Melissa Juried Kriebel
The new year is the perfect time to check in with your skin-care routine and reassess how your habits may be helping (or harming) your skin. Of course, resolutions are easy to make on January 1, and more difficult to sustain all year long.
Change is never easy, but consistency is key — especially with skin care, says Heather Richmond, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with the Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center in Houston. Regular use of high quality skin care will make a huge difference over the long term, she says, but don’t expect results overnight, particularly when it comes to reducing signs of aging.
Take retinoids, for example: They’re known to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, according to Harvard Medical School, but it can take up to six months of regular use before you’ll see improvements. So any resolution you make now, plan to stick with for for the best results.
To that end, here are the top skin-care resolutions that five board-certified dermatologists recommend:
1. Do Apply Sunscreen Every Day, Every Season
Sunscreen may seem basic, but it’s your most effective skin-care tool. “When people ask what’s the No. 1 anti-aging cream, it’s sunscreen,” says Cheryl Burgess, MD, the founder and president of the Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery in Washington, DC.
The benefits are more than just cosmetic. “It’s been shown that consistent use of sunscreen has the greatest impact in preventing accelerated aging and skin cancers,” says Mamina Turegano, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Sanova Dermatology in Old Metairie, Louisiana. “I would love for everyone to make a commitment to wearing sunscreen daily as part of their morning routine.”
She recommends wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and searching for a moisturizer with SPF, too. Broad spectrum means the sunscreen will guard against the harmful effects of UVA rays, which contribute to premature skin aging, and UVB rays, which cause sunburn, per the Skin Cancer Foundation.
If you’ve made it this far and believe you’re exempt because you aren’t outside in the winter months, think again — studies show even blue light generated from our computers and electronic devices has a negative impact on our skin. For example, one small study found that blue light exposure was linked with the production of free radicals, which are associated with premature skin aging.
Not to mention that, as the Skin Cancer Foundation notes, UVA rays can even harm your skin through windows, as when you’re in a car or working indoors with natural light. “Sunscreen is now 24/7,” says Dr. Burgess.
RELATED: Is Blue Light Harming Your Skin Health?
2. Don’t Sleep in Your Makeup
Sleeping with makeup on can cause a host of skin issues, says Burgess, including clogged pores, breakouts, and extreme lip dryness. It can also pose a risk of severe damage to your eyes, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. “That’s a bad habit a lot of people have,” says Burgess. Luckily, this resolution is simple: Wash your face before your head hits the pillow. If you’re wearing oil-based concealer, you’ll need a solvent-based makeup removal — Burgess recommends foaming cleansers, which she says can emulsify most foundations and lipstick. Be sure to use a gentle cleanser around the eyes however, as they are more sensitive.
3. Do Winter-Proof Your Skin
“Winter is perhaps the most challenging season for your skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He recommends that people resolve to use additional skin-care products in the winter as cold weather, low humidity, and wind take a toll on the skin’s outer layer.
Look for products that contain moisturizing humectants, like glycerin and ammonium lactate, because these ingredients can actually pull moisture to your skin, Burgess says. She recommends AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Lotion as one drugstore option that won’t break the bank. Or you can look for generic ammonium lactate, which usually costs less than $20 per bottle. You may also opt for a cream or an ointment, which tend to come in tubes or tubs, rather than lotions, as the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends. Burgess recommends a HydraFacial, which can help restore moisture into your skin during winter months.
RELATED: Top Tips for Healthy Winter Skin
4. Don’t Use Indoor Tanning Beds
Even though research has shown that indoor tanning significantly increases the risk of melanoma, a report published in Current Oncology in November 2022 found that more than one-third of Americans have used indoor tanning devices. Those numbers are declining from their peak, but the United States has not moved to ban tanning beds as Brazil and Australia have, notes the Skin Cancer Foundation. Dr. Richmond and Dr. Turegano both say indoor tanning is a huge no-no, and Turegano hopes to see tanning beds made illegal in 2022.
5. Do Throw Out Expired or Unused Products
Many people use the new year as a time to declutter their homes — and if your skin-care shelf is out of control, it might be time to cut down.
Turegano can sympathize: “I like to try as many products as I can to see if they are worth recommending, but my bathroom closet has turned into a junkyard with numerous half-filled containers of skin care — many of which are probably expired. It makes skin care seem overwhelming.”
Her personal skin-care resolution is to streamline and organize her skin-care products, and she plans to use the KonMari method to edit and categorize her items.
Not sure where to start? Check the expiration dates on all your skin-care products, and commit to tossing anything that’s past its use-by date. Also ditch anything that is irritating to your skin. Then try to streamline further, says Turegano. “If you have two hyaluronic acid products, you probably don’t need both of them. In terms of deciding what to ditch, if you have the same type of product, look for one that might carry a higher percentage of the active ingredient.”
6. Don’t Pick Your Skin When You’re Stressed
Skin picking can cause infection and scarring, and it’s one habit that Turegano wants to see people break in the new year. While she notes that many people pick their skin for stress relief, Turegano suggests people resolve to find other stress-relieving alternatives to skin picking in 2022, such as popping bubble wrap, aerobic exercise, and getting facials — which are recommended by the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.
That said, in some cases, skin picking is a clinical impulse control disorder, according to the International OCD Foundation. They note that up to 1 in 20 people live with this condition — and according to a survey published in March 2021 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, skin picking increased among this group during the COVID-19 pandemic. If this is the case for you, guidance from a mental health practitioner may be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help treat skin-picking disorders, per the International OCD Foundation.
7. Do Keep Your Routine Simple and Consistent
“I’d like to see simpler skin-care routines and have people ditch their multistep regimens,” says Dr. Zeichner. “More is not better and can just lead to irritation. Overscrubbing, overexfoliating, and over-applying products is not necessarily any better than sticking to a simple, effective skin-care routine.”
Turegano says a good rule of thumb is to stick to three simple products that will make a difference: a sunscreen, a cleanser, and a moisturizer.
RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About a Minimalist Skin-Care Routine
8. Don’t Smoke
Almost 40 million people in the United States smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Plus, with the rise of recreational cannabis, the category “smokers” is expanding: In a 2021 Gallup poll, 12 percent of adults say they currently smoke cannabis, the highest number yet.
Whether you’re lighting up a tobacco cigarette or a cannabis joint, Burgess notes that smoking does affect your skin, making it appear dry, dull, or ruddy. She suggests avoiding smoke any way you can, which for cannabis users may mean switching to edibles rather than giving up THC.
If you’re keen to kick your tobacco smoking habit in the new year, the CDC offers information and resources to help you do so, while the American Lung Association offers a Freedom From Smoking program that includes interactive online features and group clinics.
9. Do Amp Up Your Routine With Retinol and Vitamin C
If you’re happy with your current skin-care routine, you can always resolve to step it up by adding more targeted products. Richmond, Burgess, and Zeichner all agree that skin can benefit from vitamin C serum and sunscreen in the morning and retinol at night. (Per Harvard Health Publishing, retinol is a milder form of topical vitamin A–derived retinoid. Retinol products are available over-the-counter, while retinoids typically require a prescription.)
“Vitamin C is an antioxidant,” says Burgess, “so it’s a product that helps with environmental stress, aging, and oxidizing processes.” She says it’s beneficial to put on under your sunscreen as it does double duty, both protecting from the sun’s rays and reducing the appearance of some of your sun spots or pigmentation.
Meanwhile, Richmond says that retinoids have the best evidence for minimizing visible signs of aging, and her personal skin care resolution is to up her retinol dose.
There are several types of over-the-counter retinol products, and studies show all retinoids seem to reduce photoaging, so personal tolerability is the biggest consideration in trying to pick which one is best for you, says Roopal Kundu, MD, a professor of dermatology and medical education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and the founding director of the Northwestern Center for Ethnic Skin and Hair.
Dr. Kundu says a retinol routine will vary considerably by geographic location, season, and skin type. To start, Kundu says to apply a product twice a week as part of a bedtime routine — retinoids make you more sun sensitive, she says, so apply at night and at least two to three days apart. Then, every one to two weeks, you can increase by one additional application a week. “The long-term goal is to apply it nightly if tolerated, but some will only be able to use it two to three times a week,” Kundu says.
To put this ramped-up routine simply: “Protect your skin and prevent damage in the morning, and repair your skin in the evening,” says Zeichner.
10. Don’t Over-Exfoliate
Adding new active ingredients is an effective way to amp up your existing routine — just incorporate them slowly, making note of how your skin reacts. Exfoliants like retinol can be especially beneficial, but in their case, less is usually more. Over-exfoliating is a concern, and it can cause some discomfort, especially in those with sensitive skin.
“Retinols, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and other exfoliating actives can be extremely beneficial for your skincare routine, but overdoing it on exfoliation can compromise your skin barrier, which can lead to inflammation, dryness, bumps, rashes, or even scarring,” explains Melanie Palm, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Diego and the founder of Art of Skin MD.
When it comes to introducing new exfoliants into your routine, Dr. Palm says to start slow. You can gradually increase your tolerance for chemical exfoliants over time, so there’s no need to jump into the deep end straight away. It’s especially important to skip exfoliating on days you shave, wax, or thread, Palm says.
For those new to exfoliation, Palm recommends a gentler type of product called a gommage. It’s a cream or paste that combines the best of both physical and chemical exfoliation, gently sloughing off dead skin cells to achieve smooth skin. How often you should exfoliate depends on your skin type and exfoliation method, according to the AAD, noting that more aggressive methods usually need to be done less often.
11. Do Be More Mindful of Sugar Intake
Resolutions relating to nutrition are nothing new. If you want to cut down on your added sugar intake because of the potential links between sugar and negative health effects, as Mayo Clinic notes, you can add the skin-related effects to the list. Sugar may contribute to skin aging and acne.
“One thing that is often overlooked in maintaining skin health and overall health is diet,” says Carmen Castilla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with the New York Dermatology Group in New York City. “High sugar levels have been associated with increased perceived age.”
A reaction called glycation is partially responsible for sugar’s ability to influence skin aging, according to past research. “Glucose can cause a chemical reaction with collagen that negatively impacts its structure and function, which causes collagen to become stiff and impairs collagen turnover,” Dr. Castilla explains. Collagen gives skin its support, so impaired collagen could result in a loss of firmness and elasticity.
There may also be a link between a high-sugar diet and acne, according to a systematic review published in March 2022 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Researchers found that foods with a high glycemic load, such as sweets, can significantly affect the occurrence of acne. As a result, the AAD recommends a low-glycemic diet for reducing acne breakouts.
12. Don’t Take Scalding Hot Showers
Scalding hot showers may be comforting, but it’s one habit Palm hopes to see people refrain from in the new year. While she notes that many people retreat to long, hot showers for warmth during the colder months, Palm warns that “overdoing it can strip moisture from your skin and cause dryness, scaling, and itching.”
Generally, long showers aren’t recommended for the sake of skin, and the temperature of water when bathing or showering shouldn’t be too hot. The continuous exposure to water damages skin barrier function, with hot water causing even more harm, according to a study published in January 2022 in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. Researchers found that exposure to hot water increased transepidermal water loss (TEWL), the evaporation of water through the epidermis, and erythema, a type of skin redness.
To reduce the dryness and itchiness associated with scalding hot showers, the Cleveland Clinic recommends turning down the heat — though you can still enjoy warm showers. Palm says minding the temperature in your shower will avoid compromising your skin barrier, and immediately applying a moisturizer afterwards will help keep skin hydrated.
If you can’t quit hot showers cold turkey, avoid getting very hot water on the face at the least, Palm says. “Wash your face at a lukewarm temperature at your bathroom sink before going in the shower because the skin on your face is more delicate than the skin on your body,” she notes.
13. Do Be Diligent About Your Annual Skin Check
Similar to how your regular doctor recommends an annual checkup, dermatologists want you to get in the habit of scheduling an annual skin check. According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and many of its causes, such as exposure to UV rays, are preventable. Skin exams also serve as a form of early detection for skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
With soaring rates of skin cancer, a dermatologist can check your skin for any new moles, rashes, or other signs of cancerous skin damage. You can also use it as an opportunity to bring up concerns about skin conditions you may have.
“Be diligent about seeing your dermatologist once a year for a full body skin check to keep tabs on any abnormal moles or growths,” says Palm, who also notes that the skin can be a window into other issues. “Skin checks are often also a useful tool in identifying other underlying health problems early, including hormonal or autoimmune complications.”
An annual skin check should be done in addition to other methods of sun protection that could lower your risk of skin cancer but shouldn’t replace measures like applying broad-spectrum sunscreen or avoiding indoor tanning beds.
Caring for your skin is important, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Follow these resolutions, and your skin will be healthy and glowing for not only this year, but years to come.