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7 Common Habits That Are Harming Your Skin

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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lipstick apply

We wash, we exfoliate, we apply sunscreen and skin-care products -- too bad these habits don't always do right by our skin. And then there are the skin-altering habits that are just plain wrong to begin with: Hands off your face!

Do your face a favor by replacing these common skin-care mistakes with smarter, skin-friendlier practices.

#1: Under-protecting your lips from the sun

Sorry, swiping on a lip balm (like ChapStick) when you're outside won't block the sun's harmful rays. Balms and glosses that contain SPF counts of 15 or 30 are only nominally better. "People think that using a lip product is the same as having lip protection, but it's not," says dermatologist Amy Newburger, senior attending physician at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Medical Center in New York City and author of Looking Good at Any Age. Lip products with relatively low SPF can still lead to freckling of the lips, she says.

Better way: Wear an opaque lipstick. It will give you the equivalent of an SPF-200, Newburger says. "If you can't see your natural skin color, the sun can't see your lips, either," she says. Even a pale pink does the job, so long as it's opaque. Just be careful to reapply if you rub it away when eating, drinking, or talking. (Sorry, guys; you're left with using the highest-SPF balm you can find -- usually 30 to 50. You, too, have to remember to reapply often.)

#2: Underestimating how much SPF protection your makeup provides

You start the day with an SPF-15 moisturizer -- good. You add a liquid makeup base that contains SPF-20 -- fine. Just don't think that you're getting double the sun protection. "You're probably only getting the coverage of SPF-20, and it's probably not going to work as well as if you'd put it directly on the skin," Newburger says.

Better way: Be realistic. Only one of your facial products needs SPF, ideally the one that goes on first. (For many women, this is the moisturizer, but it can also be regular sunscreen.) Find a product with a minimum of SPF-30.

Even so, you'll need to reapply during the day. Women often make the mistake of relying all day long on sun protection applied in their morning makeup routine -- but like sunscreen elsewhere on the skin, it'll only block damaging rays for so long. Mineral makeup powders containing SPF provide an easy way to reapply sun protection throughout the day.

#3: Doubling up on powerful anti-agers

Many adults have discovered that topical retinoid creams improve skin appearance by boosting collagen production and speeding cell turnover, which minimizes lines and superficial wrinkles and produces smoother-looking skin. Prescription-strength retinoids -- which include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, Renova), tazarotene (Avage, Tazorac), and adapalene (Differin) -- are also used to treat acne.

All good -- until you try to compound the benefit by another powerful anti-aging ingredient: glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that speeds up skin renewal. It's found in many over-the-counter products.

Unfortunately, they cancel each other out.

"One ingredient makes the other inactive," says dermatologist Diane C. Madfes, assistant clinical professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

Better way: Space out the use of retinoids and products with glycolic acid "“ use them on alternating days, for example. Some dermatologists recommend using a retinoid only at night (the recommended time, since retinoids are sun-sensitive) and a glycolic acid only in the morning.

If you want to avoid glycolic acid, check the product ingredient list; it'll be clearly named.

#4: Resting your hands on your chin or cheeks

Some bodies tend to fall into some habitual poses -- like slouching -- that aren't so great for them. Dermatologists put in this category such idle habits as sitting with your chin in your hands as you talk or read, and fiddling with your hair so that your fingers brush against your cheeks all day long. The problem: "Your hands are filthy," Newburger says.

Especially if there's a break in your skin or you're prone to blocked pores, you have the perfect setup for infection or acne inflammation.

Better way: Train yourself to break hand-on-face habits. If it helps, picture your fingers and palms covered with teeming microbes wiggling their way down into your pores by the millions. If you absolutely can't keep your hands off your face, wash them well with soap first (but good luck remembering to do this every time you want to lean in to have a chat or read a long article on your laptop).