I'm a Doctor and Here's How You're Ruining Your Skin
Youth might be wasted on the young, but often it's wasted by the not-so-young. Chances are, you prematurely age yourself and needlessly irritate your skin in many ways every day without even realizing it. And dozens of those habits are easy, even effortless, to change. For example, did you know you could forestall wrinkling by just changing your pillowcase or skipping a straw at Starbucks?
Eat This, Not That! Health asked some of the country's top experts to reveal what they consider simple, quick and inexpensive routes to the fountain of youth (which you should ultimately drink from using a glass; read on to learn why). Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
"Squinting your eyes for long periods of time can lead to wrinkles around the eyes," says Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. "Not using sunglasses, or using outdated glasses or contacts, causes us to squint more and creates wrinkles."
The Rx: "It is best to use sunglasses with UV protection when outside and to make sure your prescription glasses are updated," says Kouri.
You're Using Straws
"When we repetitively use straws, we can create wrinkling around the lips," says Kouri. "The more frequently the muscles around the mouth are pinched together, the more likely we are to develop wrinkles in this area."
The Rx: "Though occasionally using straws will not cause wrinkles, it's best to drink straight from the glass when possible," says Kouri.
You're Rubbing Your Face
"Rubbing your face breaks down collagen and elastin connections in the dermal layers leading to less tight, more saggy and wrinkled skin, particularly the delicate skin around your eyes," says David Barbour, co-founder of the wellness company Vivio Life Sciences. Equally gross: "The oils and grime from your hands are being massaged into your pores."
The Rx: Keep your hands where you can see 'em—just not on your face. Touching it spreads coronavirus, also.
You're Shampooing Too Much
"Shampooing and conditioning our hair on a regular frequency can lead to removing the natural oils that keep the luster on our hair and provide the appearance of volume," says Richard Torbeck, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York City.
The Rx: "I recommend washing your hair only a few times a week, or if it's physically soiled," he says.
You're Showering Multiple Times A Day With Scented Soap
There's a point when cleaning up becomes counterproductive. When you bathe or shower several times a day, "This removes the natural moisturizing factors on the skin that help provide a barrier for the skin against a host of agents, such as bacteria and allergens," says Torbeck. "I also recommend patients steer clear of any fragranced soaps and cleansers."
The Rx: "If you have a multiple-times-a-day shower or bathing habit, look for sensitive skin cleansers and soaps—brands like Cetaphil, Vanicream or Dove, to name a few," he advises.
You're Drinking Milk
"Acne can worsen with drinking large amounts of whole milk—in males particularly—or skim milk in younger females," says Torbeck. "Data in recent dermatologic publications show an increase in acne with these two diet choices."
The Rx: Try nut milks like almond or cashew. Choose the unsweetened versions — the sweet stuff contains a chemical that can lead to bloating (in addition to calories you don't need).
You're Stressing Out
"Stress can do a number on your skin. Acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis are all culprits of stress," says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in New Jersey. "When your body pumps out stress hormones, your skin cells will be affected, leading to skin conditions." Concurs Torbeck: "Stress and anxiety greatly worsen acne, eczema, and itching. There has been extensive literature looking into this link and the pathology behind it."
The Rx: "In patients I see with these conditions, I recommend that they seek ways to reduce stress and anxiety through avenues such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga," says Torbeck.
You probably knew that smoking cigarettes can age your skin, but puffing away can cause even more serious damage to your dermis. "Cigarette smoke has been linked to poor wound healing, acceleration of skin aging like wrinkles and [a loss of] skin elasticity, and skin cancer, particularly squamous cell carcinoma on the skin," says Torbeck.
The Rx: Kick the habit now! The hundreds of toxins that lurk within cigarette smoke have no place near your face.
You're Using Razors Longer Than You Should
"These can harbor bacteria and lead to inflamed hair follicles," says Raman Madan, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Northwell Health and an assistant clinical professor at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.
The Rx: "I use a subscription razor service to avoid this," says Madan. Change your razor every several uses, or whenever it starts to dull.
You're Using Witch Hazel and Apple Cider Vinegar on Your Skin
These astringents can leave you looking dried out—because they dry you out. "They strip the skin of natural oils, leading to dry skin and irritation," says Madan.
The Rx: Madan recommends gentle moisturizing products like Aquaphor or Vaseline instead.
You're Using Scrubs To Treat Your Acne
Remember that acne is a disease of the skin, not a disease of dirt—and you need to treat it gently; you can't scrub it away. Using abrasive products and cleansers "actually causes more inflammation," says Madan.
The Rx: "Use a gentle face wash such as Cetaphil or CeraVe," says Madan. If you're bothered by recurrent acne, make an appointment with a dermatologist, who can recommend products suited to your skin or prescribe medications if necessary.
You're Not Getting Enough Sleep
"Staying up late, waking up in the middle of the night and not having restful sleep can seriously impact overall skin health," says Sherwin Parikh, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Tribeca Skin Center in New York City. "Collagen synthesis occurs during rest. Cortisol levels decrease during the latter part of the sleep cycle, reducing the harsh effects of adrenal overdrive on the skin and hair. Moisture levels reset overnight. Puffy and tired eyes become evident for some people within a few bad nights."
The Rx: The National Sleep Foundation says adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night for optimum health—no more, no less. "A calm, uninterrupted sleep is key to resetting from the day's ravages, both environmental and stressful," says Parikh. "Skin health thrives on healthy sleep."
You're Taking Steamy Showers
"A steaming hot shower might be the only way that you feel truly clean, but it could be doing your skin more harm than good," says Caleb Backe, a New Jersey-based certified personal trainer and wellness expert with Maple Holistics. "Hot water strips away the outer layer of the epidermis, which can leave your skin irritated and susceptible to external elements."
The Rx: "Lukewarm water might not be your first option, but it ensures your complexion is clean and protected," says Backe.
You Have Eczema But Haven't Been Allergy Tested
Eczema is an itchy, scaly rash that's infamously stubborn—but in some cases, a simple test can clear it up. "For many people, eczema is the only indication that they may be allergic to certain foods, and even then, the reaction isn't immediate," says Larissa Cosgrove, author of The Eczema Diaries. "Depending on your metabolism, a flare may not happen for a couple of days, making it extremely hard to trace what's causing it. The most common culprits are wheat, dairy, sugar, eggs and alcohol."
The Rx: If you have an eczema-like rash, consult an allergist. "Getting allergy tested can be important to rule out sensitivities," says Cosgrove. And eating soothing foods is good for you inside and out. "Since eczema is an inflammatory condition, incorporating foods that naturally lower inflammation are helpful at keeping flares at bay, like turmeric, berries, avocados and green tea."
You're Drinking Too Much
Sorry, it's not a myth; too many tipples can stipple your face. "Excessive alcohol use is very dehydrating—another source of aging skin," says Dean C. Mitchell, MD, clinical assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City.
The Rx: For skin and cardiovascular health, and to lower the risk of cancer, experts say men should limit themselves to two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should say "when" at one.
You're Not Washing Your Face At Night
"During the day, various air pollutants accumulate on the skin causing skin damage. These pollutants must be washed off," says Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Kansas City. He says it's especially important to wash off makeup every evening: "Makeup is not FDA regulated, and it is a chemical and pharmacological mystery. Therefore it is best to wash it off as soon as it is socially acceptable to do so."
The Rx: Wash your face morning and night with a gentle cleanser. If you wear makeup, Tonkovic-Capin notes that liquid, pasty, or pressed cosmetics may plug pores and cause acne. He recommends loose mineral makeup instead.
You're Eating Too Many Carbs
"High glycemic index foods, a.k.a. carbs, cause degradation of collagen and elastin by the process of glycation, when carbs attach to collagen and elastin," says Tonkovic-Capin.
The Rx: To keep all your body's systems healthy, focus your diet on lean protein, good fats and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Opt for complex carbs like whole grains, and limit processed foods and simple carbs like white bread, white rice, chips and baked goods.
You're Not Listening To Your Gut
"Poor skin health can be a byproduct of poor gut health," says Kimszal. "If someone has acne, rashes, or eczema, it could be tied to how their gut is functioning. Sensitivities to certain foods can manifest on the face or other parts of their body." She points to research on people diagnosed with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS); they had itchy skin which resembled eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis which improved after they started eating a gluten-free diet.
The Rx: If your skin is looking-less-than-stellar, talk to your doctor about whether you should consult an allergist or nutritionist along with a dermatologist.
You're Sleeping On Your Stomach or Side
"Your pillow could be causing you to look older," says Anthony Youn, MD, a Detroit-based plastic surgeon and author of Playing God: The Evolution of a Modern Surgeon. "Sleeping on your face creates creases in your cheeks that can progress to permanent 'sleep' wrinkles. This also applies to sleeping on your side, and especially worse with rougher pillowcases, like polyester."
The Rx: "Sleep on your back, or if you can't, then change your pillowcase to a silk or a satin pillowcase," says Youn.
You're Drinking From Water Bottles
"We've all heard the term 'smoker's lines,' referring to the fine lines around the mouth that smokers get from pursing their lips so much," says Youn. "Fewer people are smoking nowadays, but something else is causing us to do more and more pursing: Drinking from water bottles. That causes us to purse our lips repeatedly. Even though the water hydrates our skin, some doctors believe that the repeated lip pursing causes our lips to wrinkle more."
The Rx: "Drink from wide-mouthed bottles, or if you need to use a small-mouthed bottle, then squirt the water into your open mouth," he recommends. (Just don't stop hydrating.)
You're Not Cleaning Your Phone
About 40 percent of women and 10 percent of men over age 20 suffer from adult acne. "Often the acne is clustered on the chin, which is where we often rest our phones and cellphones," says Youn. "One main cause of acne is bacteria, and this bacteria can easily spread from one person to another by resting your chin on the phone."
The Rx: "Use an alcohol swab to clean your cell phone and any phones at work," says Youn. "This can kill any acne-causing bacteria and improve your complexion."
You're Not Eating Enough Omega-3s
"One of the best macronutrients for healthy, supple skin is quality fatty acids, preferably from omega 3 fish or algae oil," says Stella Metsovas, author of Wild Mediterranean: The Age-Old, Science-New Plan for a Healthy Gut, With Food You Can Trust. "Try cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil since it contains a potent source of the phytonutrient hydroxytyrosol oleate, which is known to provide the skin with a strong line of defense from free radicals."
The Rx: Omega-3s have a host of benefits — they boost heart health and reduce your risk of conditions from diabetes to depression. Eat whole-food sources of omega-3s like lean fish (aim for twice a week), olive oil, grass-fed beef, walnuts and omega-3 eggs. The National Institutes of Health recommend women get 1,100mg and men have 1,600mg of omega-3s daily.
You're Chronically Using Corticosteroids
"Another behavior that is very bad is ingesting corticosteroids either in pill form or chronic use of inhalers containing corticosteroids," says Janet H. Prystowsky, MD, Ph.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "After years of using these prescription products for disorders like asthma, emphysema, or connective tissue diseases like lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome, the damage builds up and I have not seen it to be reversible. Topical steroids used for chronic conditions such as eczema or psoriasis can also thin the skin, but it can be reversed more readily unless you have really gone too far and gotten stretch marks which are permanent."
The Rx: Ask your doctor if your corticosteroid prescription is still necessary, or if there are alternative medications that might be easier on your skin.
You're Not Using Antioxidants
"Most people understand the impact of stress on their mental health, but there's another kind of stress that can impact your skin—oxidative stress," says Fred Pescatore, MD, a New York City-based internist and author of The Hamptons Diet. That's when free radicals and antioxidants cause cell damage. "This can accelerate skin's natural aging process, which is when we can see premature fine lines and wrinkles. Adding antioxidants to your daily skin care regimen can make a big difference in the appearance of your skin."
The Rx: Pescatore recommends adding the "super-antioxidant" pycnogenol, or French maritime pine bark, to your routine. "Research shows it to be 50 times more powerful than vitamin E, making it very effective for reducing oxidative stress levels," he says. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.