The Skin Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making, According to 8 Top Derms

Updated 06/11/19

We do our best to learn from those around us, educate ourselves, and treat our skin the best way we know how, but often we make mistakes without even realizing it. We simply don’t know we’re doing the wrong thing—and, in some cases, it’s the very opposite of what our skin actually needs. 

When it comes to the massive, complicated, sensitive, varied, and confusing organ that is the skin, nobody has more insight than the experts. Dermatologists who treat patients on a daily basis have seen it all. Picking, over-cleansing, DIY disasters—you name it; they’ve dealt with it. Which is why we asked eight industry pros to tell us the detrimental skin mistakes they see again and again. Their responses were eye-opening and might just surprise you. We urge you to read this, bookmark it, and reference it for the health of your skin. Scroll on for the skin mistakes you might be making.

OD’ing on Exfoliation

“I call this, ‘Clarisonic destruction.’ Many patients feel that they can use exfoliating devices to remove imperfections such as acne and blemishes. In fact, over-exfoliating and aggressive mechanical traction on the skin can lead to worsening of acne and hyperpigmentation. Patients should treat the skin as gently as possible during acne flares and other skin issues like rosacea, particularly while using medications that may make the skin more sensitive than usual.” –Dr. Carlos A. Charles, M.D., founder of Derma di Colore in New York City 

“One of the most common skin ‘mistakes’ that I see people make is that of over-exfoliation. Consumers are conditioned to aggressively exfoliate their skin with chemicals and scrubs, which can cause redness, irritation, sensitivity and peeling. Often, people become immune to the effects of too much exfoliation and continue to use scrubs and harsh acids even when their skin is red and painful.” –Dr. Elizabeth VanderVeer, M.D., founder and owner of the VanderVeer Center, non-surgical aesthetic medical practice in Portland, Oregon

“The single biggest mistake I see is over-exfoliation. Many women using cleansing brushes with harsh cleansers AND facial scrubs a few times a week. Overly-aggressive exfoliation leads to stripping the skin of its natural oils and inflammation. All that inflammation can increase acne, worsen rosacea and accelerate the aging process.  Stop the madness! Be gentle with your skin. –Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC

Scrubbing Dry Skin & Eczema

“I also see patients try to ‘exfoliate-away’ eczema. Many patients confuse scaly skin patches of eczema with calloused skin, and they attempt to exfoliate it away. Gentle approaches to skincare with emollient rich products are needed when the skin is flaky and dry from eczema.” –Dr. Charles 

“Exfoliating when the skin is visibly dry or flaker will only lead to further irritation, dryness and flakiness. Instead, skip the scrubs or exfoliating mask and use gentle cleansers and a simple moisturizing cream to repair the skin.” –Dr. Meghan O'Brien, M.D., consulting dermatologist for Physicians Formula

Not Exfoliating—Ever

“Exfoliation can be tricky. We need a little of it on a regular basis to keep skin looking fresh and polished, but too much of a good thing can cause damage and lead to premature aging of the skin. I prefer to use botanical actives, such as Bromelain, found in VOLANTE Skincare, to gently exfoliate the skin without any irritation or inflammation." –Dr. VanderVeer

“Not exfoliating means you’re not getting rid of dead cells, sebum, and hair that are on the superficial layer of the skin, and not opening up the area for serums or moisturizers to penetrate better and be more effective. One of the main reasons to use Retin-A on a regular basis is exfoliation. It really helps with skin turnover and making sure that the skin is fresh and collagen-rich.” –Dr. Alexander Rivkin, M.D., dermatologist at Westside Aesthetics Medical Spa in Brentwood, California 

Using Too Many Products

“A mistake I see often is patients adopting too complex of a regimen. We mean well, but we have to know ourselves and understand that we will just never follow a routine of five products every night. Many people try, and then give up and just do the bare minimum. A better strategy would be to pick two or three products, get comfortable with the routine, and stick with it for a long period of time. The quality of products that you use is important, but not nearly as important as using something every morning and night consistently.” –Dr. Rivkin

 “We all want immediate improvement of our skin issues, and many believe that the more products they use at once, the faster they will see results. Unfortunately, nothing can be further from the truth. Oftentimes, severe acne breakouts or other skin ailments can be treated with one product, medication, or procedure. I commonly will see patients with dry, irritated, sensitive skin and a background of acne. More often than not, the problem is that they are just using too many products at once to try and ‘treat’ the acne. The lesson here is to just keep it simple.” –Dr. Charles

Taking Hot Showers

“I see a lot of patient with itchy dry eczema-prone skin, and many of them tell me that they love hot showers as it calms their itchy skin. This is the opposite of what you want to do with eczema. Hot water draws moisture away from the skin and while it may feel good initially, repeated exposure will exacerbate eczema. I advise all of my patients with itchy or eczema-prone skin to take quick, lukewarm showers.” –Dr. Charles

Looking in a Magnifying Mirror

“Excessive squeezing could lead to some damage of the skin, so I usually tell patients to ditch the 10x mirror and try not to focus on what's inside the pores. Extracting ‘blackheads’ on the nose is a mistake. I get a lot of complaints of persistent ‘blackheads’ on the nose. Our pores are normally larger on our nose, which allows for visualization of the pore contents, what is called the sebaceous filament. These are not blackheads! Squeezing the pores yields this gray, waxy material (which can be satisfying), but the pores will re-fill as they are not meant to be empty. Same story with pore strips, which yield a lot of gunk, but again have no real benefit to the skin.” –Dr. O'Brien

Not Applying Enough Product

“Most people apply about a quarter of the amount of sunscreen that they are supposed to use in order to get the SPF indicated on the product. If you are not applying enough of the sunscreen, then you will not get the level of protection you think you are getting. A study showed that with the ‘typical application’ (i.e. not enough) of SPF30, the actual SPF achieved was SPF 8. You need to apply a teaspoon to cover the face, and a shot-glass worth of product to the body.” –Dr. O'Brien

Forgetting Your Neck

“Not using SPF on the neck and décolletage area is a big mistake, especially in sunny locations. We do a lot of laser of the neck and décolletage area to correct sun damage in patients who were always diligent about sunblock on their face, but forgot to include those areas and now have a neck that looks 15 years older than their face. Fine lines, redness, necklace lines are all common signs of sun damage in these areas. Not using SPF on the ears and back of the neck ages those areas as well, but they are less noticeable than the front of the neck and décolletage.” –Dr. Rivkin

Applying Too Late

“Sunscreen needs to be applied 30 minutes before going outside so the sunscreen ingredients have time to stabilize before the skin is UV-exposed.” Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, M.D., founder of Epionce Skin Care and dermatologist at his practice in Fruitland, Idaho

Not Reapplying Often Enough

“Sunscreen is required anytime that the moon is not shining—and that even means indoors. People don't understand that lighting and sun and rays of all kinds affect the skin and cause damage. Most people don't think about sunscreen when they are inside or on cloudy days, and they don't realize how often to reapply—even when not in direct sunlight outside for a day or sports or beach, every two to three hours is necessary. At the beach, it should be every hour.” –Dr. Harold Lancer, M.D., founder of Lancer Skincare and dermatologist at his practice in Beverly Hills, California

Not Using a Gentle Touch

“When removing mascara, most people do not consider that the skin around the eye area is very delicate, and thus they can cause more wrinkles by rubbing the area with harsh materials. Think about using a cotton Q-Tip and gently remove the mascara with as little pressure as needed.” –Dr. Stafford Broumand, M.D., cosmetic surgeon and Associate Clinical Professor of Plastic Surgery at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City

Snoozing in Makeup

“This is an old mistake, but can be a costly one because of the chemicals and agents in the make-up that sit on the skin and are absorbed into the skin during the night when the skin is set to regenerate itself and is supposed to be at is optimal functioning capacity and cellular turnover.” –Dr. Lancer

Plucking Facial Hair

“I see several women weekly with unwanted facial hair, and they use a wide variety of measures to solve this problem. The biggest mistake that my patients make is plucking the unwanted hairs, particularly on the chin. Plucking leads to inflammation around the hair follicle, which eventually leads to hyperpigmentation or blemishes. Occasionally, plucking can also lead to more severe issues such as introducing unwanted bacteria, resulting in hair follicle infections and even small keloid scars. The best at-home method to remove unwanted hairs is to carefully shave the hair. Office treatments such as laser hair removal work great as well.” –Dr. Charles

Applying Straight Vitamin E

“Applying liquid Vitamin E (from the capsules) onto damaged skin (rashes, cuts, scrapes) is a mistake I see often. Patients believe it will help with scarring, but the data shows it doesn’t help with scarring, and there is a 69 percent irritation rate.” –Dr. Thornfeldt

 Do you make these skin mistakes? What was most surprising to you? Sound off below!

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