People always want to know the best things they can do for their skin. There are so many answers to that question, depending on your current skin condition, lifestyle, and skin goals. All most people focus is on treatment, quick-fixes and instant results. They are so focused on adding to their routine and buying more things, that they neglect to consider what they can remove from their lifestyle to reap even more benefits.
Prevention and avoidance is arguably an even more effective way to cure skin issues. Whether your concern is acne scarring or ageing or skin cancer, what not so many people know about are things that cause damage to their skin every day and create these issues. Let’s learn about them so you can remove them from your life and improve your habits!
If you’ve read any of my numerous posts about hats, tanning, how much daily face sunscreen to use, what SPF number it should be, or why it can’t be homemade sunscreen, then you might have gotten the impression that the sun was something to be avoided.
You’d be right.
The sun is THE major cause of ageing by creating free-radicals that damage collagen production. It also sets the stage and/or triggers the development of skin cancers such as melanoma. Spending time outdoors is like being slowly irradiated in a microwave. Many of the effects of sun exposure are slow and stealthy, but free-radical production sets off inflammation that not only immediately makes your skin look worse for wear, but also predisposes you to contracting skin issues like acne more easily by weakening your natural barrier function.
We are lucky to live in an age where there is a plethora of sun protection options, from the beauty conscious to the eco friendly. You should be wearing sunscreen on exposed skin every day you go outside or will be sitting near a window – because UV rays can get through cloud cover and glass.
Ever hear the term ‘antioxidant’? These combat cell damage by preventing oxidants from attacking and destroying cells. They’re a hugely popular and highly sought after element of skin care and food for their many benefits.
But smoking delivers a huge hit of their opposite, oxidants, to your system. Oxidants from cigarette smoke and other airborne pollution trigger an inflammatory response.
Smoking itself reduces oxygen levels in your blood and thus your skin, impeding hydration and slowing cell regeneration and wound healing all over. Smoking’s direct effect on your skin and also your overall health will leave you dull, dry, and more prone to infection.
Consider quitting smoking as soon as possible – your whole body will thank you for it.
Alcohol consumption dehydrates your bloodstream. Dehydrate yourself enough or habitually and you’ll start to dry out the deep layers of your skin, resulting in the appearance of more fine lines and exacerbated skin conditions. Alcohol abuse can also lead to early-onset skin diseases like severe rosacea, adult acne, and recurrent infections.
Alcohol intake should be kept below the suggested daily limit and within weekly drinking guidelines. In Australia, this is less than 2 standard drinks a day, with two alcohol-free days a week. More info on the science behind these limits can be found in this article.
I struggle with a disorder called CSP or compulsive skin picking. This means I regularly and involuntarily pick, scratch, squeeze or dig at my skin. It can be using my nails, tweezers, nail clippers or even scissors (see more photos of this in my skin care journey post). While not everybody suffers from a condition this severe, skin picking (especially picking at acne) is a widespread bad habit that manifests itself in blotchy, swollen, irritated skin. Our skin is very intelligent and wonderful at keeping itself healthy and clean, and you should keep your hands off! You’d be surprised by how many of your blemishes are actually self-inflicted.
For those who have issues with skin picking compulsions, try visiting r/CalmHands or r/CompulsiveSkinPicking for a supportive group environment. Otherwise, I strongly suggest you ask your GP to point you in the right direction for professional help.
Lots of people who follow bad skin habits like using baking soda scrubs claim that their skin seems fine so therefore no harm done. But consistent irritation of the skin can create undetectable inflammation. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but study after study has shown that inflammation leads to skin ageing and encourages skin barrier dysfunction. These effects only appear over time, so while your skin might seem fine now, irritating routines will have a real negative impact in the long run.
So drop the alkaline cleansers, excessive overuse of acids, perfumed products, drying alcohols, and rough granular scrubs and focus on hydration and healing. Addition of anti-inflammatory ingredients will also help fight irritation and the associated ageing and skin disorders.
On a similar note to irritation, high levels of stress can wreak havoc on your skin. I can attest to this as I went through a few years of intense emotional stress and boy did my skin show it. Stress and the hormones it produces encourages inflammation and has been linked to all kinds of skin diseases such as acne, dermatitis and psoriasis.
Our society is a high-stress one, but there are things you can do to try to improve. Try to reduce workload or pressure on yourself when possible, take mental health days when you need to, visit a therapist to work through your problems, use skin care as a form of self care, and practice mindfulness, meditation or yoga to slow your heart rate and train of thought.
If you can change your lifestyle to improve upon one or all of these factors, you’ll be helping yourself in the long run. When you treat your skin preventatively, you’re not fighting an uphill battle in your daily routine. Don’t make things harder for yourself!
Which habit so far have you found the hardest to kick?