry skin, which promotes more oil production." And as we all know, more oil production can mean more acne.
Dr. Kovak adds, "Tanning also fosters sweating, which can lead to clogged pores and can cause hyperpigmentation of the skin." The end result? Your pre-existing acne scars may appear even darker.
Alexis Dent is a poet, essayist, entrepreneur, and author. Her first book, Everything I Left Behind, came out this fall. In addition to freelancing, Dent writes a weekly newsletter called White Collar Dropout for self-employed millennials and ambitious side hustlers. Dent also designs quirky leggings for her apparel company, Eraminta, because she really hates wearing pants. Keep up with her on her website and follow her on Twitter @alexisdent.