Having worked in the skincare world for seven years now, my friends and family have come to know me as a skincare guru. I’m not sure I deserve that title, but it certainly is flattering. One of the questions I hear often is, What am I doing wrong? I’m using my high-quality skincare products every day, but my skin still does not have the healthy glow I’m looking for.

While quality “product” is an important part of good skincare, there are lots of ways people undermine their skin without even realizing it. Here are seven big skincare mistakes that might be keeping you from looking your best, and how to do better…

  1. NOT NOURISHING FROM THE INSIDE OUT. Our skin is a reflection of our internal health, and the food and nutrients we put into our bodies are reflected in our skin. Good food in means good skin on the outside. Collagen is the material that gives our skin structure. In order to make collagen, we need to eat foods rich in vitamins A, C and E, trace minerals like iron, zinc and copper and, of course, plenty of protein from clean sources. You can reach this goal very easily by eating five to seven servings of colorful plant food every day along with a handful of nuts and seeds. Great protein sources include eggs, chicken and fish.
  2. SKIPPING THE BEDTIME ROUTINE. We collect all sorts of dirt, germs and pollutants on our skin throughout the day, in addition to the makeup and skincare products we put on ourselves. Cleansing the skin before bed is critical! It’s also a great time to use a vitamin A-containing serum to encourage healthy skin cell turnover, followed by a moisturizer to retain precious water that would be lost during sleep. This can all be done in under 2 minutes and will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your skin.
  3. IGNORING DAILY SUN PROTECTION. UVA and UVB radiation from the sun is the number-one cause of premature wrinkling, sagging skin and age spots. Not only must you apply sunscreen to your face every day—rain or shine, winter and summer—but you must reapply it if you will be outdoors for extended periods of time. Always choose a mineral sunscreen with at least SPF 30. I also suggest you skip the chemical sunscreens, which have been shown to inflame the skin.
  4. STRIPPING AWAY THE GOOD STUFF. It is very important to cleanse the skin daily, and I’m an advocate of using some alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic) to refresh and renew the skin. But be careful not to over cleanse or strip the skin. When you take too much oil from the skin it reacts by producing more. There is a fine line to walk here, and each person needs to take care to observe the best balance for her skin. I suggest using a gentle cleanser in the morning and at night…a weekly exfoliating scrub or enzyme mask…and to limit use of professional acid peels to once per quarter. Oily or aging skin types may tolerate a daily glycolic lotion as well but, again, it’s very personal. We want the skin to look refreshed and clean, not stripped and feeling tight and dry. I also recommend using a product with probiotics to replace the protective bacteria stripped away by the acids to restore immune function and the natural barrier.
  5. THINKING YOU DON’T NEED TO MOISTURIZE. Our skin loses water every single day, which can leave it looking dry and flaccid. The amount of moisture loss varies based on the weather, our personal hydration status and environmental inputs like airplane travel. Even oily, acneic skin needs to be moisturized! The key is to use the right product for the current conditions surrounding the skin. For oily skin, perhaps all that is needed is a water-based product containing some aloe vera, sodium hyaluronate and honey. Mature or dry skin calls for more emollient ingredients like shea butter, allantoin and jojoba. Find the right product for your skin and re-evaluate your choice as your skin changes throughout the year, but do not skip the moisturizer!
  6. FOLLOWING YOUR TEENAGE REGIMEN. The way we treat our skin during our teen years is very different from the way we should treat our skin at age 50. There are a few common themes—sun and anti-oxidant protection, good cleansing habits and daily moisturizer—but as we age our skin needs change. In general, the skin gets thinner and drier as we age. Skin cell regeneration slows, and we need to encourage the process by daily use of vitamin A—an interesting skincare ingredient. Our skin gets used to the type and strength of the vitamin A (sometimes called retinol) we use, and we typically need to use stronger products to get the desired benefits after a period of time. We may also find that we need to exfoliate two times per week instead of one time to keep the skin glowing, and that a heavier nighttime face cream is needed. Work with your professional aesthetician to develop a skincare regimen that is appropriate for you and your time of life. I highly recommend a quarterly facial. Taking care of your skin should be viewed as a priority, not a luxury.
  7. SKIMPING ON YOUR BEAUTY REST. Cell turnover and regeneration—including for the cells that support our skin—occur during sleep. When we skimp on sleep we do not allow for our skin to be renewed and refreshed, leading to dull, damaged skin cells (and maybe a short fuse and grumpy disposition too). In addition, when we do not get enough sleep, our cortisol production increases. Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress. We need cortisol to deal with the ups and downs of daily living—it gives us the energy we need to react to stressors. However, when we over-produce cortisol, collagen is depleted, leading to sagging, wrinkled skin. Additionally, the hormone melatonin is released during sleep and counteracts the effects of too much cortisol production. That’s why getting your seven to eight hours of rest each night supports your skin. Do your best to make good sleep a staple in your beauty routine.

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.

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