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You Are Damaging Your Skin and You Don't Even Know It

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

I could sit behind my computer screen and give you a ton of product recommendations and tell you how they would transform your skin, but I feel like that would be giving you a false sense of how your skin actually works. No doubt there is a correlation between a good skincare product regime and healthy skin, however, if you continuously engage in activities that damage your skin, you are going to be disappointed in the effectiveness of many of your products.

It goes without saying that having a healthy lifestyle is important to overall wellness. It is known that not eating well or hydrating, consuming too much alcohol, and lacking in exercise and sufficient sleep quality will negatively impact your skin health and how well you look. However, there are other everyday bad habits that will cause heavy damage to your skin that may surprise you. Let’s take a look at some of these common skin damaging culprits.

1. Skipping the SPF

I have to mention this right away and make sure that it is engraved on your brain: ALWAYS WEAR THE DAMN SUNSCREEN. Why? Well, natural sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) photons (a particle made of electromagnetic radiation) that are not visible to the human eye. Although you can’t see this intense radiation, when these UV photons contact your skin, they directly damage your DNA and produce free radicals (molecules that are highly reactive) causing skin aging and most notably skin cancers.

When you wear sunscreen, you are basically wearing a bulletproof vest from the two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. Sunscreen contains molecules that absorb, scatter and then reflect the UV rays back into the atmosphere so that they do not damage the skin. UVA rays hit the deeper layers of the skin and are responsible for aging of the skin (wrinkles and sagging galore). UVB rays do not penetrate as deeply (responsible for burns on the surface of the skin), but actively damage the body’s DNA that can lead to skin cancer. In order to make sure that you are getting full protection from the sun, your sunscreen should be labelled broad spectrum as it protects against both UVA and UVB rays (look for ingredients like Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide).

“I don’t burn, I only tan.” Let me explain the science a bit better and, hopefully, this will NEVER be said again. Sorry to break it to you, but your body doesn’t give you tanned skin because it wants you to be a bronzed goddess. Tanned skin is actually your skin’s defence mechanism when it’s being damaged by UV. When the UV rays from the sun hit your skin cells, they react by bringing melanocytes (skin pigment cells) to the surface to protect the skin cells that are being attacked by the UV radiation. The pigment cells protect the skin cells by gathering and pilling on top of each other to block the UV radiation. The more threatened the skin feels by UV rays, the greater the pile up of melanin will be and, thus, the darker the tan will look (melanin = skin pigment). Unfortunately, the melanin barrier that the skin provides has a sun protection factor (SPF) of around 1.5-4. (i.e. NOT close to the recommended protection of SPF30+ that blocks 97% of UVB rays). Therefore, some UV radiation will still be absorbed into the skin. Think about it like this: every time you notice your skin getting a bit darker after sun exposure, you increase the risk of sun-related illnesses. Clearly, the sun does not discriminate against skin colour/pigment, so you have no excuse to not wear the sun block.

OK.. my sun rant is over.

2. Smoking

I can always tell a long-time smoker from a non-smoker based upon their facial features. Those vertical wrinkles around the mouth from continuous pursing of the lips and the overall greater sagging and wrinkling of the skin that comes with age. The toxins in the cigarette smoke that you inhale into your body damage and break down collagen and elastin (the main reasons for firmness and elasticity in the skin). Another big reason for the relationship between smoking and aging is due to a constriction of blood vessels when smoking. This constriction reduces blood flow and oxygen to the face (and the skin cells), causing increased aging.

3. Not Removing Makeup Before Bed

After a long night, and maybe a few too many drinks, the last thing that you want to do is take off your makeup before bed. But, PLEASE, I am begging you: start to get in the habit of cleansing before bed. Overnight, your skin repairs itself due to the natural cell turnover that occurs within the epidermal layer of the skin (hence brighter and newer looking skin when you wake up). If you fall asleep with makeup on, all that dirt, oil and dead skin is not removed and causes a clogging of the pores (i.e. pimples) and restricts the skin’s natural turnover process. Even worse than makeup’s clogging effects is its ability to cause oxidative damage to the skin. Simply put, oxidative damage is caused by an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body and is a major factor in the aging process. Trapping makeup and dirt overnight causes a breakdown of the skin barrier and greater oxidative damage, leading to earlier signs of aging. My suggestion is using a cleansing oil or balm first to remove the makeup, sunscreen and dirt that is stuck on your skin, then, follow with a gentle cleanser to ensure that you have a clean face for the night.

4. Washing Pillowcases

On average, we spend 26 years of our life with our face in our pillow, so understanding how it affects our skin is definitely of importance. Everything on your skin: your oils, makeup, sweat, hair and skin products, and drool, gets soaked up by your pillow all night long. Every time you sleep, you revisit this sponge of human gunk as well as continuously add to it as time goes on. The pillowcase quickly becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and constantly placing your face on a bunch of dirt and bacteria can cause acne, infection and irritation. The solution is simple: wash your pillowcases more often than not (every 3-5 days is recommended).

Another skin care tip: when you apply your nighttime skincare products, wait before placing your face on to the pillow or else all that money you paid for good skin will just end up on that pillow.

5. Stomach and Side Sleeping

I am a big right-side sleeper, so this is a tough pill to swallow. If you sleep on your stomach or your side, this leads to more facial wrinkles. It is not complicated science, but when your face is pressed against the pillow for the whole night, it creates a lot of friction on the skin and causes more wrinkles on the forehead, near the eyes and cheeks. Also, not to mention the more contact your face makes with the pillow, the more you should wash your pillowcases. If you can, try to sleep on your back as it keeps everything away from your face, hence, no friction. However, if you simply can’t sleep without your face in the pillow, a tip is to use a silk pillowcase as it is purported to cause less friction.

6. Washing Your Face with Hot Water

A piping hot shower or hot face wash can be one of the most relaxing activities after a long day, but, let me tell you that your skin cannot relate. Hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, leaving your skin sensitive and dry or even producing more oil as a result. To get a better idea of this, think about what happens to your skin when you’ve been in a warm shower for too long. You get that shrivelled raisin look because of a complete loss of moisture from the skin. Those people with dry skin or skin conditions such as eczema should be super cautious when it comes to washing their face in hot water or spending excess amounts of time in hot water as it can make their condition worse. Do you really need a scolding hot shower? Definitely not, so switch to more lukewarm water.

7. Not Wearing Sunglasses in the Sun

There was a time in my younger life that I hated wearing sunglasses (probably because my parents forced me to wear the ugliest styles). Nowadays, I can’t leave the house without them. Other than sunglasses being a great fashion accessory, sunglasses prevent you from having to constantly squint, that means fewer crow’s feet (those wrinkles around the eyes). Also, many sunglasses being sold have UVA/UVB protection in the lenses that is extremely helpful to reflect the harmful sun rays.

Some of these causes of skin harm may be more obvious than others, but I wanted to make sure that you understood WHY they cause damage to the skin. Understanding why the sun damages all skin tones (whatever the pigmentation) and regardless of the weather, is the first step in making sure you always wear sunscreen. Humans are creatures of habit and, some of the habits that we have developed such as with sleeping positions and laundry frequency, contribute to poor skin health. I hope that reading this will encourage you to start taking steps towards changing your daily routine to give yourself a healthier complexion!

- Sydney

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