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A Guide to Taking Care of Your Skin

Your skin type matters

You may suspect you have dry, oily, or sensitive skin, but do you really know your skin type? Knowing your true skin type can help the next time you’re in the cosmetics aisle. In fact, using the wrong products — or even popularized Internet hacks — for your skin type could worsen acne, dryness, or other skin problems.

Take the quiz below to find what skin type you have. Then read on to learn:

  • how to build your own skin care routine
  • how to treat specific skin concerns like acne or scars
  • which DIY skin hacks aren’t healthy, even if they seem to work

Quiz: What’s your skin type?

Building a daily skin care routine

No matter what your skin type is, a daily skin care routine can help you maintain overall skin health and improve specific concerns like acne, scarring, and dark spots. A daily skin care routine has four basic steps you can do once in the morning and once before you sleep.

A photo posted by Adri (@sortofobsessed) on

1. Cleansing: Choose a cleanser that doesn’t leave your skin tight after washing. Clean your face no more than twice a day, or just once, if you have dry skin and don’t wear makeup. Avoid washing for that squeaky-clean feeling because that means your skin’s natural oils are gone. Cleansers known to work well for all skin types include Cetaphil and Banila Clean It Zero Sherbet Cleanser.

2. Serums: A serum with vitamin C or growth factors or peptides would be better in the morning, under sunscreen. At night, retinol or prescription retinoids work best. Makeup Artist’s Choice has an effective vitamin C and E serum and retinol available.

3. Moisturizer: Even oily skin needs moisturizer, but use one that is lightweight, gel-based, and non-comedogenic, or doesn’t block your pores, like CeraVe’s facial lotion. Dry skin may benefit from more cream-based moisturizers like MISSHA Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream. Most brands will label their products as gel or cream on their packaging.

4. Sunscreen: Apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF 15 minutes before heading outdoors, as it takes a while for sunscreen to activate. Darker skin tones actually need more sun protection because hyperpigmentation is harder to correct. Try EltaMD’s sunscreen, which offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Choose products that fit your skin type and sensitivity, and remember to read the labels. Some products, such as retinol or prescription retinoids, should only be applied at night.

thumbs up For all skin types
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Change pillow cases at least once a week.
  • Wash or wrap up hair before bed.
  • Wear sunscreen every day and apply 15 minutes before going out.

Start with a basic and simple routine to see how your skin reacts. Once you’re comfortable, you can then add extra products such as exfoliants, masks, and spot treatments to boost your skin’s health.

And don’t forget to patch test new products, especially if you suspect you have sensitive skin. This can help you identify potential allergic reactions.

To patch test a new product:

  1. Apply a small amount of product on your skin in a discreet area, such as the inside of your wrist or your inner arm.
  2. Wait 48 hours to see if there’s a reaction.
  3. Check the area at 96 hours after application to see if you have a delayed reaction.

An allergic reaction may include irritation, redness, small bumps, or itchiness. If you notice these symptoms, wash the area you tested with water and a gentle cleanser. Then return the product and try another that better suits your skin type.

DIY hacks to avoid (even if everyone does it)

People report wonders from using DIY hacks like lemon juice and toothpaste for common skin problems like acne bumps and dark spots. Even award-winning actress Emma Stone claims her skin care secret is baking soda. But the truth is these hacks may cause more long-term harm than benefit because they can damage your skin’s barrier.

thumbs down Avoid these DIY hacks
  • Lemon juice: It may have citric acidic, but it’s far too acidic and can cause dark spots to appear after sun exposure. It can also dry and irritate your skin.
  • Baking soda: At a pH level of 8, baking soda will stress your skin, significantly decrease your skin’s water content, and cause dry skin.
  • Garlic: In raw form, garlic can cause skin allergies, eczema, skin inflammation, and watery blisters.
  • Toothpaste: The ingredients in toothpaste may kill germs and absorb oil, but they can also dry out or irritate your skin.
  • Sugar: As an exfoliant, sugar is too harsh for the skin on your face.
  • Vitamin E: Topical application of vitamin E can irritate your skin and is not proven to improve scar appearance.

Some of these ingredients may be all natural and cost-effective, but they aren’t formulated for your skin. Even if you don’t feel immediate side effects, these ingredients can cause delayed or long-term damage. It’s best to use products formulated for your face. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist before trying DIY applications on your skin.

How to treat skin problems

There are ways to tackle skin problems without damaging your skin. Just remember the number one rule of skin care: Don’t pick! Picking at acne, blackheads, scabs, or other skin problems can cause open wounds or darker skin spots known as hyperpigmentation. Open wounds can lead to infections, more acne, or scars. The deeper the wound, the more likely your skin will scar.

Here are some scientifically backed ways to treat problem areas.

Acne

Acne treatment depends on how deep or serious your acne is. Overall skin care is the most important step in treating acne, but for mild acne you can use nonprescription products from your local drugstore such as:

Always apply sunscreen after using these products in the morning, since they can cause extra skin sensitivity.

For immediate, inflamed, and individual pimples, you can also try acne patches or stickers. These are clear, thick patches that work as spot treatments to help promote blemish healing and prevent infections. Like blister bandages, acne patches pull out the fluid, sometimes overnight. It’s best to use these before you sleep as makeup can’t cover them.

Sebaceous filaments

Sebaceous filaments are tiny, cylinder-like tubes in your pores that are whitish yellow. These are often confused with blackheads, but blackheads are actually a type of acne that’s oxidized. Sebaceous filaments can make your pores look bigger, and you may be tempted to remove them by pinching your skin or using pore strips. But these methods may have more side effects than benefits for your skin, especially if you don’t do them properly.

Overtime, you can also cause:

  • irritation
  • open pores and infection
  • dryness
  • redness
  • peeling

Topical preparations containing retinol or retinoids can help keep pores clear and clean. You may also find benefits from massaging your face with mineral or castor oil for one minute.

Another way of removing sebaceous filaments is with an extraction tool. This is a small metal instrument with a tiny circle at the end.

The safest method is to have an esthetician or dermatologist remove them for you, but you can also do this at home:

  1. Start with a clean face and instrument.
  2. Gently press the circle around the bump to see if the filament comes out. Be careful as excessive pressure can cause bruising and scarring.
  3. Treat the area with toner and moisturizer after.
  4. Always sanitize your instrument with rubbing alcohol before and after use to prevention infections.

You may also see extra benefits by applying benzoyl peroxide after washing before extraction.

Blemishes, scars, and hyperpigmentation

Blemishes, scars, and dark spots can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months to heal and fade. Immediate treatment for scars and blemishes include using makeup and sunscreen to avoid further sun damage and hyperpigmentation.

Other ingredients known to help fade scars include:

Silicone: Studies show that topical silicone can improve scar thickness, color, and texture. You can apply silicone gel for eight to 24 hours per day. Look for products with silicone dioxide listed as an ingredient.

Honey: Preliminary studies show that honey can heal wounds and scars. You may want to use honey if you’re looking for home treatment.

Vitamin C: Look for this ingredient when shopping for creams and moisturizers. Vitamin C works better when combined with other lightening ingredients like soy and licorice.

Niacinamide: Studies show that niacinamide can help reduce blemishes and dark spots, especially from acne. Topical two percent to five percent niacinamide is effective for people with lighter skin tones. An affordable option is The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% serum, which costs $5.90.

Retinoic acid: One study found that acne scars improved in 91.4 percent of people who applied a combination of retinoic acid and glycolic acid. The Ordinary also has a product that’s two percent retinoid for $9.80. Use products with this ingredient only at night.

Look for products with these ingredients and add them to your routine after washing your face. Don’t forget to always wear sunscreen after application to avoid sun damage and hyperpigmentation.

How to test your skin type at home

If you aren’t sure about your results from the quiz, you can also do a physical test to check your skin type. A home test measures sebum production. Sebum is a waxy, oily liquid that comes from your pores. The amount of sebum your skin produces can determine if your skin is:

  • dry
  • oily
  • normal
  • combination

Testing sebum production on a clean face is the most accurate way to determine what kind of skin you have. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash your face and pat it dry. Wait 30 minutes.
  2. Gently press oil blotting paper or tissue on your face. Press the paper on different areas of your skin, such as your forehead and nose, cheeks, and chin.
  3. Hold the sheet to the light to see how transparent the paper is.
Test resultsSkin type
No transparency, but with flakes or tight skindry
Soaked throughoily
Different levels of absorption on different areas of the facecombination
Not too oily and no flaky skinnormal
 

Along with the above skin types, you can also have sensitive skin, which doesn’t follow the sebum criteria. Sensitive skin depends on:

  • how fast your skin reacts to product application
  • how well your skin protects itself
  • how easily your skin turns red
  • likelihood of skin allergy

When to see a doctor or dermatologist

You should see a dermatologist if your skin problems don’t go away with over-the-counter products. More severe acne, scarring, or other problems may need prescription treatment such as oral antibiotics, birth control, or topical prescription retinoids. Your dermatologist may perform an extraction for deeper cysts or acne spots that are stuck underneath your skin.

Remember that your skin type can affect how products work. Using the wrong product, even when natural, can cause breakouts, worsen blemishes, or cause redness. It’s best to find out what skin type you have and build your skin care routine around that. You can also take notes on product ingredients to see if specific ingredients are causing unwanted skin reactions.

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