Dermatologists Share the Biggest Skincare Mistakes They See in Their Patients

There was a time that a “skincare routine” consisted of Cetaphil face wash, Pond’s skin cream, and St. Ives Apricot Scrub for a little maintenance in between. 

But modern reality is far from that—with access to acids and retinoids and peptides that at one point only a doctor could prescribe us, the skincare industry can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least. And while it’s easier than ever to get products that will help your skin, it’s also easier than ever to get sucked into a routine with too many products that end up doing the opposite of what you want: leaving you with dry, flaky, irritated skin.

At the end of the day, no amount of googling or filling your Sephora basket can improve your skin like a dermatologist can, which is why we turned to some of the best in business to share some expertise. Here, they spill the most detrimental skincare mistakes they see their patients making (many of which I was surprised by and extremely guilty of) and how to improve your skin if they’ve already happened. (Bonus: they also shared some of the products they swear by for their own skin—some of which you can get on your next Target run).


Dr. Tiffany Jow Libby, MD, FAAD, FACMS


Doing too much

… ie. having a freak-out moment and using every product they have on their faces. We’ve all been there—when you get a crop of acne breakouts or irritation on your skin, and you frantically throw the kitchen sink on your face. Don’t do it! Your skin is already irritated and ‘angry,’ and the last thing you want to do in this scenario is to further irritate it. I recommend patients to go the other way, and taper back what they are using on their skin—go simple, use gentle cleansers like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser and moisturizers like Neutrogena Hydroboost or La Roche-Posay Double Repair Cream. Do this for a week and let your skin regain its balance. It will thank you.

Skin Cleanser
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Hydro Boost Moisturizer
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La Roche-Posay
Double Repair Moisturizer
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Not washing your skin before going to bed

Cleansing your skin is important! We are exposed to so much dirt and pollution, and by the end of the day, we need to wash off the makeup, debris, and environmental pollutants that are sitting on our skin. I recommend cleansing twice daily and after sweating/exercise. The key is not drying out or stripping your skin of important oils by over-cleansing, but finding the right balance for your skin to maintain skin health and a bright complexion.


Waiting too long to see a dermatologist

We as dermatologists are the skin experts, and we’re here to help. Too often, I will see patients who have waited until their acne has left scars or a cosmetic concern has worsened to now require more aggressive treatment—or more seriously when a growth has become cancerous. As a dermatologist and skin cancer surgeon, I want to help you address these issues, and at the very least, tell you that it is benign and something not to worry about. 



Dr. Fatima Fahs, MD


Ignoring your neck

One of the most common skincare mistakes is ignoring your neck! Don’t stop your product application at the jawline—keep the love going! The neck and décolletage need some TLC too. Major steps to consider doing to this area, in addition to your face, are exfoliating, moisturizing, and applying vitamin C and sunscreen. Your facial skincare game may be on point, but ignoring the area directly below it can be an absolute giveaway to sun damage or signs of aging.



Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky Pollock, MD, FAAD

Source: @dermguru


Using a retinoid incorrectly

Retinoids and retinols are a staple of any good skincare regimen, especially if you have acne. I find that commonly my patients start using their retinoid too frequently, resulting in dry, peeling, and irritated skin.

How to fix it: start low and slow. Only use a retinoid a few nights a week at first and gradually increase to nightly use as tolerated. Only a pea-size amount is needed! Pro tip: wait 20 minutes after washing your face to apply your retinoid. When your skin is still damp, you absorb too much of the product, which can result in more irritation. Try mixing the retinoid with moisturizers if it’s still too drying.


Aggressively exfoliating the skin

Patients love using harsh exfoliators like St. Ives’ scrub because they feel the need to make their skin squeaky clean. This cannot be further from the truth. Facial exfoliators like this are made of crushed walnut shells, which results in micro-tears of the skin, leading to damaged, irritated skin and accelerated aging.

How to fix it: opt for chemical exfoliators over physical ones for that fresh skin glow. Look for products containing AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) or BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) for a more gentle but effective alternative. This is especially important for those with eczema or rosacea. I recommending finding products containing glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid. My go-to chemical exfoliator is Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial.

Drunk Elephant
T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
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Believing that SPF in makeup products count as sun protection

When makeup products list an SPF, this does not mean you are getting that level of sun protection. In fact, you would need to use 5-10 times the normal amount of makeup to get the level of SPF your makeup product claims to have. Furthermore, you would need to reapply that same amount of heavy makeup every two hours for continued sun protection.

How to fix it: always, always, always remember to use a real sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 prior to makeup. Look for chemical sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for the best and most effective sun protection. There are many cosmetically elegant sunscreens on the market that won’t leave your skin white and chalky. My favorite sunscreens are EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 and La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted Mineral Ultra-Light Fluid Broad Spectrum SPF 50.

Daily Tinted Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 40
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La Roche-Posay
Anthelios Tinted Mineral Face Primer SPF 50
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Dr. Kavita Darji, MD


Not wearing SPF

Not incorporating effective sun protection methods can lead to skin cancer and speed up the aging process. To avoid this, I encourage applying sunscreen with SPF30+ every day (even during the wintertime) and wearing UPF sun protection clothing.


Exfoliating and cleansing too frequently

Another common mistake is over-exfoliating and over-cleansing the skin, both of which can damage the skin barrier. To prevent this, I recommend avoiding aggressive scrubbing while cleansing, using gentle moisturizers (oil-free types for acne-prone skin) and choosing alcohol-free, hydrating toners.


Not removing makeup before sleep and exercise

To prevent makeup-induced acne, it’s best to remove all makeup at night before sleeping, and before working out, opt for light mineral-based powders instead of heavy foundations. Also, avoid sharing applicator brushes and sponges with others.


Tobacco use

Continuing tobacco use can worsen fine lines, wrinkles, various rashes, and lead to skin cancer. I highly recommend using available resources to help patients cut down or quit—as best they can—to prevent further skin deterioration.


Skipping out on skin checks

Several patients come to the clinic with skin cancer that may have been present for a long time but was never checked out. To prevent this, I highly advise patients to visit their dermatologist at least once a year for a full-body skin exam to make sure all of their spots look OK and to address any concerning issues.