Dermatologists have seen it all: random bouts of acne, horrific sunburns, unidentifiable rashes, moles in all assortments of shapes and sizes, dry skin patches that just won’t quit — and that’s just the beginning. They’ve also seen (and heard) it all when it comes to skin-care mistakes and misconceptions.
Among the countless patients dermatologists see a week, there are some mistakes they encounter repeatedly. Aside from not wearing sunscreen enough and picking at your zits (two things we’re all guilty of from time to time), there may be some mistakes you don’t even know you’re making, like serum cocktailing and forgetting about your neck.
Keep reading to learn about 14 of the most common skin-care mistakes dermatologists see and what they recommend doing instead.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #1: Popping Pimples
We’ve all done it, but dermatologists always recommend you don’t take matters into your own hands and pop a zit.
“This is especially harmful if you are attempting to pop cysts (comedones) that are below the skin and cannot ‘come to a head’ through manual squeezing,” Lucy Chen, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, told POPSUGAR. Not only is squeezing at an unpoppable pimple painful but you can cause even more unnecessary damage to your skin.
“Squeezing can push bacteria and pus deeper into the skin, which can result in trauma to the skin such as piercing the skin (if someone is using an at-home lancer), redness, or swelling,” she said. “Squeezing also can lead to scabs, which can leave you with acne pockmarks or scars.”
Instead, cystic pimples that are deep under the skin need to be treated by a dermatologist. They can properly lance the zit or inject it with a cortisone shot to help bring down the inflammation.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #2: Changing Routines Frequently
As fun as it can be to try new skin-care products, doing so too frequently can leave you with more woes than you started with.
“I know that it can be frustrating to have breakouts and blemishes, but the tendency is to research new products and try too many at one time or switch them out before the active ingredients have a chance to make an impact on the skin,” said Corey L. Hartman, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL. “Most ingredients will take at least four to six weeks of consistent use before making changes that are noticeable, so hang in there and give them a chance to work.”
If after six weeks of using a product you still don’t notice a difference, then you should see your dermatologist to find a better solution.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #3: Forgetting to Apply Sunscreen Everywhere
You’ve probably heard it a million times before, but dermatologists can’t stress the importance of wearing sunscreen daily enough. Rain or shine, year-round, whether you’re staying indoors or not, you should be wearing at least SPF 30 — even in places you might not think.
“On top of that, [people] forget to apply SPF on their lips,” said Marnie B. Nussbaum, MD, FAAD, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and Eos brand ambassador. “Lips are more susceptible to sun damage because they lack melanocytes, so there is no melanin. The skin is also much thinner than the skin on your face.”
Many people don’t think about their lips aging or being susceptible to skin cancer, but it’s a risk you take when you don’t apply sunscreen to them.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #4: Showering in Hot Water
Even your daily shower can be causing more harm than good to your skin if you’re doing it wrong. It comes down to the temperature of the water you’re using.
“While a hot shower may be your favorite way to start or end your day, it can be damaging to your skin,” said board-certified dermatologist and Olay brand ambassador Sheila Farhang, MD. “Hot water actually strips away the skin’s natural oils and disrupts surface lipids and proteins, causing the skin to become easily inflamed.”
Instead, she recommended you “decrease shower length, and use tepid water temperature instead of hot.”
Common Skin-Care Mistake #5: Skipping Skin Checks
Right up there with wearing sunscreen daily is getting regular skin checks for skin cancer. “It is so important that people start getting annual skin cancer screenings in their 20s to help catch and detect skin cancer,” board-certified dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD, said. “Early detection is crucial to treating skin cancer before it becomes melanoma.”
If you’re prone to moles or have a history of skin cancer, Dr. Markowitz actually recommended going biannual and ensuring your doctor uses a dermatoscope. “This is a hand-held microscope that has double the magnification and uses polarized lighting that allows us to look at your skin with more clarity,” she said. “Currently, only 50 percent of dermatologists use this, and without utilizing this tool, you really are not getting a proper skin screening.”
Common Skin-Care Mistake #6: Overdoing It With Spot Treatments
Even too much of a good thing can be bad, and that rule applies to acne spot treatments, too. This is especially true with over-the-counter treatments containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
“The tendency is to apply them liberally, which will only make the surrounding skin red, dry, and irritated,” said Shari Marchbein, MD, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine. “Instead, if you are going to spot treat, apply only a very thin layer one or two times per day maximum.”
If nothing seems to be working or your acne is leaving you with scars or hyperpigmentation, that’s when it’s time to seek care from your doctor.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #7: Thinking “Squeaky” Clean Is Good
You need to cleanse your skin regularly to keep it free of dirt, sweat, makeup, and other grim, but you don’t ever want your skin to feel tight after you wash it.
“Most people think that to be really clean, your skin should be ‘squeaky,’ when, in fact, that squeaky clean feeling is not what you want for your skin,” said Dr. Farhang. “If your skin sounds squeaky or feels tight, that’s your skin’s way of telling you it’s been stripped of its natural moisture.”
If your cleanser leaves you with that “squeaky” feeling, it’s a sign that you need a more hydrating option.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #8: Falling For Social Media Fads
TikTok is loaded with skin-care knowledge, but it’s important to remember that it’s no substitution for a doctor’s personalized expertise.
“These days, I see people assuming that what works for a friend, coworker, or stranger on TikTok will work for them,” said Dr. Hartman. “Everyone has unique skin-care needs, issues, and goals. Just because someone that you know used a product and had phenomenal results doesn’t mean that the product is well-suited for you.”
His advice: take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt, and when in doubt, ask a doctor. “Next time you’re tempted to tell the girl on Twitter with the perfect skin to ‘drop the skin-care routine,’ ask yourself if you know anything about the road that it took to get her there.”
Common Skin-Care Mistake #9: Forgetting Your Neck
For many people, their skin-care routine ends at the jaw and their body-care routine begins at the chest, leaving the neck completely forgotten. “The neck is a thinner, more delicate skin than that of the face, and therefore, requires special care and attention from the skin-care products that you use,” said Dr. Marchbein. “It also has fewer oil glands and is more prone to showing signs of aging such as sagging, sun spots, and fine lines.”
The same products you use on your face can be used on your neck, as long as they’re not too irritating.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #10: Serum Cocktailing
Serum cocktailing — or “stacking individual ingredients that are purchased separately and believing that is the equivalent of one product that contains multiple of them together” — as board-certified dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla called it is a risky move. That’s why dermatologists recommend saving your mixology skills for the kitchen.
Here’s why: “Ingredients are only one part of the formulation,” said Dr. Mariwalla. “You have to think about stability, percentages, and how it is manufactured. Consider simplifying your routine and using one or two products that have actives combined — often those formulations are actually more clinically active than the ingredients alone.”
Common Skin-Care Mistake #11: Using the Same Razor For Too Long
Skin-care mistakes aren’t limited to just your face. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes Dr. Marchbein encounters has to do with not changing your razor blade often enough.
“Ingrown hairs, folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles), and irritation of the skin can happen as razor blades become dull,” she said. “For best results when shaving, I recommend changing your razor blade every two to three shaves.”
Common Skin-Care Mistake #12: Overexfoliating
People often don’t exfoliate at all or they do it too much but there is a sweet spot that you should aim for.
“Overexfoliation is one of the most common reasons for acne in my adult patients,” said Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, FAAD, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Hudson Dermatology & Laser Surgery. “Many patients use exfoliating cleansers, physical brushes, and then creams with light acids multiple times a day. It’s way too much.”
You should only exfoliate one to two times a week unless you have very oily skin and are advised to do more by a doctor. “I am more about barrier repair and providing calming ingredients rather than overdoing it on the other side of the spectrum,” said Dr. Bhanusali.
Common Skin-Care Mistake #13: Not Moisturizing
Moisturizing is imperative for a healthy skin barrier, which is why you shouldn’t skip out on using it daily. Many people with oily or acne-prone skin think they can use this product less, but that’s not the case.
“Skin hydration and moisturizing properly are extremely important,” said Dr. Marchbein. “The best moisturizers have a combination of emollients and humectants. Look specifically for ceramides, glycerin, dimethicone, petrolatum, and hyaluronic acid, among others in the list of ingredients.”
Common Skin-Care Mistake #14: Skipping Out on Cleansing at Night
If you go to bed without washing your face, especially if you have makeup on, you’re practically asking for bacteria buildup. “More relevant to now, I have my patients cleanse after being outside with their masks on for long periods of time,” said Dr. Bhanusali. “It’s the easiest way to prevent maskne and breakouts.”