To make sure you're aware of these unknowingly harmful skin habits, we tapped Dr. McKinley-Grant to learn all about them. Below, she shares seven bad habits you'll want to stop doing.
6 harmful skin habits to quit ASAP
1. Picking the skin around your nails
"Any damage around the nail causes the nails to grow out crooked," says Dr. McKinley-Grant, who is the dermatology advisor for her daughter's skin-care line, Namesake. "So if you peel off the skin or if you get your cuticles cut rather than just gently pushed back, you can affect the structure of the nail where it will grow out lumpy and bumpy."
- Lynn McKinley-Grant, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Washington, DC
2. Plucking hairs without holding down your skin
Aside from periodically cleaning up your eyebrows, Dr. McKinley-Grant doesn't like tweezing facial hair because it's very easy for things to go wrong. But if you are going to pluck, make sure you're holding down the skin right next to the hair you want to remove before you pull it out.
"The hair follicle goes down as deep into fat in your skin. So if you hold the skin taut it makes it sort of a thinner space for it to come out of as you kind of move the fat out of the way," she says. This makes it easier to remove the whole hair and causes less trauma to the skin, which can lead to scarring. "Tweezing incorrectly can cause severe scarring actually. So waxing is better. Threading is good too, even though it's a form of plucking with the threading, um, shaving is not good, uh, because you end up shaving hairs and then you get more ingrown hairs."
3. Scratching your head with your nails
If you have an itchy scalp and you find yourself digging into it frequently, with your nails it's time to stop. "If you dig too deeply, you can infect the scalp, and a scalp infection is not fun again because it causes hair loss," says Dr. McKinley-Grant. Plus, scratching super hard can cause scarring, and hair can't grow through a scar. "It's less harmful to just rub the itch with the fingers rather than scratching with the nail."
But if your scalp is super itchy it's a good idea to get it checked out by a board-certified dermatologist and find a solution. "Let's say you have psoriasis of the scalp and you don't really know that you do, you think it's just dandruff because you haven't been to a dermatologist," she says. "When you scratch psoriasis, it makes it worse. It makes more psoriasis come. So you need to be aware of that and get treatment if you really have an itchy scalp."
4. Keeping your nails round
"People like to round around the edges of nails and get that little end out," she says. "But toenails and all nails really should be cut really straight across so that you don't get ingrown toenails. Ingrow nails can get infected and you can get damage to the nail."
5. Slicking down your hair
Constantly slicking your hair into tight styles can cause traction alopecia, which is hair loss from tension. While we often think of this happening from tight ponytails or braids, slicking down your edges can also lead to this form of hair loss."We're seeing some hair loss from slicking down baby hairs," says Dr. McKinley-Grant, "because the chemicals that they're putting on those hairs are keeping it so straight that it's a different texture than the rest of the hair. And so it tends to break easily because it's stiffened by the edging oils and creams."
6. Frequently rubbing your eyes
"The area around the eyes is the most sensitive part of your skin because it's so thin. You can cause an abrasion very easily," says Dr. McKinley-Grant. "If you find you're rubbing your eyes a lot, then you might have an allergy to something either environmentally in the air or nail polish, mascara, your eye cream, or even eye drops."
Aggressive rubbing can lead to darkening of the skin around the eyes "and it can cause a thickening of the skin, but not in a pretty way," she says. "We call it lichenification of the skin with a lot of wrinkles in it that look sort of like a tic-tac-toe board with little lines going vertically and horizontally."
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