Like all medical professionals, dermatologists subscribe to the Latin proverb “primum non nocere”, or first, do no harm. But, when it comes to your beauty routine, sometimes they really, really want to smack you upside the head. “It’s amazing what some people do to their skin,” says Dr Doris Day, dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Centre, refinery29.com reports.
We’re not talking obvious skin sabotage like chain-smoking Pall Malls or sprawling in a tanning bed. Some habits, like enthusiastic exfoliation and loading on anti-agers, are actually good practices gone wrong. However, with the expert tips and fixes straight ahead, “it’s surprising how much the skin can forgive,” she says. As for those dermatologists? Just don’t make them angry. You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.
Picking at your skin: Hands off! Look, a zit only lasts a few days — a week, max — but residual redness and hyperpigmentation from picking and scratching can remain for months or even years. “Picking isn’t just an issue with acne — it can cause scarring whenever and wherever you pick, whether it starts with keratosis pilaris, a bug bite, or for no reason at all,” says Dr Heidi Waldorf, dermatologist and director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “In fact, if you start scratching a spot of normal skin, after a while it will thicken, and it can become an itch bump, also called a prurigo nodule.”
Dr Waldorf’s Rx: Toss your magnifying mirror. “If you need one to examine the spot, nobody else can see it in real life,” she says. Tweezers, too. Plucking chin hairs is a classic source of hyperpigmentation, especially in African-American women, and tweezing bikini hairs leads to in-growns. “Stick Vaseline and a Band-Aid over anything you feel you just can’t not pick,” says Dr Waldorf, who prescribes Kligman’s Formula — a combination of 2 percent hydroquinone, 0.025 percent tretinoin and 1 percent mometasone — to heal the damage. (If you’re not seeing a skin doctor, try an OTC retinol and 1 percent hydrocortisone cream.) “Laser hair removal helps for people picking at hairs,” she says. “If that hair’s not there, there’s nothing to pick. Resurfacing lasers like the Clear + Brilliant or Fraxel Dual can help even out hyperpigmentation.”
If these scare tactics and skin tips don’t stop your compulsive habit, you may have a condition known as excoriation disorder. The diagnosis was recently added to the DSM-5, characterised by “constant and recurrent skin picking” resulting in lesions that cause “clinically significant distress or impairment.”
Licking your lips: There’s a myth out there claiming people can get addicted to lip balm. We checked — it’s not real. “These people just have dry skin and miss the feeling of the balm when it’s gone,” says Day. You know what’s really addictive? Lip licking. But, when you moisten your lips that way, you actually wind up making things worse. The water in your saliva evaporates, leaving lips withered and cracked. “Saliva can contain bacteria and irritants, so you can end up with a rash around the lips as well,” says Day, who recommends a lip balm with hydrating ingredients such as aloe and shea butter. (She likes FixMySkin Healing Lip Balm, which is spiked with 1 percent hydrocortisone for speedy healing.) An aside: You might be tempted to brush your lips, since flakes make lip color look particularly craggy and gross. Dr Day says forget what you’ve read, and put down the toothbrush — a gentle swipe with a damp washcloth will suffice. “In trying to get a smoother look for a lipstick, brushing just makes them rougher and bumpier,” she says. “Lips don’t have oil glands, so you don’t need to exfoliate them like the rest of your skin.”
A one-and-done-SPF style: Nothing — and we mean nothing — prickles a skin doc like a patient who’s blasé about their SPF game. “Caucasian patients who come in the colour of red walnut tell me they don’t understand how it happened when they applied an SPF 100,” says Dr Waldorf. “I show them my spotless skin after spending a week outdoors in Thailand and Brazil using only SPF 30+. What people need to understand is that you need to use enough, often enough.”
You’d think derms would be on board with ultra-high SPF sunscreens, but nope. Turns out, these provide only marginally better blocking than an SPF 30 lotion, which filters more than 95 percent of UV rays. Worse, they give a false sense of security. “Just as wearing a safety belt doesn’t give you permission to drive 90 miles per hour on black ice while texting, applying a high-SPF sunscreen doesn’t give you permission to remain outside otherwise unprotected all day,” Dr Waldorf says.
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