If only achieving flawless skin was as easy as patting on a best-selling serum or remembering to wipe off our makeup after a long night out and one too many tequilas. Alas, it's not. Our skin is a complex being (it's an organ, after all!), and more often than not, it seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to its behavioral agenda. As a beauty editor, I'm lucky enough to receive some of the best skincare products on the market to test-drive in addition to collaborating with some of the most talented estheticians and dermatologists in the industry. Although you'd assume the above two factors would automatically yield perfect skin, they definitely don't.
Since becoming a beauty editor, the road to achieving homeostasis for my skin has never been bumpier, and I've found myself routinely dealing with cyclical issues like breakouts and residual scarring. Part of my job is trying new products and treatments, which often don't play well with my somewhat sensitive, congestion-prone skin. Plus, other factors like stress, lack of sleep, and pollution (thanks, L.A.!) don't help matters.
After a particularly hectic winter, about two months ago, my skin hit an all-time low. I was breaking out around my chin, mouth, jawline, and cheekbones (historically, my breakouts were contained around the mouth), and my entire complexion was riddled with mini whiteheads, bumps, and even some blackheads. I was freaking out, and despite how many buzzy skincare products I tried in a desperate attempt to remedy the situation, nothing worked. Until I met L.A.-based esthetician Vanessa Hernandez, who counts such beauties as Gwyneth Paltrow and Amber Valletta as clients.
After our initial consultation, Hernandez told me my skin had reached a point of maximum congestion, and we'd begin a skin "boot camp" of sorts where I'd come in every few weeks for extraction-heavy facials (to clear out all the gunk!) with mini check-up facials peppered in between.
Fast-forward and Hernandez's customized approached has worked wonders, slowly but surely transforming my skin back into tip-top shape. Of course, being the ever curious beauty editor I am, and as someone who is always on the quest to achieve better, brighter skin, I've been asking Hernandez for other tips and tricks when it comes to maintaining the health and clarity of my complexion—some of which have been surprising. Curious to expose even more secretly sneaky skin saboteurs, I decided to ask Hernandez and a handful of other top celebrity estheticians and dermatologists what unexpected habits, ingredients, products, etc., are covertly plotting against our perfect-skin goals. Keep scrolling!
1. Wearing Sunscreen—But Only Sometimes
"Not wearing sunscreen every single day is one of the top things that makes having perfect skin impossible!" celebrity esthetician Shani Darden tells us. "Sun damage is the cause of a whole list of issues including loss of collagen and elastin, which leads to fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation or sunspots, as well as skin cancer. It will also lengthen the time it takes for your skin to heal if you have any acne scars."
2. Your Cleanser Isn't Gentle Enough
"If your cleanser leaves your face feeling dry or tight, try switching to a gentler gel cleanser," suggests Darden. "A cleanser should effectively remove makeup, but it should never strip your skin. This Daily Cleansing Serum ($38) is an effective cleanser with a soft lather that is great at removing makeup and buildup from the day and also adds hydration back into the skin!"
3. Ignoring Your Skin Type
"One of the biggest skincare mistakes I see is people not using the right products for their skin type," Darden warns. "I am always encouraging people to take the time to find out what products work best for their skin type. What works great for someone else might not be the right product for you! Introduce new products into your routine slowly to see what works. This allows you to pinpoint any issues they may cause and adjust accordingly! This is why it’s also important to not drastically switch up your routine all at the same time. If you add in too many new products at once, you won’t be able to tell what is really working."
4. Doing What Everyone Else Is Doing
"Most of the time, I see clients (especially new clients!) following trends, influencers, or just random reviews but not taking into consideration what’s appropriate for their own skin," explains celebrity esthetician Olga Lorencin, founder of Olga Lorencin
"I often see clients with oily skin using rich oils and serums which cause them to break out. Or clients with dry skin insist on using retinol and high concentrations of vitamin C thinking it’s anti-aging (which it is when appropriate) but can result in inflammation and skin flare-ups if used incorrectly. Plus, these days, people can get ahold of professional tools such as micro-needling devices, but not everyone should attempt to micro-needle their face. Overuse from micro-needling can cause your skin to become raw and red without proper pre- and post-care. There can end up being more damage than benefits."
5. Skipping Your Retinol in the Summer
"Retinoids (retinols and tretinoin) are safe to use year-round," clarifies Suneel Chilukuri, MD, celebrity cosmetic dermatologist and founder of Refresh Dermatology. "Tretinoin (Retin-A) and retinol (the precursor to the active molecule, tretinoin) are unstable molecules and are deactivated by sunlight. As a result, board-certified dermatologists would always recommend you apply a small amount of your retinoid in the evening about 10 to 30 minutes after washing your face. The original reason for waiting to apply the retinoid was to avoid deactivation by the soap or cleanser used to wash your face. With today’s technology, high-quality retinols (my favorites are from PCA Skin) are incredibly stable due to the use of OmniSome technology, which envelopes and protects the retinol. Therefore, you can apply it immediately after washing, and you can apply it in the morning or evening."
6. Assuming Trendy Treatments Are the Best Treatments
"With the Vampire Facial rage on social media, many unsuspecting clients are requesting micro-needling combined with platelet-rich plasma (PRP)," Chilukuri tells us. "Basically, your physician or aesthetician will draw your blood, spin it with the proper harvesting tube (no, not all of the PRP tubes are the same), and this concentration of platelets is then topically rubbed in either during or immediately after a micro-needling treatment.
"We have not seen any short-term or long-term benefit of applying topical PRP versus a hyaluronic acid serum or another safe gliding agent when micro-needling is performed properly (needling with the clinical endpoint being pinpoint bleeding). At my clinic, Refresh Dermatology, we ask patients to save their money when asking for topical application of PRP. Conversely, we have seen trends of improved skin texture when the PRP is injected into the skin."
7. Using Too Many Products
"Less is more!" says Hernandez. Your skin is the largest living, breathing organ! The less product the better. Instead of layering on 12 different steps, just do two to four steps with more effective, high-quality skincare. Try using a medical-grade skincare line. They tend to be more potent, using active ingredients, with proven clinical results. I love Ayur Medic, SkinMedica, Environ, and SkinCeuticals. (Psst! You can shop all of Vanessa's go-to skincare products which she uses on her clients, here!)
8. Not Washing Your Face Before Bed
"The biggest mistake ever!" Hernandez exclaims. "Your skin regenerates best when we are asleep. Making sure the skin is clean before bed will ensure proper product penetration and cell turnover. Otherwise, leaving the skin dirty with layers of SPF, makeup, environmental debris, etc., all of these things can get trapped into your pores creating blackheads, pimples, and skin irritation."
9. Working Out With Your Makeup On
"When you exercise, usually your body temperature will rise, warming up the skin and causing you to sweat," Hernandez tells us. "Heat causes expansion and inflammation, and if makeup or sunscreen is left on while you're working out, your skin will heat up, your pores open, and whatever is on your skin will penetrate deep into your pores, causing congestion. Think of when you get a facial and they use warm steam to open up the pores beforehand, now imagine doing that and then caking on SPF and makeup. It's a recipe for a skin disaster."
10. Picking at Your Skin or Pimples
In other words, see a professional for regular or semi-regular facials and extractions if at all possible! "Unless it is totally white and about to burst, do not pick at your own skin," warns Hernandez. "Leave the picking to a skincare professional. At the bottom of each pimple or congested pore, there is a tiny little seed of sebum (the root of the problem). To properly extract a clogged pore, you need to also extract the seed. Otherwise, the pimple will fester and reinfect."
11. Reaching for Oils (Instead of Exfoliants) If You're Acne-Prone
"Cleansing with an oil-based cleanser or layering oils will only make clogged or congestion-prone pores worse, making it more difficult for acne-causing debris to be released," says Hernandez. "The best thing to do for congested and breakout-prone skin is to exfoliate a lot, gently, once a day, every day."
12. Not Going to the Bathroom Regularly
"Everyone Poops, aka the greatest children's toilet book, is so basic and yet so true," Hernandez shares. "Every living creature poops. As humans, we should be going at least one or two times per day. Otherwise, our body will build up toxins and especially congestion around the chin and lower mouth area. I love Super Lax pills for a natural laxative."
13. Misting Your Skin on an Airplane
"If you're using a facial mist while on the airplane, it is probably because you care enough about your skin that you're willing to take an extra step to keep it looking great and hydrated," celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau muses. "Well, contrary to what many people think, using a facial mist on an airplane is not the right way to achieve this. Since the air on planes is so dry, it looks for water wherever it can get it. Since water attracts water, when you spray the skin, it draws water from the skin’s deepest layers and evaporates into the dry air. The result is even drier skin! Instead, apply a facial oil every hour of your flight to keep skin hydrated."
14. Ignoring Your Neck
"Most women know to apply moisturizer daily and nightly to the neck, and many do. But the problem here is that most people treat the neck as an afterthought," Rouleau explains. "Think about your own daily routine. Most likely, you applied your moisturizer to your full face, rubbed it in, and then used the excess that was left on your fingertips to extend the moisturizer down to your neck. Whether this is for moisturizer or sunscreen, using this process isn't enough. The skin on the neck and chest is an extension of the face, so you should care for this area as much as you care for your face!"
15. Using Spot Treatments at the Wrong Time
"This is one mistake that literally everyone I come in contact with is making. I don't blame them because no one has ever taught them the right way to respond to a blemish the moment it appears!" Rouleau stresses. Immediately dry it out with a spot treatment? No, definitely don't do that. When a blemish appears, your body has incredible repair responses (unless you have an immune deficiency disorder) that immediately recognize when an infection is present and then kicks into high gear to heal it.
"If you have a pustular blemish, wait a day or two for the infection to appear on the surface, and then once the whitehead is truly visible, you can gently squeeze it out with your fingers wrapped in tissue. After this, apply your spot treatment. If you apply a spot treatment before the whitehead is at the surface, all this will accomplish is drying out your skin and keeping the infection trapped for longer," she advises. "When dealing with cystic blemishes, it's important to understand that these will never come to the surface, so don’t pick! They are meant to stay under the skin, so treat it with the right product, like my Anti-Bump Solution ($48)."
16. Assuming Water Intake Will Hydrate Your Skin
"While I will always promote drinking water as being good for your health, this is actually the least efficient way to hydrate the skin," Rouleau tells us. "Water runs through the intestines, is absorbed into your bloodstream, and is then filtered out by the kidneys. At this point, it will hydrate the cells inside the body. Hydration levels within the skin have very little to do with drinking water but rather what you are doing (or not doing) topically. To maintain proper hydration levels in the skin, use well-formulated moisturizers, serums, masks, and toners."
17. Skipping Moisturizer If You Have Oily Skin
"This is such a myth. While oily skin doesn't benefit from a heavy or greasy moisturizer, it does require a water-based moisturizer to keep skin cells healthy and discourage dead skin cell buildup," clarifies Rouleau. "In fact, did you know that skipping moisturizer can make your skin even oilier? When your skin doesn't have the proper water levels, dehydration causes the skin to produce oil, meaning you will end up with even oilier skin. All skin types need moisturizer, you just need to find one that's formulated for you."