It’s easy to take solace in the fact that your skin issue has likely been seen before—dermatologists, after all, are total superheroes. Still, as we flip through decades-old Highlights: For Kids awaiting our turn with the doc, we tend to wonder just how common our complexion mistake happens to be, which is why we inquired about it. Here, some of the most common mistakes dermatologists (and an esthetician!) have to fix in their offices, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
1. Not investing in the right products
Sure, beauty hauls are all good—we embark on our own often enough—but when your skin throwing a very particular kind of tantrum, it’s a better idea to hit up your dermatologist to get a medical-grade plan in place rather than taking wild guesses at the new arrivals gondola.
“I think one mistake that people make is that they’ll go to a store and spend so much on products that aren’t right for them, or aren’t suitable for their skin,” says New York City dermatologist Rita Linkner, MD. “I sit down with patients every day and delineate a five-step morning and evening skin routine catered to them." According to Dr. Linkner, the goal of going to your dermatologist should be to build out a medical-grade skin-care routine catered to your specific skin type and needs. “It’s not going to break you out, it won’t cause a reaction, and it will counteract any issues you’re having,” she adds.
2. Believing that everything is a blackhead
The pores dotting your nose you have to resist the urge to squeeze at? Not actually blackheads. While actual blackheads are visibly dark and must be safely coaxed out, the little things you’re likely fixated on are actually just your pores. If you apply pressure to them, a sebaceous filament may come out, but again, it’s not a blackhead, and it’s actually supposed to be there.
“Pores exist for a reason, and there is a common misnomer that pores and blackheads are the same, but blackheads are actual acne,” explains NYC derm Shari Marchbein, MD. “You could stand in the mirror and pop those sebaceous filaments out all day, but they’re not acne, and they’re not dangerous.” The size of your pores is determined by genetics, though, these tend to be more prominent on those with oily skin. While Dr. Marchbein notes that things like retinoids, light exfoliants, and retinoids can make them appear smaller, you shouldn’t aim to completely get rid of your pores altogether. In fact, it’s physically impossible to do so.
“You can gently exfoliate a few times a week—less than that if you’re using retinoids—look for good moisturizers with glycerin, ceramides, or hyaluronic acid, and leave your pores alone,” she advises. “You can do things to remove the sebum plugs periodically, but they’re going to fill back up because that’s what they’re supposed to do.”
3. Prying at zits and other skin conditions
Digging at that obnoxious, soul-crushing, under-the-skin pimple will do more harm than good in the moment, but also in the long-run. According to celebrity esthetician (who isn't a dermatologist, but regularly has her fair share of SOS! client moments) Renee Rouleau, long-term picking can manifest years later in the form of hyperpigmentation, which ends up being another problem on its own.
“Picking causes a lot of injury to the skin, so even if you treat post-breakout marks, skin cells have memory, so to speak,” explains Rouleau. “It’s something to keep in mind if you tend to pick at your skin, because later on you may have to deal with clearing up all this hyperpigmentation if it comes back that way.”
That being said, resist the urge to prod if you can, and use post-breakout fading products once the pimple is gone to counteract hyperpigmentation. If you’re the type who sometimes picks at a raised area without fully realizing it (guilty!), Rouleau recommends keeping your hands distracted so they can concentrate on something else in those moments of boredom.
4. Not paying attention to the signs their skin is giving them
Ultimately, the reality is that your skin will tell you what it needs, you just have to be paying attention to it. “I think some people don’t consider their skin to be an organ because it isn’t bloody and gutsy, but it is the largest organ on your body, and it’s a pretty smart one,” says Connecticut dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD. “Things like dry areas oiliness, or inflammation are signs that your skin needs attention, so I think people need to start listening to their skin and respecting those signs more.”
5. Not following pre- or post-care
Especially if you’re going to your doctor for a laser treatment or a peel, you should heed your dermatologist’s advice, and follow it religiously before and after to ensure you get your desired results.
“One huge misnomer is that pre-care and post-care don’t matter that much, but they really do. This goes for lasers, peels, all of it, and not following instructions could lead to further inflammation or a slower healing time,” says founder of Los Angeles’ GoodSkin clinic, Lisa Goodman, PA-C. “That’s one thing we have to fix all the time, along with people getting micro-treatments they think won’t make a huge overall impact.”
6. Generally doing too much
Real talk: There is hardly a need to do a peel, scrub, exfoliating serum, peel-off mask, and action with the skin-care device of your choosing in the span of a few days. Too many active products can cause irritation, breakouts, inflammation, or in the worst-case scenario, contact dermatitis.
“Be very gentle with your skin,” advises NYC dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. “The last thing you want to do is cause injury that requires heroics to repair.
Stick to exfoliating either chemically or physically one to two times a week max, provide ample hydration, and chill out on all the extras.
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