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How to Really Take Care of Your Skin

Even if your skin is already spotless

A woman with long hair, red lipstick and red fingernails uses her hand to peel off a cosmetic face mask. The mask is white and it still covers half of her face. She is smiling and her eyes are closed.
Photo credit: Trunk

Dr. Alloo, a practicing dermatologist at Northwell Health, is also an assistant professor of dermatology at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.  

When a patient comes to see me, it’s usually because they have a particular skin concern: acne that won’t quit, a new or changing mole, or a family history of skin cancer they’re concerned about. But all too often, for people with clear skin and no active skin concerns, proper skincare can fall by the wayside.

Of course, I understand why. We lead busy lives and there’s so much we’re already supposed to do—from flossing to getting eight glasses of water per day, it can be overwhelming. And as long as nothing is “wrong,” it often feels harmless to skip your routine for a day or two (or three). But then the days add up and it’s been weeks since we last did that thing we really should be doing, and we start to slide down that slippery slope.

Why does it matter?

Though you may not remember this from your elementary school biology class, the skin is the largest organ in our bodies. It acts as a gatekeeper to ward off bacteria from our environment. But from natural wear and tear over time—and especially from neglect and/or lack of sun protection—it can become damaged, dry and thinned out, putting you at risk for premature aging, eczema and even skin cancer.

We do a lot of damaging things in our day-to-day lives that can’t be helped, from exposing ourselves to the sun’s harmful rays to heating and cooling our homes with dry air. We scrub our hands with products that can strip away natural oils that protect our skin and nails. After all that, our skin needs a bit of help to heal.

Just as you would reinforce a brick wall with mortar and cement, you have to provide the right nutrients to reinforce and heal your skin. Don’t know where to begin? These are the basic steps.

The golden rule: Use SPF and moisturizer every single day.

I’m a big believer in keeping things simple: The best and easiest thing you can do for your skin is to use sunscreen and moisturizer daily—even in winter. Apply a minimum of SPF 30 to every area exposed to sun, such as your face and hands. Remember that the sun’s rays reach us even through car and office windows.

Next, use a moisturizer to help fill in and reinforce the cracks (and, yes, there are cracks in dry skin—even if they’re too tiny for you to see). In terms of moisturizers, creams and ointments are more hydrating than lotions.

At the end of a long day, wash away the grime.

As important as sunscreen and moisturizer are, regularly applying products on top of the sweat and dirt we accumulate throughout our days can contribute to clogged pores and acne. Adding a cleanser to your routine helps to wash the day away.

I recommend looking for cleansers that are free of “microbeads” and “exfoliators,” as these can irritate your skin. You don’t need cleansers that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid unless you are acne prone, and even then, you should consult with a dermatologist before using them. Cleanse just once or twice a day, because over-cleansing further strips away your natural oils, harming your skin rather than helping.

Get a head start on anti-aging.

There are a lot of anti-aging products on the market; they often contain hyaluronic acid and retinol, which can sometimes help keep your skin looking youthful. But no product can reverse damage already done. The sun wears down the elastic tissue in your skin—thinning it over time and causing wrinkles. It also impacts the distribution of our pigment-producing cells leading to skin discoloration. Lastly, the harmful effects of chronic UV exposure to our skin can cause skin cancer. Bottom line, you want to invest early to protect your skin. Halt photoaging and minimize your skin cancer risk by using a sunscreen daily.

For kids, layer on the protection.

Looking to protect your kids? Even more important than slathering on sunscreen (although that’s very important) is using hats, SPF shirts and other protective clothing. This will not only shield them, but will show them the importance of keeping their skin healthy—making them more likely to adopt good habits later on in life.

Always test products first.

It can take a bit of trial and error to find the right product for you, especially if you have sensitive skin. I always tell my patients to test products on a small area of skin for a few days before using them on larger areas. To do this, apply a small amount of the product to an easily accessible area like your forearm. If you don’t notice any reaction after a few days, it should be safe for you to use regularly.

When it comes to sun protection, I recommend going with a physical blocker if you have sensitive skin. This type of sunscreen uses minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to block the sun; the minerals sit on top of your skin to reflect the sun’s harmful rays away so they are not absorbed. With chemical sunscreens—the other type—ingredients such as oxybenzone and avobenzone get absorbed into the skin; in rare cases, they can cause an allergic reaction.

When it comes to your skin, prevention goes a long way. As a skin doctor I can tell you that the sooner you implement a proper skincare routine—which should also include regular visits to a dermatologist to check for sun spots and other potential signs of skin cancer—the healthier your skin will be in the long run.

Next Steps and Useful Resources

  • Find out more about Dr. Allireza A. Alloo, or any of our other Northwell Health physicians using the Find a Doctor search
  • It’s never too late (or too soon!) to get started on proper skincare. To find a dermatologist near you, call (516) 719-DERM.
Published January 8th, 2018