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1. Nasty habit: Blowing off sunscreen on cold or cloudy days
Don't kid yourself -- the sun will still damage your skin. Although you get less UVB exposure (the short-wave "burning" rays) in non-summer months, UVA exposure (the longer-wave "aging" rays) is consistent year-round, points out Heidi Waldorf, MD, a New York City dermatologist. Remember, it's the long-term accumulation of both types of rays that causes wrinkles and stubborn brown spots.
Easy fix: Make sun protection as routine as brushing your teeth. Since you moisturize in the a.m. anyway, find a formula that also contains SPF 15 and one or more good UVA protective ingredients like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, or Mexoryl.
Try: L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Complete SPF 30 Day Lotion, $17
2. Nasty habit: Mistreating your makeup brushes
Unless you wash them regularly, your beauty tools get piled with old makeup, oil, dead skin, bacteria, even fungi -- bad for your skin and for the life of the brushes. "Microorganisms can damage the bristles and make them fall out," says Wende Zomnir, creative director of Urban Decay. "Dirty brushes also ruin the integrity of the makeup shades you use."
Easy fix: Most pros recommend that you wash your brushes at least once a month with a gentle shampoo -- once a week if you tend to break out. For quick cleaning, mist a brush spray cleaner on a tissue to wipe away buildup on bristles.
Try Bare: Escentuals Quick Change Brush Cleaner, $18
3. Nasty habit: Squeezing your zits
Think your pimple looks bad now? Popping it will only aggravate it, since your fingers push some of the pus deeper into the skin, says Dr. Waldorf. This can cause the pimple to become inflamed, meaning you'll have to wait even longer for it to heal. Worse, you can spread bacteria to other areas of your face, leading to new blemishes.
Easy fix: Keep your hands off your face! Dry out the breakout with a spot treatment that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid and reduce inflammation with a dab of hydrocortisone cream. For big, painful cysts, apply a warm compress and make an appointment with your dermatologist for a corticosteroid injection.
Try: Yes to Tomatoes Clear Skin Spot Stick, $10
4. Nasty habit: Biting your nails or picking your cuticles
Not only do nibbled nails and shredded cuticles look sloppy, but they can lead to bacterial infections around your nail bed. And let's face it: Sticking your fingers in your mouth is pretty gross (plus it's a good way for you to pick up viruses).
Easy fix: Keep your nails filed short and polished and your hands moisturized. Bitter-flavored polish or treatments like Orly No Bite, $10, also help.
Try: Eucerin Daily Skin Balance Hand Cream, $6
5. Nasty habit: Going to bed with makeup on
We know you're tired, but washing your face at the end of the day is not an optional beauty step (and don't forget to wipe off your eye makeup, too). Cleansing your face isn't just about preventing breakouts, points out Jeannette Graf, MD, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. "Your skin is most amenable to renewal while you sleep. When you leave makeup and crud on your face, you miss out on nature's own healing powers."
Easy fix: Use a mild, creamy formula to clear your skin without drying it out and an oil-based eye-makeup remover to lift clingy mascara residue. Premoistened cleansing towelettes come in handy for those nights when you just can't turn on the faucet. Remember to follow with an anti-aging treatment or night cream.
Try: Biore Makeup Removing Towelettes, $8
6. Nasty habit: Rubbing your eyes
Avoid the temptation to rub dry or irritated eyes. "Friction makes your mucous membranes release histamines, so they get more itchy, watery, and swollen," says Susan Resnick, OD, an ophthalmologist in New York City. It also damages collagen and elastin, making those crow's-feet you hate even worse.
Easy fix: For quick relief, use unpreserved artificial tears to help soothe and moisturize dry eyes. And keep the skin around your eyes hydrated with a mild eye cream or Aquaphor. If the irritation doesn't improve within a few weeks, see your eye doctor.
Try: Dr. Hauschka Eye Contour Day Balm, $52
7. Nasty habit: Over-exfoliating your skin
As you get older, you need a little extra help removing dead skin to keep your complexion smooth and bright. But don't scrub too hard or too often -- you'll strip your skin of its protective lipids and end up looking red and irritated, says Dr. Graf.
Easy fix: Dial back on the frequency. "Once a week is plenty if you have dry skin or if you use a prescription retinoid," says Washington, D.C.-based dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD. If you're oily, every day is probably okay. Cleansers or peels with glycolic acid and handheld cleansing brushes tend to be gentle yet effective options.
Try: Olay Professional ProX Advanced Cleansing System, $30, or Avon Anew Clinical Advanced Retexturizing Peel, $25
8. Nasty habit: Scratching your arms and legs
Spring may almost be here, but try telling that to your dehydrated skin. "By the end of the season, most people's skin is rough, flaky, and itchy," says Dr. Graf. When you scratch a spot that's already in bad shape, it becomes itchier and more irritated and can even bleed and get infected.
Easy fix: To boost your skin's hydration levels, moisturize in the morning and before bed. Pick a rich lotion that contains petrolatum to seal water into your skin and colloidal oatmeal or hydrocortisone to calm the itch. You should also skip the soap and water and use a moisturizing body wash in the shower.
Try: Cetaphil Restoraderm Skin Restoring Body Wash, $15, and Aveeno Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream, $6
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2011.