More common habits that are harming your skin
#5: Over-washing your face
Clean skin is healthier skin -- but that doesn't mean you need to wash your face all day long, the way you wash your hands. Teens and adults with oily skin, especially, tend to fall into a zealous face-washing habit in an attempt to remove oil and prevent acne from developing. Unfortunately, this backfires: Excessive washing actually makes the skin more vulnerable to breakouts because it strips the skin of natural oil protection.
"The body thinks, 'Oh, the skin is drier,' so it makes even more oil," Madfes says.
Better way: Wash your face just twice a day -- when you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. In the morning, you want to wash off any evening products or allergens (like dust mites or pet dander on your bedsheets) and create a clean surface for a moisturizer and a sunscreen. In the evening, you want to wash off not only any makeup and sunscreen that's been on your skin but also chemicals and other pollutants in the air that your skin has been exposed to all day long.
Plain old soap and water is sufficient, Madfes says. "Soap may be a little too harsh for people with sensitive skin, but there's nothing wrong with washing your skin with plain soap," she says. Just don't do it more than twice a day. Use a mild soap if you do have sensitive skin. Avoid vigorously rubbing the skin, and gently pat dry. If you need help with acne, use an over-the-counter or prescription acne treatment.
#6: Exfoliating too much or using the wrong scrubs if you have acne
The jury's mixed on exfoliants in general. Some skin experts believe they're harmless once or twice a week, or even daily if your skin tolerates them, while others think they're unnecessary. Skin exfoliates naturally and inevitably -- "just like leaves are going to drop off a deciduous tree in the fall," Newburger says. The entire stratum corneum (that's the body's outermost layer of dead skin) is replaced every two weeks when you're in your 20s, and every six to eight weeks as you get older -- except facial skin, which renews every four weeks as you get older.
Exfoliating scrubs speed up the process, reducing the dullish appearance that the slower turnover of older skin can have. But the process also activates sebaceous glands, causing oilier skin, Newburger says, that can also appear rougher as it regenerates. That's especially a problem for acne-prone skin if you use aggressive products such as apricot scrubs, oatmeal scrubs, polymer beads, or woven polyester scrubbing devices. Call it way too much of a good thing. Over-the-counter scrubs can also lessen the effectiveness of prescription acne treatments.
Better way: If you're prone to acne, skip all rough scrubs and look for products designed for acne-prone skin. Astringents, masks, toners, and exfoliators that contain scrubbing particles won't help clear acne unless they contain a special acne-clearing ingredient, like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
#7: Taking a pimple into your own hands -- literally
"Out, out, darn spot" is what you may be thinking as your fingers inch toward the offending pimple. "Self-surgery" is what dermatologist Newburger calls it -- and we all know how good we'd be at taking a scalpel to the rest of the body. Unfortunately, if you pick at your skin or squeeze a painful pustule, you're apt to prolong your misery.
Blame filthy hands again, in part. Microbes in your nail risk introducing a secondary infection at the spot. But you'll also risk causing a rupture deep in the skin, which can result in an inflammatory reaction that's bigger than the original pimple, can last as much as twice as long (about two weeks compared to one week if left alone), and is more liable to scar.
Better way: Ideally, keep your hands off your acne, dermatologists agree. Try applying a warm compress to bring it to the surface, Madfes suggests. Another way to dry it up without pinching the skin, she says: Crush aspirin into water. (The main metabolite in aspirin is salicylic acid, a common ingredient in acne products.) For long-term acne, consider ongoing professional or over-the-counter treatments to prevent outbreaks.
Sometimes, of course, the pain or appearance makes self-zapping a zit too irresistible. If you absolutely must, Newburger says, first clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Put a tissue over the spot and squeeze through the tissue. You can also try using a tool known as a blemish extractor or loop extractor, which exerts even pressure all around the pustule to bring it directly up, rather than spreading below the surface -- but they're tricky to use and not recommended for deep acne.