Skincare

6 Quick Fixes For That “Bad Skin Day”

Cheryl Kramer Kaye
Woman touching earrings
Jessica Sharmin/Stocksy United

I never know what I’m going to get when I stumble to the bathroom mirror every morning. Have the skin gods blessed me with a bright, glowing complexion? Or has stress, crappy eating, an extra glass of wine, or some randomly comedogenic makeup cursed me with unsightly skin issues? For those mornings when I wake up puffy, zitty, flaky, or splotchy, I use these skincare secrets—dermatologist approved, of course!

Morning puffiness

When your under eyes resemble the pillows you just slept on, take the swelling down with tea bags. Soak the bags in lukewarm water to release the active ingredients, then stick them in the fridge for a few minutes to cool them; the chill will help reduce the puffiness. “Apply them under your eyes, and let them sit for 10 minutes,” suggests New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. Green tea is a great choice because it has loads of antioxidants, but avoid decaf! “Caffeine is the active ingredient that constricts blood vessels to remove excess fluid and puffiness.”

A whopper of a zit

What are we, 13 again? Your red, angry pimple is probably a result of oil, bacteria, inflammation, and grownup levels of stress hormone.  According to Zeichner, “your go-to ingredient for a big pimple is benzoyl peroxide. It kills acne-causing bacteria, thereby reducing inflammation as it helps open up the blockage itself.” The 5 or 10 percent benzoyl peroxide you used as a teen (my brother and I were always stealing each other’s tinted Oxy 10), is going to be too drying for your adult face. Try a 2.5 percent formulation like Paula’s Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Clearing Treatment ($18).

The next step, recommended by Doris Day, MD, author of Beyond Beautiful, is to dab a little OTC hydrocortisone cream on top (you can find it at any drugstore); it’s a topical steroid, so it will immediately reduce inflammation and take some of the red out of the zit. But don’t get in the habit of applying cortisone on a daily basis; long-term use can thin skin.  

Next comes the cover-up: Of course, concealer is going to be your BF in this situation, but less is more. A waxy stick concealer covers a pimple a hot second, then devolves into crusty mess. Use an undereye concealer, which has a thinner consistency, and apply multiple, thin layers for the most natural appearance (and take it to go for touch-ups). My fave: Rimmel Match Perfection Concealer ($6), which magically adjusts to your skin tone.

The final step: “The art of distraction,” says Day. “Play with your eye makeup to make your eyes the focus of your face instead of the pimple.” I find a lush lash + liner combo does the trick. Try Laura Geller Lashboss Major Length, Volume, Curl Mascara ($24) (the name says it all!) and a gel or cream eyeliner like E.L.F. Cream Eyeliner ($3), smudged into your lashline for daytime-appropriate drama.

Dullness

Skin gets dull when layers of dead skin cells accumulate and don’t slough off. Time for a little DIY desquamation (that’s just a fancy word for exfoliation). Mix either a half cup of brown sugar or Himalyan sea salt with a half a cup of coconut oil. Gently (but seriously, gently) massage skin for five minutes. Rinse and glow. Lazy like I am? B-U-Y instead of D-I-Y: Try NARS Cosmetics Skin Double Refining Exfoliator ($34), with plant-based scrubbing spheres that won’t scratch your skin. Follow up with a moisturizer containing light-reflective particles, like GlamGlow GlowstarterTM Mega Illuminating Moisturizer ($49), for instant extra radiance.

Flakiness

It’s so tempting to scrub off dry, flaking skin, but hold off: “Flaking means lack of hydration,” explains Zeichner. “If you exfoliate first, it can lead to more irritation and inflammation. Your first step should be to moisturize.” Try a purified petrolatum-based moisturizer, such as Vaseline Intensive Care Deep Moisture Jelly Cream ($8), which will form a protective seal  over the skin and smooth dead, peeling cells.

Clogged pores

We tend to think of clogged pores as an adolescent’s issue, but as we age, our pores get larger and therefore collect debris more readily. For days when pores are prominent, do a mini-facial at home. Steam skin first (I just take a shower) to soften up the gunk in your pores, then reach for a cleanser with salicylic acid, an exfoliant with the ability to penetrate and remove oil, making it perfect for pores. Wash for longer than you think you should. “Cleansers need enough time in contact with the skin to exert their effect,” says Zeichner, who suggests singing the alphabet while washing, and then rinse. A great one to try: Murad Time Release Acne Cleanser ($38).

Splotchiness

Red splotches on the skin signal inflammation,” says Zeichner. The cause is likely a product that’s too harsh for your skin, or one that you’re sensitive or allergic to. Switch to cleansers and moisturizers for sensitive skin (oh, hey, Cetaphil) until the redness subsides to avoid further disrupting your skin.

For the splotches, Zeichner recommends applying an OTC cortisone ointment to inflamed areas, and Day suggests taking an antihistamine to help allergy-induced splotches subside. (As someone who spent the first 30 years of my life blissfully not allergic and the rest getting hives at the drop of a hat, oral antihistamines have been a huge help). But if the redness is not improving within two weeks, visit a board-certified dermatologist to take a look.

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