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Things You Should Never Do to Your Skin

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    Picking and Popping

    The Derm: Heidi Waldorf, M.D., Director of Laser And Cosmetic Dermatology, Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York City

    It was Jerry Seinfeld who gave dermatologists the "Pimple Popper M.D." moniker. The truth is, Mr. Seinfeld, we express, drain, and extract, but, we never, ever pop. The difference lies in the details of semantics and technique. Squeezing a blemish (often with bacteria-laden fingertips), creates a lot of inflammation in the skin, sometimes leaving behind scars and discoloration. If a zit is too big to bear, try to see your dermatologist for an injection of cortisone, or put on a bit of benzoyl peroxide to bring that baby down. Chronic breakouts should be managed with medical regimen tailored specifically to your type of skin and acne.

    Pickers, Waldorf and I urge you, find your zen zone. Do not take that anxiety out on the skin (more on this later).

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    Buying Body Bleach

    The Derm: Marta Rendon, M.D., Medical Director, Rendon Center For Dermatology and Aesthetic Medicine, Boca Raton, FL

    Over-the-counter bleach is used best for clothes, not skin. Rendon advises that caution should be taken when buying products that contain fading creams because of the potential for skin irritation and contact dermatitis. Uneven skin tone is a very common cosmetic concern, and there are topical medications that can safely address the issue. But when dispensed by a doctor, counseling on optimal use is involved. Although they are on the shelf at your local drugstores, trust us on this one: These bleachers are not for everyone, and sometimes they can do more harm than good.

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    Putting Toothpaste on a Pimple

    The Derm: Valerie Callender, M.D., Callender Dermatology and Cosmetic Center, Glenn Dale, MD

    Ahh, yes, this is a favorite of YouTube beauty vloggers—but it's time to put this practice on pause. The skin operates ideally at a pH of 5.5.

    When you put toothpaste on to dry out that third eye, it hikes up the pH creating dry skin, irritation, and even discoloration. Callender says that the side effects can "look worse than the pimple!" Keep the paste for those pearly whites.

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    Believing the "Miracle Cure" Hype

    The Derm: Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., Mariwalla Dermatology, West Islip, NY

    Okay, let's be real. If there were cream that got rid of cellulite and stretch marks, most likely there would be a municipal mandate to have dipping stations at each street corner. I would be the first in line—a daily mantra repeated to my patients. Remember the quick fixes, the overnight cures, the "this is too good to be true" products (or diets) are often a disappointment and sometimes, frankly, not good at all. Mariwalla has seen red, itchy, inflamed skin from chemicals that claim to remove skin tags, for example. Approach grandiose claims with a healthy skepticism to avoid skin drama and disappointment.

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    "Curing" Your Own Cancer

    The Derm: Vivian Bucay, M.D., Board-Certified Dermatologist, San Antonio, TX

    Skin cancer is the most common malignancy in the United States, in fact, 1 in 5 of us will get it. Luckily, if caught early, skin cancer is largely curable.

    If left untreated, physical disfigurement, local invasion, or even distant metastasis can occur. Getting appropriate treatment such as topical chemotherapy creams, or surgical excision can understandably be anxiety provoking, but is usually met with a good outcome medically and cosmetically. Bucay has seen skeptical patients take matters into their own hands by applying theoretically "curative" salves to the malignancy, leading to larger scars and more involved procedures. I guess this is intuitive to most, but a friendly reminder never hurts: When it comes to cancer, don't eff around.

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    Putting Leg Hair Removal Creams on the Face

    The Derm: Wendy E. Roberts, M.D., Director, Generational and Cosmetic Dermatology, Rancho Mirage, CA

    Roberts says, "I have seen this end up in burns, scars, and skin discoloration." Umm, no thank you, and enough said.

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    Using Alcohol on the Skin

    The Derm: Latanya Benjamin, M.D., Division of Pediatric Dermatology, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Hollywood, FL

    The medicinal smell of alcohol screams sanitiztion—and that it does. But when used as a skin cleanser (*cringe), zit remover, or cut cleaner, it strips the skin of natural proteins, oils, and fatty acids that fortify our barrier, keeping irritants out. Benjamin asks you to resist temptation the next time opportunity arises. Remember that the only alcohol beneficial to the skin is a glass of red wine because it is loaded with wrinkle-fighting antioxidants! Cheers!

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    Using Facial Oils On Acne Prone Skin

    The Derm: Pearl Grimes, M.D., Director of the Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California, Los Angeles

    It is hard to pick up a magazine or read a beauty blog without seeing some mention of how facial oils are a must. And, it is true, in some instances, that there are therapeutic and mental benefits of the calming effects garnered from massaging an oil into the skin. But it is also true that other times, it's adding fuel to the fire, says Grimes. Know thy skin, my friends, and if acne is a past, present, or potentially future problem, steer clear of the lavender musk.

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    Using Comet As an Exfoliator and Lightener

    The Derm: Cheryl Burgess, M.D., Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Washington, DC

    Insert shocked face emoji here. As one can imagine, this, to quote Burgess, will almost certainly eventuate in complete and utter disaster. Let's keep it simple by saying that there are much gentler options available, so choose your exfoliators wisely. Glyolic peel anyone?

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    Taking Your Stress Out on Your Skin

    The Derm: Ellen Marmur, M.D., President and Founder Marmur Medical , New York City

    Stress is real, unavoidable, and unfortunately ubiquitous. All of us have it and deal with it differently, but Marmur warns not to hurt your skin because of it. "Scratching, picking, agonizing over pores and spots, it is human to stress," she says. Interestingly, when Marmur offers to refer her patients to a specialist who can help channel stress away from their skin to something better, 100 percent say "yes!" The moral here: Don't be afraid to ask or get help. You are most certainly not alone.

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    Forgetting Sunscreen

    The Derm: Rebecca Tung, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, and Division Director of Dermatology, Loyola University, Chicago

    Ninety percent of the signs of aging and skin cancers come from unprotected exposure to ultraviolet light. Wearing a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher daily, regardless of skin color or weather conditions, is not half, but the whole battle for those struggling with premature wrinkles, discoloration from old acne lesions, or melasma, Tung points out. Find a cosmetically elegant formulation (there are a multitude of SPF lotions, creams, powders, sticks, and serums) that fits your lifestyle and go for it.


Mona Gohara, MD

Oberlin-bred feminist, Yale-trained dermatologist, mother, Virgo, and lover of all things Broadway, tulle, and 80's. Favorite TV show: the Mindy Project because beauty and brains are a wonderful thing. 

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