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3 Common Skin Care Mistakes That Make This Derm Cringe & What To Do Instead

Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor By Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor

Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and health. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.

Woman Doing Skincare Routine in the Mirror
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Skin care routines may follow the same base structure, but there's certainly room to play around with ingredients and extra steps. That said, you may cobble together a slightly unique regimen, and that's OK! We're not here to tell you that you have to follow a specific 1-2-3-step ritual, especially considering everyone's skin reacts differently to certain formulas. That's the beauty of skin care—finding what works best for you. But when we spoke to board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., on the mindbodygreen podcast, we had to ask: Are there any common skin care practices that make you absolutely cringe? 

Lo and behold, Bowe has three main gripes. See below for what not to do and how to remedy the blunders. 

3 cringeworthy skin care mistakes.

"Cringeworthy skin care—let's definitely go there," she quips. So we'll dive right into it: 

  1. Steaming your skin (too much): "Especially now during COVID, so many people are trying to [create] a spa environment at home." In addition to an uptick in DIY confections, Bowe has noticed people investing in facial steamers. Now, these can be helpful in temporarily dilating your facial muscles, making it easier to remove blackheads and increasing blood flow to the face (there's a reason steamers are an esthetician office staple). But steam your skin too often, and you can do way more harm than good. As Bowe notes, steamers can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can compromise your skin barrier and microbiome and result in dryness, irritation, and accelerated photoaging.
  2. Using alkaline cleansers: "The skin doesn't do well in an alkaline environment," says Bowe. "It really damages the barrier." Your skin microbiome actually prefers a slightly acidic environment (around 5.0), so alkaline cleansers (these typically feature a foam texture) can be rather drying and stripping on the skin.
  3. Over-exfoliating: "Stop throwing the kitchen sink at your skin," says Bowe. Of course, exfoliating schedules differ for everyone—some fare well with a twice-a-week regimen; others scale back to once every week—but Bowe says knowing your limit is paramount. Additionally, she finds many people layering exfoliating ingredients—this is a big no. "Don't use [AHAs] and then use a retinol and then use a third product and a fourth product and a fifth product. You are damaging your own skin."

What to do instead. 

We'll start with that first rule-of-thumb: You don't necessarily have to toss your high-tech steamer, as long as you use it correctly. Choose a quality product (find our recommendations here), and limit your use to about once a week as tolerated. 

Next, make sure your cleansers aren't stripping your skin till it's parched. "You can buy pH strips to test your skin care products," says Bowe. You can typically find these little pH strips online (here's a pack of 320 strips), saturate it with the cleanser, and watch it transform. Depending on the hue (the box should include a helpful color chart), you can determine the pH of your product. 

Finally, Bowe suggests simply giving your skin a rest. She's a fan of the occasional exfoliation, but make sure you're building in nights for recovery. "It's like when you go to the gym, you need days to recover. The same thing holds true for the skin barrier and the microbiome," she says. "You want to use a retinol? Go for it. You want to use an AHA, like glycolic acid? Go for it, but give yourself two nights off where you're just using nourishing, hydrating ingredients." She lists prebiotics, jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and aloe to replenish the skin barrier. 

The takeaway. 

There's much to experiment with when it comes to skin care, but make sure you're not compromising your delicate barrier and microbiome in the process. Heed Bowe's advice, and baby your skin with balance.

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