These Are the Worst Things You Can Do to Your Skin

Healthy skin starts with the basics: cleansing twice a day, exfoliating regularly, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen every day, rain or shine. Regardless of your skin type, each of these steps is essential to a healthy skin care routine. From there, you can add in your treatment products to address signs of aging and other skin concerns, rounding out your regimen. But sometimes even when we’re consistent with following all the important steps, tiny bad skin care habits we think will have no effect can cause damage that can often be lasting. To help you steer clear of them and maintain healthy skin, here are the 15 things you should stop doing, stat.

1. Popping your pimples

Woman practicing bad skin care, popping her pimples in the mirror.

Woman practicing bad skin care, popping her pimples in the mirror. |

These pesky little suckers are tempting to pop, but dermatologists warn this bad skin care habit can spread infection. That can lead to even more breakouts and, even worse, scarring.

“Popping pimples often causes the lesion to burst underneath the skin, rather than outward in the direction we would hope for,” New York City-based dermatologist Cherise M. Levi said in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. “It could cause worsening of the inflammation (pink, tender skin) and possible scarring once the popped pimple heals.”

Instead, Levi suggests applying an acne spot treatment to the pimple or blackhead, as well as getting monthly facials with an aesthetician. For those big, painful, cyst-like pimples, see a dermatologist, who can drain them using a proper sterile technique before performing a cortisone injection that will help reduce the swelling.

2. Picking at ingrown hairs and scars

A woman pulls the hair from her legs with a pair of tweezers

Leave those ingrown hairs alone. |

Just as popping pimples can induce infections and pigment changes, so does picking at ingrown hairs and scars. “These ingrown hairs occur when the hair shaft becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface, and the red bumps that follow are often itchy and inflamed,” Joel Schlessinger, board certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor, told The Cheat Sheet. “Resist squeezing them at all costs, as doing so will only make inflammation and irritation worse.”

Instead, prevent ingrown hairs from cropping up in the first place by shaving “with the grain,” or in the direction of hair growth. “Laser hair removal may also prevent ingrown hairs, which should be performed under a doctor’s supervision,” Tyler Hollmig, dermatologist and director of Laser and Aesthetic Dermatology at Stanford Health Care, told The Cheat Sheet.

3. Overexfoliating your face

Woman applying homemade facial scrub

Don’t exfoliate too much. |

Exfoliating is great in principle, but overdoing it can lead to a not-so-attractive “rug burn” look.

“When you exfoliate every day, it doesn’t give your skin enough time to recover, which leads to dry skin becoming drier and oily skin producing more oil,” Schlessinger said. If your skin is getting red, flaky, and cracked, you should back off a bit as you might be doing more harm than good. “Limit exfoliation to once or twice a week with a gentle scrub,” he said.

He recommends LovelySkin LUXE Microdermabrasion Polish with Triple Sphere Technology ($76, “This microdermabrasion cream is made with environmentally friendly bamboo, jojoba, and diatomaceous spheres that provide a controlled exfoliation, refining skin and giving the complexion a luminous, radiant glow.” If you prefer a gentle exfoliation every day, he recommends using a tool, such as Clarisonic Mia2 Sonic Skin Cleansing System ($169, with a nonabrasive cleanser.

4. Overwashing your face

Woman washes her face bending over the sink.

Don’t wash your face too much. |

Especially if you’re prone to oily skin, you might think you need to cleanse more often than the recommended twice a day to strip your skin of its natural oils. But the truth is cleansing too much can actually cause an increased production of oil.

“When the skin feels dehydrated, it produces more oil to make up for what is lost, and this increase in oil production can lead to even more shine, not to mention clogged pores and breakouts,” Schlessinger said. “The same goes for those with dry skin, as cleansing too much can leave the complexion feeling even more dehydrated.”

You should always be cleansing twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. “Cleansing every night is so important because as we sleep, our skin takes advantage of this time to naturally rejuvenate and heal itself,” Schlessinger said. “Cell turnover is also more active while we sleep and this process isn’t as effective if skin isn’t clean.”

5. Going to sleep without washing your face

woman sleeping in makeup

Don’t sleep in your makeup. |

There’s no doubt this can be really tempting after a long day of work or a night out. But not cleansing your face before bed — especially if you’re wearing makeup — might lead to clogged pores, breakouts, irritation, and rough skin texture. Most importantly, it can lead to premature signs of aging and bacterial buildup.

“This leaves residue and dirt buildup from the day on your face overnight,” Levi said. “Always wash your face in the evenings, making sure to remove all makeup and sunscreen from the day.”

But cleansing at night doesn’t give you a free pass to skip your morning face wash, either. “Increased cell turnover leads to skin cells that remain on your complexion and give the skin a dull appearance,” Schlessinger said. “Cleansing in the morning removes these dulling cells, oil, and other impurities to keep your skin looking healthy and vibrant.”

6. Using the same products year-round

Suntan creams in a beach basket

What you use for skin care at the beach probably isn’t what you’ll use in the winter. |

Different seasons and climate will affect the skin differently. And that requires the use of different products appropriate for the weather. “The general rule here is that greasier products are better in the winter (when the air is dry), and one should switch to a lighter base in the spring and summer months,” Levi said.

So, if you have really dry skin and need an ointment (such as Vaseline or Aquaphor) to moisturize in the winter, you might find a cream (more water, less grease) a more elegant means to moisturize during warmer months. If you have more oily skin, you might use creams in the winter and lotions (even more water and less grease) in the warmer months.

7. Removing your makeup with force

Woman removing makeup

Don’t take off a layer of skin with your makeup. |

Whether you’re removing makeup or simply applying eye cream, the less you actually touch or handle the skin around your eye, the better. “Excess tugging and rough wiping can spread infections to the eye and cause fine lines and wrinkles to form prematurely,” Schlessinger said. “The result is tired, puffy eyes that can severely age your appearance.”

Additionally, the skin around the eyes is thin, delicate, and prone to dryness. “Choosing the wrong product to remove your makeup could cause irritation or, more serious, eye infections,” Schlessinger warned. “When choosing an eye makeup remover, you’ll need a product that won’t dehydrate your skin or drip into your eyes, such as Avene Gentle Eye Makeup Remover ($18,”

To take off makeup, apply the remover to a cotton pad. But be careful not to saturate the entire pad, as using too much remover could flood the eye and cause irritation. “Gently press the pad to the eye, and hold it in place with light pressure for at least three minutes,” Schlessinger said. “This will break up the makeup enough that you don’t have to resort to forceful wiping or rubbing.”

Once the time is up, very gently wipe the rest of your makeup off in small, sweeping gestures. For hard-to-reach places, such as the tear duct and lower lash line, you can dip a cotton swab into the remover and carefully wipe it off.

8. Tanning

Tanning bed solarium at health club

Tanning beds lead to bad skin. |

Did you know using indoor tanning beds before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by nearly 60%, according to the American Academy of Dermatology? And this risk increases each time a tanning bed is used. “Ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds and sunlamps are known to increase the risk of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers by causing permanent damage to the DNA of skin cells,” Schlessinger said.

Skip the UV bed, and instead sport a glowing complexion of fair, youthful skin. If looking tan is an absolute must, Schlessinger recommends using a natural sunless tanner, such as St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse ($32,

9. Not using sunscreen

woman wearing swimsuit by the water

Always shield your skin from the sun. |

Experts say not wearing sunscreen every single day is one of the biggest mistakes people can make when it comes to caring for their skin. “Sunscreen is important every single day, rain or shine,” Schlessinger said. “Because many signs of aging are caused or exacerbated by sun damage, sunscreen is the best anti-aging treatment in your skin care routine.” Most importantly, 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, but they leave you unprotected from UVA rays that cause premature signs of aging, as well as skin cancer. By wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen every day, you can shield your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

10. Smoking

Man smoking a cigarette

Smoking speeds up the skin’s aging process. | Studio

We all know smoking takes a toll on skin, but many people don’t realize how much. “Smoking is the most common cause of wrinkles around the mouth, often called smoker’s lines,” Schlessinger said. It’s hard on the rest of your skin, as well. “Smoking speeds up the natural aging process by starving your skin of oxygen and impairs blood flow, which affects circulation,” he added. “Without oxygen and healthy circulation, your skin doesn’t get the important nutrients it needs to remain healthy.”

In addition, the chemicals in cigarettes also break down collagen and elastin much faster, leading to premature wrinkles and sagging skin. There have even been studies of twins that have shown how much damage smoking does to skin in stunning detail. It’s never too early to quit — and your skin will certainly thank you.

11. Drinking too much

men clanging glasses of alcoholic beverage

Alcohol deprives your skin of nutrients. |

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol also contributes to premature signs of aging. “Fine lines and wrinkles easily form on dry, dehydrated skin, and the complexion often becomes pale, dull, or gray, adding years to your appearance,” Schlessinger said. “Drinking alcohol also deprives the body of essential nutrients like vitamins, electrolytes, and fluids.”

As you lose these key nutrients, your skin looks less healthy and vibrant. It’s also harder for your body to naturally rejuvenate dull skin because alcohol depletes your body’s natural sources of vitamin A, an antioxidant that helps promote cell turnover and keeps skin looking youthful.

12. Taking long, hot showers

back of woman's head showering

Hot showers strip the skin of its moisture. | Omelchenko

Hot showers feel great at the time, but they can lead to dry, scaly, and irritated skin, Hollmig explained. This is because high temperatures can strip the skin of its natural moisture and barrier protection, especially when coupled with soap.

Hot showers and baths also make sensitive skin symptoms worse. “If hot showers are taken on a regular basis, you might start to notice dry patches of skin that feel scaly or start to crack,” Schlessinger said. “Always take a lukewarm shower, and keep it short (around 10 minutes or less), and moisturize with a body lotion as soon as you step out of the shower.”

13. Not getting enough sleep

woman trying to fall asleep

Sleep helps keep your skin clear. | Thinkstock

Our body, especially the skin, requires sleep in order to repair and regenerate. “Lack of sleep leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause acne breakouts, collagen breakdown, and a lowered immune system,” Levi said. “Sleep deprivation also leads to swollen eyes with dark under-eye circles.”

Ideally, adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Your actual bed time doesn’t make a difference, as long as you’re consistent. Establishing a good nighttime routine will help you get a better night’s sleep. This means sleeping in a dark, quiet room where you won’t be distracted by electronics. Going to bed at the same time every night will also help your body know when it’s time to go to sleep, helping you fall asleep faster.

14. Not cleaning your makeup brushes

crushed bronzing powder with makeup brush

Brushes might be putting on more than just makeup. |

Cleaning your makeup brushes on a regular basis is incredibly important for your skin’s health. “If not properly cleaned, makeup brushes can carry hordes of bacteria that can cause serious damage to the skin,” Schlessinger said. “Not to mention, buildup that gathers on dirty makeup brushes causes them to deteriorate quicker, affecting your makeup application.”

Cleansing your tools regularly is the best way to prevent buildup from causing infection, as well as problems, such as acne and irritation.

“Not only does regular sanitizing kill bacteria, it also helps your brushes last longer and provides you with the best makeup application,” he said. “You should spritz your brushes once a week with a cleansing spray like glominerals Brush Cleaner ($18, and deep clean them once a month with a brush shampoo like jane iredale Truly Pure Shampoo & Conditioner. ($36,”

Schlessinger also recommends replacing all brushes every six months, regardless of how often you clean them.

15. Drinking cow’s milk

pouring a glass of milk

Milk contains hormones that could affect the skin. |

Drinking milk might seem like a good source of nutrients, but it can actually cause acne. “Cow’s milk actually contains natural hormones that cause an overproduction of oil, leading to clogged pores and acne flareups,” Schlessinger said. “And skim milk has even more hormones than regular milk due to the lack of fat, which slightly decreases hormone levels in regular milk.”

He recommend drinking almond milk instead, which is free of the hormones that are found in regular, skim, and soy milk. You might even see an improvement in your acne after you switch — and it tastes great.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on March 23, 2017.