Nobody’s perfect. Even the best-groomed woman commits beauty crimes and takes time-saving short-cuts (with her skin and hair paying the price). The good news: there’s no need to sign up to the beauty world’s equivalent of The Priory to get those bad habits licked. Mostly, bad beauty habits are born from ignorance, not mere sloth. (The punishment, though, can still be wrinkles, lines, spots and hair problems).
So here, a rundown of some of the worst beauty crimes and misdemeanours – and how you can get into beauty rehab, now…
1 Sharing make-up and skincare products. This can put you on the fast track to eye and skin infections. In a cosmetic crunch, you can ‘borrow’ some products from friends/hostesses: neck creams, blushers, even powder (provided you use cotton wool to apply, rather than someone else’s festering sponge!) but avoid anything that you use around the eyes or lips. In fact, according to clinical dermatologist, Dr. Ronald Sherman, ‘The majority of eye irritations are not caused by eye make-up itself, but by bacterial contaminants.’ (One last caveat: if you’ve been suffering from a virus, an eye flare-up or a cold sore, it’s also wise to replace all make-up that is used around your own lips or eyes. It may contain germs that could lead to reinfection.)
2 Squeezing spots. Or rather, squeezing spots in the ‘wrong way’. Provided skin isn’t sensitive or irritated, most dermatologists agree it isn’t harmful to squeeze – either by hand, or suctioning with a machine – provided it’s done by professional hands, but at-home help is a touchier subject. The problem is that most people come in from work, drop their bags, rush to the mirror and start pawing at their face. Eve Lom once shared with me the ultimate how-to, which I’ve since passed on to many spot sufferers. ‘You have to prepare skin, first, by cleansing, then warming it. Ensure hands are clean, too. Take a piece of cotton wool and soak it in hot water, then hold over the spot for around six seconds, repeating five or six times before squeezing. Never try to squeeze just a red lump; unless there’s a “head” on it, you will just spread the infection and make matters worse.’ Beauty emergencies are one thing, however. ‘But on a daily basis, squeezing can damage and scar skin.’
3 Only cleaning your make-up sponges when they start to – well, whiff. Or your brushes. Or those little applicators that come with your make-up. (If you can hang onto them for more than five minutes, that is). Most of us are notoriously lazy about brush hygiene, harbouring who-knows-what in our face-shaping tools. Use a mild household liquid soap (or baby shampoo). Use your hands as a cup for the warm, soapy water and swirl brushes till they’re clean. Rinse well. Then gently squeeze excess water from the brush and reshape the heads. Air-dry by laying the brush over the edge of a counter or table, so that the bristles are open to the air on all sides, and leave to dry overnight. Sponges can be washed in the same way, squeezed well – and left to dry on a radiator.
4 Being stingy. Tempting, isn’t it, to water down the last of that expensive mascara/toner/skin cream, to extend its life? Well, don’t. Skincare products contain water, making them susceptible to contamination by micro-organisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts. For this reason, it’s vital not to water down cosmetics, as you change the precise balance of preservatives designed to keep products safe. Most cosmetics have a use-by date, too (the ‘after opening’ timeframe is now printed on the packaging, giving you guidance on when to use up the product by). In general it’s 18 months to two years for moisturiser, one to two years for foundation – and you should replace suncare annually. Powder formulations and pencils last for years, but mascara and liquid eye-liner should be updated every three months. End. Of. Story.
5 Reckless bronzing. You’ve heard it all before. We’ve all heard it all before. But experts believe that up to 90% of the skin’s visible signs of premature ageing – for instance, wrinkles and crêpiness – are caused by exposure to the sun. (For those in doubt, compare the skin on your face – or your forearms – with your derrière). Most dermatologists recommend wearing a sunscreen with an SPF15 as a matter of habit, at least from April to October – but year-round, for women with fair, sensitive skin. And slather it on your hands too – where ageing shows up even faster than on your face.
6 Sleeping with your make-up on. Your mother was right. (Darn it.) At night, when skin should be taking advantage of your body’s natural rhythms and renewing itself, leftover foundation settles into pores and clogs them – triggering break-outs. And according to ophthalmologists, stale mascara can also stain the delicate skin around the eyes. Although no true beauty guru recommends using cleansing wipes on a nightly basis, it is always worth having a pack on standby: a few quick swipes will remove almost everything (and you can cleanse ultra-thoroughly in the morning). The point is you’ll have removed the worst of the debris, and skin can start to breathe – and self-repair – as you slumber.
7 Slavishly following new make-up trends. Twice a year (with a little extra flurry at Christmas), all sorts of daring, dramatic trends land on the beauty counters. We’re persuaded that pink eyeshadow, or taupe nail polish, or black lipstick are the Next Big Thing. In reality, these make-up ‘stories’ are created by beauty brands to attract attention – and of course it works: we’re like kids in candy stores when those new colours land. And so much cheaper than buying a new coat! (Only of course, if you get the pink eyeshadow home and find it unwearable, that’s a complete waste of money.) In reality, a simple palette of neutrals – taupe and brown eyeshadows, perhaps black eyeliner, rosy blush and rose-toned lipsticks, pale pink polishes – are suits-all-skintones can’t-fail basics, and if you build your kit around those you will never go far wrong.
8 Playing with your hair – and your face. Fiddling with your hair – particularly that habitual twisting action that some of us have – is bad news: the constant tugging at the scalp can actually contribute to thinning hair, while the chafing action of the ends worsens splitting. The solution: scrape it back, tie it up – anything that stops you fidgeting with it. (Meanwhile find an alternative stress-buster: squishy balls or ‘grown-up Play-doh – one of the new ‘hand putties’ – are great.) Fiddling with your face transfers dirt and oil from the fingers, which can spread bacteria that trigger eruptions. At the same time, start to be aware if you constantly wrinkle or crinkle your face unnecessarily; it’s estimated that it takes 100,000 expressions to create a furrow or wrinkle, but many of them are unnecessary – for instance, frowning (again, sort out your stress), or squinting simply because you can’t see properly and are too vain to wear glasses. Get over it. (Or get contact lenses).
9 Attacking your nails. Many nagging cuticle infections are triggered by over-zealous use of clippers, while metal nail files can cause premature splitting and snapping. A better tactic: get in the habit of moisturising nails and cuticles nightly with oil – jojoba or almond oil, scented with a couple of drops of lavender essential oil, is perfect – then pushing cuticles back with a plastic ‘hoof stick’, or an orange stick, swirled (like candy floss) with cotton wool. And to file nails, always use the softest, springiest emery board you can buy – the ‘padded’ versions are best – and file in one direction only.
10 Lip chewing. When winter lips become chapped, it’s tempting to pick and chew those little flakes to get skin smooth again. (In some of us, lip-chewing even becomes an everyday nervous habit), but aside from making the world think you’re utterly neurotic – picking at those little flakes of skin can trigger bleeding and soreness, and certainly won’t make the problem go away. Instead, make a paste with a little oil and sugar and use this to exfoliate the lips, making light circular movements. Keep a lip balm in the pocket of every winter coat and jacket, as well as on your desk – and get in the habit of applying very regularly.