These Awful Habits Are Damaging Your Skin Without You Even Realizing


Taking care of our skin is crucial to our overall health. But many people are making mistakes that may actually be damaging this vital organ.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and among the most complex. It provides a protective barrier against pathogens and also serves to regulate our temperature.

The skin also enables us to sense the world around us, while helping to produce vitamin D when we expose it to the sun. The skin can even provide a window into our overall health.

What are the biggest mistakes people make with their skin?

Dermatologists told Newsweek there are several common mistakes that people make with their skin.

One ubiquitous habit that can cause problems is having hot showers, Steven Daveluy, a board-certified dermatologist with the Wayne State University School of Medicine, told Newsweek.

“While hot water feels nice, it’s very hard on our skin,” Daveluy said. “Hot water causes dry skin, which can then become inflamed and itchy. Avoid hot water when showering. Cold water is ideal, and it’s a great way to wake up in the morning, but not everyone can tolerate a cold shower.

“Try to turn the temperature of the water down as cool as you can stand it. Also, keep your showers short, since longer exposure to the water can also cause dry, itchy skin.”

Many people use products with fragrances. But the fragrances in soaps, detergents moisturizers and other products can irritate the skin. “While some people have no problem, others react to the fragrances,” he said.

If you’re having any problems with dry or itchy skin after using these products, you should change to fragrance-free soap, laundry detergent, and moisturizer.

A woman having a hot shower
Stock image: A woman having a hot shower. Hot water can cause skin to become dry.

Using irritating at-home remedies in an attempt to cure skin ailments can often do more harm than good, Daveluy said.

“I see many people with rashes or itchy bumps on their skin who attempt treatment at home with things that irritate the skin,” he said. “Rubbing alcohol is a common culprit. Alcohol can be useful for cleansing the skin, but it’s also irritating and can damage the skin. Hydrogen peroxide is similar in that it can cleanse the skin, but is also an irritant.

“It’s ok to use alcohol or peroxide to clean a cut or abrasion, but you only need to use it once. You shouldn’t apply alcohol or peroxide on a rash, and it shouldn’t be applied to the skin repeatedly for any reason.”

Pushing back or removing the cuticles—the thin layer of skin that grows down onto the top of the nail plate—can also cause issues. This is because the purpose of the cuticle is to protect the area between the skin and the nail plate from infections and irritation.

“Removing the cuticle from your nails opens them up to infection, so you should never push back or remove your cuticles,” Daveluy said. “Even though your nail polish won’t look as smooth when you leave the cuticle and paint over it, be proud of the fact that you’re making the healthy choice for your nails.”

The dermatologist also warned against taking advice from social media influencers who don’t have the proper background or training.

“There has been a lot of research that looked at the skin care information on social media,” Daveluy said. “It’s consistently inaccurate and misleading. Remember that it takes four years of medical school plus four years of residency to become a dermatologist.

“Posting on social media and getting followers does not make someone a skin care expert. Don’t take skin care advice from social media unless the person posting is a dermatologist.”

Finally, Daveluy said it is generally a “bad idea” to try to get your vitamin D from sun exposure.

When your skin is exposed to the sun, it produces pre-vitamin D that then goes to the liver and subsequently the kidney to be processed into active vitamin D—a vital nutrient important for bone health and immune function, among other roles—which the body can use.

But Daveluy said sun exposure is not a safe way to build up levels of vitamin D in the body. This is because the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun (or indoor tanning booths) can cause skin cancer.

A man with sunburn
Stock image: A man with sunburn. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause damage to the skin.

Recommend sources of vitamin D are supplements and dietary sources, which are few but include foods such as fish, mushrooms, milk—dairy and some plant-based versions.

According to American Academy of Dermatology board-certified dermatologist
Chris Adigun, a common mistake people when make is expecting too much from sunscreen.

“Spending time in direct sunlight and expecting sunscreen to act as some kind of impenetrable shield. Sunscreen is only that: a screen. It will protect from some harmful rays, but only to a certain extent,” Adigun told Newsweek.

Aside from an increased skin cancer risk, UV damage can cause skin discoloration , hyperpigmentation, freckles, wrinkles, and skin that appears leathery.

The impact of failing to protect skin from UV-rays was starkly demonstrated by a viral photo showing the cheek and neck of a 92-year-old woman, which was featured in a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

The woman had used UV-protective moisturizers on her face but not her neck for more than 40 years. The skin of the face looked significantly healthier, while that of the neck showed visible signs of solar damage.

Daveluy said you should try and keep your skin tone the same all-year-round if possible, meaning trying to avoiding getting burnt or tanning. Some of the ways you can protect your skin include using sunscreen, wearing hats and clothing, and seeking shade where available.