9 Skincare Habits That Drive Dermatologists Absolutely Mad

woman resting hand on face

Quick-fix beauty is on the rise these days: judging by the number of zippy gadgets and overnight “miracles” on the market, it’s easy to assume we’ve managed to outsmart our skin. But, in skincare as in life, there’s no such thing as a shortcut. Instead, glowing skin requires consistent dedication to hard and fast rules. It also requires nixing the habits that are doing us more harm than good. So, we asked dermatologists to share the skincare wrongdoings that drive them mad. From over-cleansing to skipping SPF, nine things they wish you’d stop doing, below.

Stocksy United / Leandro Crespi

Stop: Over-cleansing

It might feel counterintuitive to cut back on cleansing, but too much of this seemingly good thing can strip skin of its necessary protective oils and lead to a weakened skin barrier. According to Dr. Hal Weitzbuch, MD, MS, FAAD, director of the Calabasas Dermatology CenterTM, it’s especially important to avoid overcleansing during winter months. During this time, “Our skin needs as much extra [protection] as possible to help prevent cracking and irritation,” he explains.  

As for how much cleansing is too much: “Dermatologists typically recommend washing your face no more than twice daily with a gentle or ultra-gentle cleanser,” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine®. (Her personal favorites include Simple® Micellar Facial Gel Wash, $6 and Ponds® Cleansing Balm, $18).

The over-cleansing rule applies to the skin below your chin, too: According to Dr. Jenny Sobera, Chief Medical Officer at FaceMD+TM, prolonged soaks in the tub probably aren’t doing your skin barrier much good. “Three to five minutes is plenty of time to get the job done,” she says, adding that the average person shouldn’t need more than two to three baths per week.

Additionally, she notes that soap should be limited to problem areas like the armpits, groin and feet, and water should be lukewarm — not hot — in order to avoid over-drying skin. Once you’ve hopped out of the tub, be sure to apply an emollient moisturizer the moment after you’ve patted dry.  A formula like CeraVe® Moisturizing Cream ($10) locks in moisture and provides skin with barrier-strengthening ceramides.

Stop: Using Harsh Exfoliants and Peels

Similar to over-cleansing, over-exfoliating is also possible.  According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tony Nakhla, exfoliating more than once or twice per week can damage the skin barrier — which ultimately leads to dryness and the possibility of inflammation.

“Chemical exfoliants contain acids or other keratolytics that, in the process of removing dead skin cells, also strip the skin of much needed oils and fats,” he explains. “The same is true of manual exfoliants like micro-beads, sands, and salts.”

On a separate note, over-exfoliation can leave your face more susceptible to sun damage. “Acids might clear your skin in the short term, but they usually make your skin more susceptible to harmful UV rays,” warns Dr. Lamees Hamdan, founder and CEO of Shiffa®. “Over time, this can lead to accelerated signs of skin aging.” For best practice, she suggests using a chemical exfoliator once a week. Try the Shiffa Tri-Acid Radiance Peel ($68), which relies on glycolic acid to gently slough skin, or the lactic acid-based Sunday Riley® Good GenesTM Treatment ($105).

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Stop: Rubbing, Scratching, and Picking

We know it’s tempting to pick a scab but, most of the time, the satisfaction is short-lived. Once a wound heals, it’s possible that the skin will respond by thickening and callusing, says Sobera (both of which are arguably worse than the original scab). “No matter the cause, your skin will fight back as long as you traumatize it,” she explains.

If you’ve noticed tougher skin where a scab used to be, she recommends creams containing salicylic acid, lactic acid, and/or glycolic acid. These ingredients are all exfoliants, so regular use of them can all help slough away any rough texture and improve the look and feel of skin.

Stop: Relying Too Heavily on Makeup Wipes

Makeup wipes have increased in popularity over the past few years (much thanks to their convenience); but Dr. Craig Kraffert, a board-certified dermatologist and president of Amarte® Skin Care, cautions against making them a part of your daily ritual.

“Many makeup wipes include concentrated surfactants and emulsifiers, which can be drying and irritating,” he says. “Also, due to the nature of makeup wipe packaging and the product itself, high levels of preservatives are generally required to ensure a long shelf life.” Those preservatives could trigger irritation or even an allergic reaction. Instead, stick to a simple cleanser such as the Amarté Daily WonderTM Cleansing Foam ($40), which contains soothing glycerin, cucumber, and chamomile extract.

Stop: Popping Your Pimples

You probably could have guessed this one, but it’s worth repeating: Don’t squeeze zits. “Acne in and of itself is inflammation under the skin,” says Marchbein. “When you pop a zit, you are adding insult to injury, causing more inflammation, redness, swelling — and sometimes scarring.” For severe, cyst-like blemishes, seek the help of a dermatologist, who can inject a mild steroid into the area to shrink it. (Of course, consult with your doctor first to ensure that this treatment is right for you.) The same hands-off rule goes for DIY extractions. “Sadly, I have seen so many scars caused from people who don't realize how much or little pressure needs to be applied during extractions,” Marchbein says. Learn more about acne scarring here.

Stop: Sleeping on Your Side

Need more motivation to hit the hay early? Weitzbuch cautions that skimping on the Zzzs can promote free radical production, ultimately resulting in premature skin aging. You might also want to rethink your sleeping position, according to Dr. Jamé Heskett, author of The Well Path. Apparently, many of her patients develop more wrinkles on whichever side of the face they favor for sleeping.

“To develop the habit of sleeping on your back, practice relaxing on the back when you are awake,” she advises. “Once the body makes the connection between relaxation and body position, it will be easier to fall asleep in that position.”

Stop: Overdoing It With Lip Balm

Despite the satisfying slip a balm can initially provide, they might be doing more harm than good in the long run. “Although they can temporarily soothe the lips, [balms] often have ingredients (including mint and cinnamon) that can further irritate the lips [and skin around the lips],” Marchbein says. “They can also lead to a vicious cycle of constantly needing to use them and swiping them on the lips (often followed by lip smacking), which perpetuates the cycle of chapping,” she explains. In some rare, severe instances, overuse of lip balm can cause allergic contact dermatitis.

To avoid any of these potential concerns, Dr. Marchbein recommends applying bland ointments, such as petroleum jelly-based formulas, throughout the day. Try Vaseline® ($7 for two) or Glossier® Balm Dotcom® ($12).

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Stop: Obsessing Over Your Smartphone

People are becoming increasingly dependent on tech devices these days, but many derms are urging patients to limit their screen time. Some research suggests that these devices emit blue light (also known as high energy visible light or HEV). “[This light] can damage our skin and lead to premature skin aging,” says Sobera. Not to mention, blue light can also negatively affect our sleep patterns, she adds.

While cutting out tech entirely is hardly an option, there are ways to reduce exposure to blue light. iPhone® users can set their phones to Night Shift® mode (find it in Settings). “[This mode] shifts the light to warmer tones, which are potentially less damaging,” says Dr. Sobera. As an added defense, Sobera recommends the SkinMedica® LUMIVIVE® System ($265). In addition to protecting the skin from the harmful effects of blue light, the two step skincare set thwarts pollution and supports our skin’s natural circadian rhythm, notes Sobera. (Read our beauty editor’s in-depth review of Lumivive here.)

Stop: “Forgetting” to Apply Sunscreen

Last but certainly not least, don’t skip sunscreen. It sounds simple, but the vast majority of dermatologists agree that the stuff is absolutely crucial to skin health. “Even if it’s snowing or raining outside, protecting your face, neck, and hands from the aging effects of the sun is the single most effective measure you can implement to prevent your skin from aging,” says Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, medical director of Mudgil DermatologyTM. Mudgil personally prefers zinc or titanium oxide sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. (Read more about the different types of sunscreens here.)

Ultimately, any sunscreen you wear is better than skipping it entirely. That said, Marchbein says that creamy formulas tend to cover better than sprays. “Apply a shot glass-sized amount of broad spectrum sunscreen to the body, and a teaspoon-sized amount to the face,” Marchbein says. Her personal favorites include Pond’s Clarant B3® Moisturizer with SPF 30 ($10) and, as a splurge, Elizabeth Arden® PREVAGE® City Smart® + DNA Enzyme Complex Broad Spectrum Hydrating Shield with SPF 50 ($68).

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