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Video: 5 mistakes that ruin your skin

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    JOE WITTE, announcer: TODAY'S HEALTH is brought to you by...

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: This morning on TODAY'S HEALTH , common mistakes that can ruin your skin. Whether you go to bed with your makeup on or you wake up to a morning cup of joe, some daily habits could actually be causing fine lines and wrinkles and worse. Dr. Debra Wattenberg is a New York City dermatologist. Dr. Wattenberg , good morning.

    Dr. DEBRA WATTENBERG (Dermatologist): Morning.

    MORALES: So of a lot of those bad behaviors can wreak havoc on your skin. Let's start with the first one, being smoking. We know this -- like 20 percent of Americans are still smoking these days. Know it's bad for your health, but it's also not great for the skin. How?

    Dr. WATTENBERG: Well, smoking actually ages your skin much more quickly than it would if you weren't smoking. It's one of the worst things you can do because nicotine and the other chemicals that are found in cigarettes...

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: ...actually can cause destruction of elastin and collagen, which are the main components of skin.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: Can destroy blood vessels in the skin so your skin doesn't get a good flow of oxygen and it doesn't get a good blood flow, so your skin looks dull and it looks sallow. And then of course there are the issues of your skin yellowing from cigarettes.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: And it can cause those pucker lines around the mouth and increase crow's-feet. Destroys your hair.

    MORALES: Brown spots, discolorations.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: It can discolor your skin. So smoking is probably the worst thing you can possibly do for your body, including your skin, and it makes you look older.

    MORALES: All right, same can be said for alcohol, caffeine and junk food. They can all contribute to bad skin. What are the effects?

    Dr. WATTENBERG: So alcohol and caffeine, anything that has a lot of caffeine in it, will actually dehydrate your skin. And what happens is they act like a diuretic and they prevent you from holding onto water so that your skin looks sort of prunedlike.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: It can get dry and it can look washed out. Junk food contains a lot of preservatives and that will do the same thing. High salt content will destroy your skin as well. So you want to really eat a healthy diet. If you are drinking a lot of caffeine or drinking some alcohol...

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: ...make sure to hydrate a lot. That will make a huge difference. You need approximately six to eight ounce -- six to eight glasses of water per day. But if you're drinking caffeine, you're drinking a lot of coffee and alcohol, you want to actually increase that so that the balance is better.

    MORALES: OK. And next, breakouts. Now, they can affect teenagers to up to adults, and your skin's always -- your skin always has that bad reaction. What's the best way when it comes to dealing with acne?

    Dr. WATTENBERG: So the worst things you can do when you have acne is try to scrub away your acne.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: And people try to do that all the time. They come in with their irritated face as a result of scrubbing and overwashing.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: But acne's not really caused by dirt. It's most likely not a result of cleanliness but rather a result of hormones.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: And so you want to use products that are going to affect the acne, like salacylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, some prescription items. The other thing is you don't want to pick and squeeze at your acne because that also will cause scaring, discoloration, pigmentation. And you can make your acne worse because you can drive the bacteria deeper down into the skin and create real infections.

    MORALES: Can be hard to resist. So also you say use topical treatments to treat if you do have unsightly pimples, right?

    Dr. WATTENBERG: Yeah, and you can get some over-the-counter products. They're available in drugstores, they're easy to find, and then you can see a dermatologist if those aren't working for you.

    MORALES: OK, lack of sleep. We also know it can stress out your skin as well. What is it doing?

    Dr. WATTENBERG: So when you don't sleep, stress on your body causes the release of a hormone called cortisol. And when cortisol is released it makes your skin oily, it causes acne, which will make your skin look, you know, less attractive.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: It will also cause breakouts and flares. And so when you don't sleep, your skin just doesn't look its best.

    MORALES: OK, and the biggest mistake a lot of people are making is they're not putting enough sunscreen on. And even now in the wintertime you've got to be reapplying. It's not just one time a day, right?

    Dr. WATTENBERG: So once a day is probably one of the worst things that you can do for your skin because the sun is still really strong and people spend a lot of time outdoors.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. WATTENBERG: It was, you know, beautiful this time of year here in New York , and in the Northeast or anywhere you need to reapply your sunscreen because the sun reflects off of the snow and it reflects off of ice. And people will get sunburned really easily, so you need to reapply because sunscreen is the key to youthful skin.

    MORALES: And I 'll just remind viewers as well, skipping a yearly exam not good as well. Make sure you get in, check in with your dermatologist. Dr. Debra Wattenberg . Thanks, as always. Great information.

By Health writer
TODAY.com
updated 11/21/2011 3:36:55 PM ET 2011-11-21T20:36:55

Maybe you take all the right steps — all 17 of them , even — to care for your skin. But simple, seemingly innocuous habits like a daily cup of coffee may be undermining your best efforts, explained New York City dermatologist Dr. Deborah Wattenberg this morning on TODAY. Here's what to avoid to keep your skin looking young and healthy.

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1. Seriously, stop smoking.

"Smoking is probably the worst thing you can possibly do for your body, including your skin," Wattenberg explains — yet 20 percent of Americans are still lighting up.

Here's just one reason to consider kicking the habit: Nicotine and other chemicals found in cigarettes destroy the skin's elastin and collagen, leading to wrinkles and fine lines. Smoking also takes a toll on the skin's blood vessels, restricting oxygen flow and subsequently causing your skin to appear dull and sallow. Habitual smoking can also lead to those pucker lines around the mouth, Wattenberg says.

2. Wine, candy and coffee are aging your skin.

Turns out, all of your favorite vices — alcohol, junk food and caffeine — are wrecking your skin, too. "Alcohol and caffeine ... act like a diuretic and prevent you from holding on to water, so your skin looks sort of prune-like. It can get dry and get washed out," Wattenberg says. "Junk food contains a lot of preservatives and that will do the same thing."

So if you're drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol, remember to stay hydrated. We need about six to eight glasses of water per day, anyway, but if you're drinking a lot of lattes to get through the day, you'll need to drink even more water to keep your skin looking pretty.

3. Your lack of sleep is written all over your face.

Actually, if you're drinking caffeine to stay alert throughout the day, we need to talk about that, too. You may think you're getting away with six hours of sleep a night, but your skin tells the real story.

"When you don't sleep, stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, (which) makes your skin oily (and) causes acne, which makes your skin look less attractive," Wattenbergy says.

4. Be nicer to acne-prone skin.

This is counterintuitive, but Wattenberg says when your skin breaks out, make sure you don't scrub your face too aggressively. "The worst thing you can do when you have acne is to try to scrub away your acne," Wattenberg says. "People try to do that all the time, and come in with irritated faces as a result of scrubbing or overwashing."

Acne, she explains, isn't caused by dirt or uncleanliness — it's hormones that are more likely making you break out. So instead of rubbing your face raw, wash gently, using products that are going to target the acne like salycilic acid. "And you don't want to pick and squeeze — it causes scarring, pigmentation and makes it worse because you can drive the bacteria deeper into the skin and create infections," Wattenberg says. Yikes.

5. You're not wearing enough sunscreen.

Yes, we know it's winter. But you still need to apply sunscreen — several times a day, Wattenberg insists. "Once a day is probably one of the worst things you can do for your skin, because the sun is still really strong, and people spend a lot of time outdoors," she explains.

Especially in parts of the country where the weather is turning snowier and icier, remember to reapply your sunscreen — the sun reflects off the snow and ice, and you can get burned easily. "Sunscreen is the key to youthful skin," she says.

OK, now we know what not to do. But let's focus on the positive here — what do you do to keep your skin looking healthy and youthful? Tell us about your skin secrets on our Facebook page.

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