By Rebecca Baxt, MD
As a board-certified Manhattan and New Jersey dermatologist, I empathize with my female patients who feel they are doing everything right and are still not satisfied with the appearance of their skin. That's why I want to set the record straight on what sabotages the skin and also dispel the most common myths about skincare:
Not reapplying sunscreen:The big mistake women make is trusting the sunscreen label that reads "all day protection". The truth is that no sunscreen lasts more than four hours. You're kidding yourself if you think you can put it on once and forget about it. Regular sunscreen use is even more important if you are treating your face with Retin-A or alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, or getting peels or microdermabrasion -- all of which can leave skin more sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Not alternating alcoholic drinks with water: Drinking alcohol causes dehydration and dilated blood vessels, both of which make skin look tired and unhealthy. Try to drink one glass of water per alcoholic drink consumed.This will help skin stay hydrated.
Not relieving stress: Stress causes your body to go into survival mode by pumping adrenaline to heighten the senses. While this is healthy if you are in danger, prolonged periods of stress can take a toll on your skin. When the body is in survival mode, the most vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain work overtime. The skin, a less vital organ, becomes deprived of nutrients and that eventually has a negative effect in its appearance. Combat stress by incorporating relaxation techniques into your routine including yoga, meditation, and deep breathing.
Not hydrating your skin enough: Drinking 8 glasses of water a day and applying a moisturizing cream to your face regularly can save you the headache of dealing with cracked and sensitive skin.
Sleeping with makeup on: This will leave your skin's pores clogged and prevent it from breathing. No matter how tired you feel, clean your face before going to bed.
Using harsh cleansers to clean your skin:These products will strip away the natural oils that protect your skin from dirt, pollution, and other factors that can easily damage your skin. Do your skin a favor and use mild cleansers. They're much gentler and still effective.
Applying your usual facial moisturizer to your under-eye area: This area is the most delicate part in your face and it's where fine lines will appear first, so having a specialized eye cream is a must after the age 25.
Not getting enough sleep: Lack of sleep can dramatically affect how your skin looks, leading to dark circles and dull appearance. Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night and you'll wake up to much fresher-looking skin.
Thinking that "more is better": When it comes to your skin, more is actually worse. Too much washing, too much cream, and too much scrubbing can totally damage your skin.
Washing your face at the wrong time:Always wash your face after you rinse out your hair products and conditioner in the shower, never before. Many conditioners contain pore-clogging isopropyl myristate, and other hair products often contain coconut oil. Both are ingredients that you don't want to leave on your skin.
Thinking that what you eat will affect your only body weight, not your skin:In fact what you eat shows directly on your face. Eating too many sweets and fatty foods will leave your skin looking unhealthy.
Not using a retinoid:Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is the only topical ingredient proven not only to prevent lines and wrinkles but also to minimize the ones you already have. I recommend seeing a dermatologist for a higher-concentration prescription retinoid (Retin-A, Differin, or Tazorac, for example), but there are also many great over-the-counter creams that contain lower concentrations of retinol.
Myth #1:Your skin will age just like your mom's.
The reality: Sure, genetics play a role in how your skin looks, from the size of your pores to its texture and color. But banking on aging like your mom or grandmother is a big mistake. Habits make more of a difference than genetics.
Myth #2: The SPF number tells you how much protection you're getting from the sun.
The reality: There are two types of damaging sun rays: UVA, which are responsible for aging the skin; and UVB, which are responsible for burning it. The SPF number on a bottle of sunscreen only gives a guide for how much UVB protection the product offers. It doesn't tell you whether or not the product protects from UVA rays, which are also responsible for melanoma. All sunscreens protect from UVB rays. To fully protect yourself, however, look for a product that contains UVA-blocking ingredients, too, such as zinc or avobenzone (Parsol 1789), and reapply often.
Myth #3: You need a separate sunscreen and moisturizer.
The reality: Sunscreens already add moisture to your skin because of their ingredients. If you have oily skin, you may want to skip the separate moisturizer. For those who prefer to wear both products, apply the moisturizer first, allow it to dry, and then apply the sunscreen. Either way, be sure to wear sunscreen daily: Every day is sun day, even if it's cloudy or overcast.
Myth #4: Most of the sun damage you incur happens before age 18.
The reality: Recent studies have shown that by age 18, you've only accumulated 18 to 23 percent of the sun damage you'll incur over a lifetime. That means that there's still time to protect your skin from the sun and put off sun-induced aging. Do this by using sunscreen and products with sun-damage reversing ingredients such as vitamin C and retinol.
Myth #5: Cosmetic creams can turn back time for your skin.
The reality: There's no such thing as a miracle in a bottle. As you age, your facial bones shrink, you lose fat under the skin, and your skin begins to become loose. Rubbing on a cream isn't going to address these things. What's more, cosmetic skincare products cannot, by FDA law, include medications, which are the only things that truly change the structure of the skin. What cosmetic creams can do: Temporarily plump up and hydrate your skin. For the best chance at turning back time, see your dermatologist for medications or procedures.
Rebecca Baxt, MD, MBA, FAAD is a Board Certified Dermatologist specializing in both cosmetic and general dermatology. She trained at the New York University School of Medicine in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, where she was a chief resident and the recipient of the Morris Leider award for excellence in patient care. She continues to teach Dermatology at NYU as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology. Dr. Baxt joined her parents at Baxt Cosmedical in 2000 in Paramus, New Jersey and opened an office in New York City in 2012. For more information, please visit http://www.cosmedical.com/.