10 Skin Care Mistakes That Can Make You Look Older

By Barbara Brody |

Avoid these common missteps to maintain fresh, healthy skin at any age.

skin care mistakes

Let’s face it: If you’re in your 50s, 60s, or older, no one is going to mistake you for a 20-something.

That’s more than okay—embracing your age is healthy—but there’s no need to appear older than you actually are. Genetics play a role in how your skin looks and feels over the years, but how you treat it matters a lot too.

Are you making one of these common slipups? Find out so you can change your ways and look your best for the years to come.

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Skin Care Mistake #1: You Don’t Wear Enough Sunscreen

“The number-one mistake most people make is not applying sunscreen, which can help prevent wrinkles, discoloration from brown or sun spots, and redness,” says Noelani González, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West in New York City.

This probably isn’t news to you, but even if you already religiously wear sunscreen, there’s a good chance you’re not using enough.

“Most people only apply about 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount,” Dr. González says. “You need about half a teaspoon for your face and neck and about one ounce—or enough to fill up a shot glass—to properly cover your body.”

Make sure to pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Check out our guide to the 14 beauty products dermatologists swear by to see their top sunscreen picks and more.

Skin Care Mistake #2: You Skimp on Moisturizer

“Moisturizing skin becomes more important as we age,” says Cynthia Bailey, M.D., a dermatologist in Sebastopol, California. “Skin structure and physiologic changes lead to dryness, and dry skin looks crepey, flaky, and dull.”

That’s true of your face, but it’s also true of the skin on your arms and legs. If you don’t keep your limbs hydrated, you may develop a condition called asteatotic eczema—“an itchy, red rash that happens in the elderly,” Dr. Bailey says.

“Simply applying a rich, hydrating moisturizer after the bath or shower will solve these problems. Skin will appear dewy, soft, and more youthful.”

One option: CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion is a drugstore skin care product that dermatologists love for its ceramides, or natural fats that seal in hydration.

Skin Care Mistake #3: You Ignore Flakiness

Exfoliating once per week helps eliminate flakiness, and Dr. Bailey likes the Salux Japanese cloth for hard-to-reach places, like your back. But if you notice dry, red, crusty patches on your face, you’re probably not dealing with a case of regular dry skin. You may have a condition called seborrhea, which becomes more common with age, Dr. Bailey says.

“On the scalp, it’s called dandruff, which everyone is familiar with,” she says. “Crusty facial, ear, and scalp skin can age your appearance.”

You can’t cure seborrhea, but you can tame it, Dr. Bailey explains. Try a shampoo or facial cleanser with pyrithione zinc or ketoconazole, or a high-concentration green tea cream.

“Stubborn seborrhea responds to over-the-counter antifungal creams such as clotrimazole,” she adds. If none of those options work, see a dermatologist. You might need a prescription.

Skin Care Mistake #4: You Use Bar Soap All Over

Yes, it’s cheap and easy, but bar soap is generally too harsh to use on your face.

“Replace it with a gentle, creamy, fragrance-free cleanser,” says Rhonda Klein, M.D., M.P.H., a partner at Modern Dermatology of Connecticut. “Fragrances can irritate the skin. Avoiding them reduces your risk of developing dry, itchy skin.”

Check the label before you buy. Fragrance-free, paraben-free, lanolin-free, and preservative-free options are best, like Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser, which is another drugstore skin care product dermatologists love.

Skin Care Mistake #5: You Treat Your Eyes Like the Rest of Your Face

The skin around your eyes is very thin and lacks oil glands, so it requires special care, says Manish Shah, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Denver.

His advice: Pamper the area by using a cream that includes peptides, which stimulate collagen production. Eye treatments that contain caffeine or niacin will also help combat puffiness, lines, wrinkles, and dark circles under your eyes, he says.

Skin Care Mistake #6: You Go to Bed Without Washing Your Face

Going to bed with makeup on—or even just sunscreen—is a big no-no, Dr. González says.

“We are exposed to many pollutants throughout the day, and it’s important to remove them and let your skin breathe,” she says. “Going to bed with your makeup on can cause premature aging and acne breakouts.”

Skin Care Mistake #7: You’re Too Rough When Applying or Removing Makeup

Tugging on your skin can cause damage, especially around your eyes, Dr. Shah says. He suggests using your ring finger to carefully pat on skin care products and makeup in this sensitive area.

When applying eye shadow or eyeliner, just gently close your eyelids instead of pulling them taut. If that’s too difficult, invest in some smoother, easier-to-apply products.

When it’s time to take your makeup off, go slow. Coat a cotton round with a gentle makeup remover, and hold it over your closed eye for about a minute. That gives it time to dissolve the product so you can easily wipe it away instead of scrubbing.

Skin Care Mistake #8: You Take Long, Hot Showers

“Hot water can strip the natural oils from your skin, leaving it dry and vulnerable to cracking, especially in the winter,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “Losing these oils compromises your skin’s barrier and thus protection from irritants,” she says.

“It is best to shower in warm to lukewarm water instead,” Dr. Engelman says. If you must take a hot shower, keep it to 10 minutes max. And pat your skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing the moisture away.

Skin Care Mistake #9: You Use the Wrong Products for Your Skin Type

“If you’ve been using the same kinds of products since you were a teenager, it might be time to reevaluate your arsenal—because your skin changes over time,” says Melissa Lekus, a skin care consultant in Los Angeles.

Most people need to transition to hydrating, moisturizing products as they get older. “It’s important not to overstrip the skin of its natural oils, as oil is going to naturally keep the skin looking youthful and plump,” she says.

Skin Care Mistake #10: You Never Seek Professional Help

While there’s a lot you can do on your own to care for your skin, sometimes it’s smart to bring in an expert. Even if you aren’t interested in “antiaging fixes” like Botox, fillers, and cosmetic lasers, a dermatologist can help with common age-related skin concerns like skin tags and hemangiomas, an abnormal buildup of blood vessels on or under the surface of the skin, Dr. Klein says.

“These are usually harmless, but may cause irritation and discomfort,” she explains.

It’s also extremely important to see a dermatologist whenever you notice a change in the skin to make sure it’s not skin cancer. Something that looks unusual—whether it’s on your face, neck, hand, or elsewhere on the skin—is always worth getting checked out. A crusty spot, for instance, could be a precancerous growth called an actinic keratosis.

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