The word sabotage brings to mind evil villains, whispered plans, and perhaps a sneaky high school mean girl. It does not, however, bring to mind your skincare routine. After all, you cleanse, exfoliate, tone, and moisturize each night, feeling proud of your dedication to your skin’s longtime goals. Well, bad news: You’re probably sabotaging your skin without even realizing it. According to dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, there are certain things almost every woman does that could be messing with her skin and keeping the good things—say, using retinol, masking once a week—from doing their job. Shock and appalled we could be betraying our skin without knowing it, we asked him to share the five most common skin villains immediately. Keep scrolling to see what he said—and start treating your skin right!
The debate about exactly how much you exfoliate is a common source of dissent among dermatologists, but Zeichner says to play it safe and exfoliate just once or twice a week. “Over-exfoliating can lead to skin inflammation, leaving your red and irritated rather than smooth and radiant,” he says. If you have sensitive skin, make sure to use a super-fine, gentle exfoliator, like Farmacy’s New Day Gentle Exfoliating Grains ($30). If your skin is more on the rough or oily side, resist the temptation to scrub—instead, use soft, circular motions to buff away dead skin cells.
Your best friend raved to you about the new cleanser she got, so you went and bought it immediately—wrong move. “Do not just use what your best friend likes,” Zeichner warns. “Choose the right cleanser for you.” Especially if you have dry, sensitive skin, you’ll need to go a gentler route—powder cleansers, alpha- and beta-hydroxy acid cleansers, scrubs, and even some foaming cleansers may be too harsh. Instead, opt for a cream, milk, or oil cleanser, like Sulwhasoo oil.
If you use an anti-aging serum once and wake up with glowing skin, you may take that as a cue to use the serum as much as possible. However, Zeichner says that daily use of topical retinoids or glycolic acid may overly irritate the skin—which might explain why your skin has been so sensitive lately. “Use only a pea-sized amount, and hold off a day or two if your skin becomes red, burning, peeling, or stinging,” he says. Always start using less and slowly increasing, rather than the other way around (trust).
Moisture loss is one of the main culprits of aging skin—but that doesn’t mean you should go overboard with piling on the moisturizing, either. In fact, Zeichner says over-moisturizing can actually be harmful to your skin. “Normally the skin adjusts itself based on the environment and to fluctuations in hydration,” he says. “If you always have a protective, hydrating barrier over your skin, it can make your skin lazy, as it won’t have to adjust.” Crazy, right? He goes on to explain that your skin can even become addicted to moisturizer and need to go through a withdrawal-adjustment period if you suddenly stop applying. So, stick with applying the right moisturizer for your skin type just twice daily—morning and night—and don’t forget to give your skin a break every once in a while.
At first sign of irritation, you might be tempted to go on the other end of the spectrum altogether and swear off all your formerly trustworthy products. Well, don’t do that, either. Zeichner says to get to the root of the problem by cutting just one potentially irritating product out your regimen. Also, remember less is more. “Choose one anti-aging product to start with, and go from there,” he says. “If you’re irritated by any of your anti-aging products, then simply use it less frequently.”
Want more skincare tips and tricks? Check out our 7 products for better skin overnight.