What You Don't Know About Your Skin CAN Hurt You

The skin may be our largest organ, but — whether we fall asleep before properly cleaning our faces or pick at a juicy pimple — we tend to take it for granted. With a plethora of skin-care dos and don’ts out there on the Internet, which rules are really worth paying attention to?

Posted on 9/24/2014 2:07:07 PM

To satisfy our curiosity, we talked to Jeannette Graf, MD, clinical and research dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. She helped us bring a few little-known skin truths to the surface — because what you don’t know about your skin actually can hurt you. 

Truth: Perfumes attract UV rays, which means their use could lead to sun damage.
“Perfumes are a complex blend of ingredients that are often sun-sensitizing, leading to hyperpigmentation and UVA damage,” warns Dr. Graf. Many fragrances have ingredients such as psoralen, which can stimulate pigment-producing cells when exposed to rays. So, spray where the sun don't shine — like the underside of your wrists or behind ears, or even on your clothes. This will help you avoid brown spots and wrinkles on your chest and neck.

Truth: You should really resist the urge to pop that pimple.
If you extract it incorrectly, the pressure from your fingers could rupture the infected hair follicle, causing more breakouts and possible scarring. But, thankfully, there’s actually aright way to pop that zit. “You can extract safely if the pimple is a pustule [filled with visible pus],” says Dr. Graf. “[Dip] two Q-tips into hydrogen peroxide, and — using even pressure to press down, at an angle, at the base — allow the pimple to burst. Then, apply benzoyl peroxide to get rid of the bacteria.”
If you’re going outside, don’t forget to cover up the affected area with sunscreen to prevent hyperpigmentation and discoloration.

Truth: Creams and moisturizers don’t work well in open-faced jars — no matter how pretty the packaging is.
When you expose ingredients to oxygen, you’re diminishing their efficacy. To add to this sticky predicament, open-faced jars often require scooping out the product with your (likely germy) fingers — which is an easy way to contaminate the goods. Preservative-free formulas pose a particular risk, because they lack the chemicals that inhibit bacterial growth. There are some natural preservatives, but you need to be extra vigilant about expiration dates when using those.
“With many moisturizers being water-in-oil formulations, bacteria can grow when oxygen is present,” says Dr. Graf. “So, you may want to consider products that are enclosed by airtight safety caps, [which] keep the formula sterile to the last pump.”

 

Truth: If you’re pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, you need to monitor the products you apply topically.
Women who are pregnant or nursing need to be hyper aware of the beauty products they use, because some of the chemicals contained in cosmetics could have an adverse effect on the baby's development. 
When it comes to acne and wrinkle treatments, it’s best to avoid ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinol when they’re prescribed and/or come in high concentrations. Over-the-counter formulations tend to have lower percentages (less than 2%) of these ingredients, making them safer to use while pregnant. But, definitely consult with your doctor first either way.
And, just because you're using all-natural products doesn't mean you're in the clear. The potential effect of essential oils on both the mother and the baby is a widely debated topic — and frankly, still not fully understood. As a result, many doctors recommend taking the safe route and avoiding essential oils during the first trimester. “Or, another option is to dilute essential oils with base oils like hemp oil, sweet almond oil, or grapeseed oil,” says Dr. Graf.

Truth: Your daily dose of java could be the cause of your adult acne.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a staggering 40 to 50 million people in the U.S. struggle with acne, and many of them are adults between the ages of 20 to 40. The rate of adult acne has risen dramatically, partly due to lifestyle and dietary choices — like coffee.
“If you consume a lot of caffeine — think four or more cups of coffee [a day] — it can raise testosterone levels and cause hormonal breakouts,” says Dr. Graf. “Caffeine also raises testosterone levels up to 5% during workouts, which are a contributing factor to breakouts as well.” So, if your hormonal acne is getting out of control, try curbing your daily cup (or five) habit to see if that makes a difference. It might not, but it's definitely worth a shot.

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