Your skin is equal parts delicate and resilient. Resilient in the fact that it is constantly repairing and healing itself. Delicate in the fact that it is bombarded with internal and external aggressors daily and thus is highly susceptible to damage. And when we think of skin agitators, perhaps we think of normal talking points: UV damage, pollution, allergens, stress, and so on. But perhaps one of the main sources is user behavior. Yes, you may be doing quite a bit of harm to your precious skin.
Now, people come to skin care with the best of intentions. No one (or I hope no one) turns to skin care routines with the intent to harm their face. But in many cases, we end up doing so because we don’t know how to properly use a product, tool, or treatment; we do too much overall; we opt for ingredients that aren’t suited to our unique skin needs or types; or we simply make mistakes in our overall routine, not knowing they are faux pas.
Recently I was chatting with behavioral scientist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, about skin care habits gone wrong (listen for yourself in our recent episode of mbg’s beauty podcast Clean Beauty School!). Neo specializes in helping type-A individuals, and her work is all about encouraging people to move past their perfectionist hang-ups that might be unknowingly holding them back. And honestly, many skin care enthusiasts often fall into this category—at least as far as their skin care goals are concerned.
Here, she shared some of the mistakes many of us make that, again, are born of good intentions but just happen to set us back in the long term:
1. Not being specific in intentions and goals.
Neo says that many people fall into the trap of wanting broad, overarching perfectionism: They want poreless skin, no wrinkles, and an airbrushed tone. But wanting too much with such unreachable standards (a classic type-A fixation) actually stops you from making smart, reasonable, and informed skin care choices. “You need to get specific,” she says. “You can’t identify exactly what you need to do if you don’t know what you want.”
Once you identify your actual concerns—like sun spots on your cheeks, breakouts on your chin, dry patches around your nose—you’re actually able to find ingredients and products that treat them. Here’s a trick from Neo on how to find your ideal skin care routine.
2. Not setting boundaries.
When we’re constantly bombarded with other people’s standards of beauty, we may lose sight of our own. This can only set us up for failure—as it shifts our own priorities and makes us lose sight of what’s important to us, says Neo. Take the time to outline what your own goals are, and then stick to them by setting boundaries.
“We need to ask ourselves, what are we constantly being exposed to through the media, social media, or our friends?” she says. If you’re only seeing influencers with filters and Photoshop, if you only consume content that’s highly curated or the people around you alter their appearance—that’s going to change your perception of reality and perhaps encourage you to make choices you wouldn’t otherwise want to.
Neo suggests that we take stock of all these influences in our lives and make adjustments as needed: Unfollow influencers on social media, stop using filters on your own photos, and stop consuming media that sets unrealistic expectations of beauty. Even in your personal life, Neo says you can be vocal about not wanting to discuss altering your appearance—and ask that people be respectful of your boundaries. “As an example, whenever I go to a dermatologist or esthetician, I tell them right away before they can even suggest it: I don’t want Botox or filler, so we won’t be discussing this today,” she says. “When you set boundaries, you are telling people, directly or indirectly, that they can not influence you to have an unhealthy relationship with your skin or your looks.”
3. Only seeing the “bad stuff.”
I don’t think this will come as a surprise, but: We are much more likely to see faults in ourselves than we would others. According to Neo, this is actually a survival mechanism. “Looking for problems is a way to avert possible losses,” she says. “We think to ourselves ‘If I have acne, no one will like me, and I’ll have fewer likes on my photos’ so we are preempting that anxiety.” Essentially, we think of these worst-case scenarios so that if they do come true, we won’t feel as bad. But by doing this, we are holding ourselves back.
See, hyper-focusing on perceived faults—which may not even be there—can hurl us into routines that are unnecessary and potentially damaging. We talk about this quite often here: We are simply doing too much to our skin. And when you are constantly picking and prodding at your delicate epidermis, you’re likely disrupting that barrier.
For our skin, the habits we keep are perhaps one of the most important tools we have to make sure our epidermis is strong and healthy.