Your skin does some pretty amazing things. On a hot summer day, for instance, it can produce as much as three gallons of sweat to help regulate your body temperature. To keep itself healthy, your skin is constantly producing new skin cells and discarding old ones at a rate of 50,000 cells a minute [source: Markey]. Additionally, skin protects your organs, acts as a defense against germs and is the conduit for your sense of touch. Yet despite its importance, many people don't spend much time taking care of their skin. Perhaps that explains why tens of millions of Americans experience dry skin every year [source: Everyday Health]. Worse still, another million people get some form of skin cancer [source: American Cancer Society].
For more information about skin care, read Skin Care: Fast Facts.
The great irony of America's skin woes is that proper skin care takes only a few minutes of the day. Your skin will not only look better for the effort, it will feel better as well. Of course, sometimes knowing what not to do is as important as taking the right course of action, and this is certainly true of skin care. In this article, we'll take a look at five of the most common skin care mistakes, each one a little worse for your skin than the one before. Granted, the first mistake on our list mostly applies to women and the members of KISS, but that doesn't make it any less damaging.
5: Not Removing Your Makeup Before Bedtime
After spending more than a decade as a vaudeville song and dance man, Buddy Ebsen finally landed the role of a lifetime as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately for Buddy, the makeup he was required to wear for the role -- formulated to give him a metallic sheen -- contained aluminum powder. Buddy turned out to be highly allergic to the makeup, which put him in the hospital and cost him his role in the movie [source: Bianco].
While the makeup in your cabinet probably won't land you in the emergency room, it can still harm your skin if you forget to remove it every night. For one thing, makeup can trap dirt and oil, holding it against the skin overnight and clogging pores. Additionally, makeup can contain ingredients that irritate the skin over time and impede your skin's regeneration, which mostly takes place while you sleep. Lastly, removing makeup is the first step toward cleaning your skin, which is vital to maintaining a healthy complexion. Of course, when it comes to cleaning, there can be too much of a good thing. Read on to find out what we mean.
4: Using a Harsh Cleaning Regimen
Did your parents ever check to make sure you washed behind your ears? No wonder we've become a little obsessed with cleanliness, and that obsession may be harming our skin. Among the countless cleansers on the market are some products that are very harsh on your skin. Soaps, after all, work by stripping the body of oil and dirt, and some of the stronger ones leave your skin dry and itchy in the process. Add harsh astringents and alchohol-based cleansers into the mix, and you have a recipe for skin care disaster. In fact, too much cleaning action may cause something of a rebound effect, causing your skin to ramp up production of oils to combat dryness. Dermatologists recommend gentle, fragrance free cleansers instead, some of which don't contain soap at all.
Harsh cleansers are only part of the problem, however. When winter rolls around, few things can be as tempting as a hot bath or shower to fight off the cold. But hot water and dry winter air are a bad combination for your skin -- both dehydrate it and cause your skin to itch. Experts recommend taking short, lukewarm showers (not baths) and then patting yourself dry afterward. Of course, having clean skin is only part of good skin care. Avoiding the next mistake on our list is another big piece of the equation.
3: Forgetting to Moisturize
As it turns out, good skin care is hardly a recent phenomenon. Archeologists studying Roman artifacts discovered a substance strikingly similar to modern-day moisturizers. The cream contained both animal fat and starch, a combination of ingredients designed to moisturize the skin while avoiding a greasy feel [Source: CBC].
Today, sheep fat has been replaced by humectants, occlusives and emollients that help lubricate the skin and also trap and retain moisture in the process. By applying moisturizers within minutes of getting out of a shower, you can combat everything from dry skin to more serious skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis. Moisturizing is particularly important in colder climates, where dry air and wind pull moisture out of the skin and leave it flaking and cracking. Of course, moisturizing won't solve all your skin care problems, particularly if you commit the next mistake on our list.
A rugged appearance might work fine for the Marlboro Cowboy, but most people would rather sport a more youthful look. If you fall in the latter category, make sure cigarettes aren't part of your daily routine. In a study conducted at the University of Michigan, researchers found a direct correlation between smoking and skin damage. Additionally, the longer and more frequently participants smoked, the worse that damage appeared. And while skin damage was particularly apparent in smokers 65 and older, younger smokers experienced it as well [source: BBC].
Smoking harms the skin in a couple of ways. First, it inhibits the production of collagen, a protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. Second, smoking constricts blood vessels near the surface of the skin. Without collagen and oxygen, the skin develops wrinkles and takes on a leathery appearance. Like many of the negative effects of smoking, the only way to stop the damage is to kick the habit. Ironically, picking up a different, healthier habit is exactly the way to avoid the next mistake on this list.
1: Not Putting On Sunscreen
We all know better than to head to the beach without a bottle of sunscreen. What some of us might not know, however, is that ultraviolet radiation can cause skin damage any time you leave your house -- even in the car. Accordingly, dermatologists recommend that you use sunscreen every day to combat the many ways the sun can hurt your skin. The sun's rays harm you by penetrating deep into the skin, damaging DNA, destroying collagen and depleting your outer layer of essential nutrients like vitamin A. Even a few severe sunburns from childhood can put you at a higher risk of developing skin cancer as an adult, so parents should be particularly concerned for their children.
Over time, UV radiation also results in wrinkles, skin discoloration and spots, adding years to your appearance. And while sunscreen can go a long way towards protecting your skin from damage, you need to make sure to use it correctly. To start, look for sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, which means that it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens with a higher sun protection factor (SPF) will block a higher percentage of UVB rays -- an SPF 45 lotion, for example, blocks out about 99 percent of them [source: Barrett]. Also, make sure to reapply the sunscreen evenly and regularly. Now that there are spray-on sunscreens as well as lotions and even bug sprays that offer UV protection, it's easier than ever to keep your skin healthy and looking great.
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- American Cancer Society. "Skin Cancer Facts." July 6, 2009. (9/5/2009)http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/ped_7_1_What_You_Need_To_Know_About_Skin_Cancer.asp
- Arlette, John. "Your sun protection primer." The Montreal Gazette. (9/5/2009)http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/Your+protection+primer/1845207/story.html
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