The 25 Beauty Habits to Get into Now
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While I’m pretty ok with how my skin is looking at 34 (a couple of lines here, a smattering of freckles there, but otherwise loyally disguising my early years of sun worship), there are still some beauty habits that if I’d actually followed them from, say, my early 20s onwards I’d like to think would have helped me achieve my life-long dream of ageing in reverse….and I’d now be 6 months old again (good times).
Because the thing is we can all get away with a few beauty bad habits for a few years- until suddenly we can’t. And then all that damage we’ve done starts to come to the surface almost overnight (pretty much from the age of 27 onwards).
So here are the simplest habit tweaks that take barely effort at all; but ones that add up to big changes over the years.
Think of these as your beauty equivalent of eating five a day (except there are 25 of these… Oh and you should also definitely be eating your five a day).
And the even better news? Because these habits have basically nothing to do with products or buying anything, they’re also (mostly) free.
1. Not Touching Your Face
Something we’re all guilty of (including me- especially post-facial/when I’m admiring the finish from a new product), but touching your face constantly can spread viruses, bacteria and allergens; all of which can cause breakouts or irritate skin. Fiddling with hair (and all the serums, conditioners and oils already in it) and then touching our face for example will also transfer any residual gunk onto skin. Instead, try to notice how much you touch your face and stop yourself unless you really need to (or have just-washed hands).
2. Using Products on Neck and Chest
As skincare experts are fond of saying, your face ends at your boobs/nipples. And that’s because while the skin on your face contains a high number of sebaceous glands (the ones responsible for regulating oil production and naturally moisturising your skin), the skin on your neck, chest and hands has far fewer (part of the reason why you see ageing here first). So to give these areas extra attention and bring any moisturisers etc you use on your face down to your chest too- and make sure to rub any excess into your hands after too.
3. Drying Hair Quickly
Hair is at its weakest when wet. This means it’s much easier to snap, damage or cause dryness when straight out of the shower. It also means the quicker you get it as dry as possible without heat (heat is great for finishing off the drying process, but can be damaging to hair that’s soaking wet), the shinier and healthier hair will be over time.
A normal towel absorbs water from wet hair pretty well, but a microfibre or specially-designed one can cut that time down by half. I’ve personally been using an Aquis Rapid Dry Hair Towel for over two years now and my hair is possibly the healthiest it’s ever looked. For free alternative, just use and old t-shirt (surprisingly absorbent!).
4. Applying Eye Cream with Your Ring Finger
A really easy habit to get into: just make sure to always use your ring (fourth) finger to apply any products to the eye area. That’s because skin around the eye is much thinner (10 times so) and more delicate than on the rest of the face and risks ageing quickly if you’re too rough with it. Your ring finger is your weakest one, which makes it hard to be too firm as you apply eye creams etc.
5. Not Rubbing Your Eyes
By the same logic, don’t rub your eyes (I’m terrible for doing this when I’m tired): it pulls at that delicate eye skin, increasing the chance of premature ageing, and can cause broken veins and capillaries, contributing to dark circles. It can also cause damage to eyelash growth (something which already slows as you get older, so look after those lashes).
6. Being Gentle with Skin
Skin is your largest organ. It regulates your body temperature, keeps bad things out and good things in, hosts a delicate balance of bacteria and other microorganisms to keep itself balanced and healthy, and renews itself completely roughly every six weeks… In short, it’s pretty amazing.
And because it’s so good at doing its job fending off damage, skin can take a fair amount of battering before it gives us any visual clues that it’s vulnerable. That means it can often cheerfully be chemical exfoliated to within an inch of its life and continue to look glowing and healthy every day- until suddenly it doesn’t.
Because although damage may take a while to show up, when we over-do it with the chemical peels/exfoliators/retinols we can quite easily damage skin’s natural protective barrier (pretty much the biggest way skin keeps itself healthy).
That often eventually results in the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve with those products, and can instead cause breakouts, dryness, dullness, flaking, redness, broken capillaries, and even more serious issues like rosacea flareups (over-exfoliated skin can also end up with a a slightly weird and unnaturally tight, shiny appearance; so it’s definitely to be avoided).
Instead, do yourself (and your skin) a solid and introduce new products slowly, don’t over-exfoliate (once or twice a week is enough), and keep an eye out for any ingredients which seem to sensitise your skin.
And since symptoms of sensitivity can sometimes be quite hard to spot, here are some of the most common ones: redness, flaking, discomfort, dryness, small bumps under the skin that look a little like breakouts but never come to a head, itching or redness.
And some of the most common ingredient culprits? Drying alcohols (not to be confused with fatty alcohols, which are actually good for skin. Drying alcohols include ingredients like alcohol denat., ethanol, ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and benzyl alcohol), artificial fragrance (often listed as ‘parfum’ on the label), and essential oils.
7. Using a Silk Pillowcase
There’s a lot of wild-eye excitement in the beauty world about the theoretically magical properties of a silk pillowcase. And while there’s essentially very little science behind this, the theory is that by reducing friction/pulling of your skin and hair while you sleep, you cut down on the chance of creating fine lines and hair static. I have no idea how true that is but I’ve been using a silk pillowcase for years now and at a minimum I can always feel my skin is being pulled around less on a silkier surface than a plain cotton one.
Silk is less likely to absorb all your face products than a cotton pillowcase, though, meaning that expensive serum actually stays put- which at least cuts down on some beauty waste.
One thing’s for sure though, silk can help your body regulate its temperature. This is good news for getting a good night’s sleep- one of the most important factors in healthy, youthful skin. And if you do fancy seeing whether a silk pillowcase lives up to its hype, it doesn’t have to break the bank either, like this one from Amazon.
8. Wearing SPF
UVA, the ray that causes some types of skin cancer and the majority of skin ageing, can penetrate cloud and glass. So all that incidental UV light from sitting at your desk/driver’s seat/kitchen even on a gloomy day? It adds up over years and years. The good news is that broad spectrum SPF (the kind that protects against UVA and UVB) can protect skin. And the better news is that research has shown that wearing SPF can even reverse some signs of ageing. A lot SPFs are so awkwardly formulated that they’re difficult to wear every day, so pick one that’s user-friendly and contains other skincare benefits, like Thank You Farmer’s Sun Project Water Sun Cream SPF 50.
9. Wearing Sunglasses
At last, finally a reason to invest in those awesome shades…. Sunglasses not only protect eyes from those pesky UV rays, they’re also doing you a massive skincare favour by cutting down on the amount you squint (think fine lines and wrinkles). As an added bonus they’re also adding UV protection to the delicate skin around eyes, reducing the risk of sun-related ageing like hyperpigmentation and skin thinning (one of the biggest causes of dark circles).
10. Never Using Testers
As inconvenient as it is not to, it just isn’t a great idea to use tester products in shops. While I know this makes the whole makeup buying process annoyingly hit-and-miss, unless a product is fresh out of the box you have no way of knowing how many people have used it and how carefully. And using a lip stick/mascara/eyeliner that’s been sat out in a shop for weeks opens yourself up to the possibility of cold sores, eye infections, skin infections, or even just common bugs like cold and flu.
Instead, the ends of your fingertips are the closest match to your natural lip colour. So if you want to check out a lip product, apply liberally to fingertips and hold them up to your mouth to get some idea of how the shade might look on you. (I know it’s not an ideal solution, but it’s one that’s been working well for me for years. It does, however mean I leave beauty stores zebra striped with pinks, plums and corals every time I visit).
11. Cleansing Thoroughly
Skin that has a day’s worth of makeup/skincare/oil and pollution on it is skin more prone to breakouts, hyperpigmentation and just a general loss of that glow we all love. It can also be incredibly ageing since un-removed free radicals (from pollution/cigarette smoke/UV rays) can slowly damage cells.
So use a decent quality cleanser and actually take the time to really take off the day, every day (paying extra attention to often-forgotten breakouts zones like the hairline, around the nose, and the jawline). For more on how to do this (properly), take a look at this step-by-step cleansing guide.
12. Cleaning Your Phone
Between stuffing it into an already crowded handbag, feverishly tapping out emails, and putting it down on countless surfaces, our phones come into contact with bacteria all day long. Like touching your face with your hands, it’s inevitable that some of that gunk will transfer onto skin when you make a call. So help prevent breakouts by getting into the habit of quickly cleaning your phone screen with either something antibacterial or rubbing alcohol and tissue at least a few times a week.
13. Cleaning Your Brushes
The same goes for your makeup brushes and sponges, which are prime culprits for trapping the bacteria which can easily lead to breakouts. That means taking care to wash them (any gentle shampoo or antibacterial soap will do) at least once a week, before letting them air dry completely for 12 hours.
14. Packing in the Antioxidants
Free radicals, the pesky molecules generated by pollution, UV rays and even some foods, cause cell damage that can speed up the ageing process. Antioxidants protect skin from free radicals, so pack in some antioxidant-rich skincare (look for ingredients like vitamin e, grape seed oil, or any berries). Trust me, the results may not be obvious immediately but you’ll thank me in 20 years. For more on the different types of antioxidants and how they create healthy skin, browse my Antioxidant Guide here.
15. Not Squeezing Spots
At least not unless you know what you’re doing and the blemish is absolutely ready to be squeezed. And if you do, always use tissues to cover your nails to reduce the (very real) risk of scarring (trust me- they add up over the years) or breaking blood vessels (this will also minimise the risk of spreading infection from one blemish across your face). If you must squeeze but don’t know how to safely, take a look at this in-depth guide.
16. Combing Wet Hair
Because wet hair is so delicate this isn’t the time to rake through your normal brush (that noise you hear when you brush? Your hair catching and snapping…Ouch). Instead, use a wide toothed comb, or even something specially-designed like a Tangle Teezer (without exaggeration the only brush that has ever been able to make it all the way through my mane of tangles).
17. Using Non-Snagging Hair Ties
On a similar note, cut down on the sort of incidental hair damage that makes hair end up looking static-y by cutting out the kind of snaggy hair bands that rip out strands when you use them. Instead, stick to silk hair ties (fancy), or even specially non-snag ones like Popband’s.
Great for improving circulation, exfoliating and getting skin glowing over time, a daily body brush takes about a minute but makes skin look great and even seems to improve the look of cellulite (although there is absolutely no science behind this I always see a noticeable difference). Get into the habit of doing it just before your shower as you wait for water to heat up. It takes a few months of doing this daily to see the results, but once you do your skin will look like you’ve permanently just come back from a spa. For tips on how to body brush, look at this comprehensive guide.
19. Avoiding SLS
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is one of the most common foaming agents used in everything from washing up liquid to clothes detergent, and yes, even your cleansers, shampoos and body washes. While all but the most sensitive of skin types can generally tolerate SLS, it can still be drying. And used over years and years, this can mean drier hair, as well as itchy, flaky or tight-feeling skin.
Instead, stick to SLS-free shampoos (like R + Co’s Television Perfect Hair Shampoo), as well as face and body cleansers that use skin-friendly sulphate alternatives (look for ingredients like decyl glucoside, coco glucoside and lauryl glucoside on the bottle). Favourites for the face include Fresh’s Soy Face Cleanser, and for the body, Drunk Elephant’s Kamili Cream Body Cleanser.
20. Leaving Professional Treatments to the Professionals
Just because you can buy a professional grade teeth whitening system off Amazon/eBay/some dark corner of the internet, doesn’t mean you should. Oh I had some proper disasters in my early 20s, including a totally self-inflicted (and quite serious) chemical burn on one cheek which necessitated a trip to the doctor (“no honestly doctor, I didn’t buy a medical grade peel off eBay”), as well as some experiments with home whitening that have seen me sustain some permanent enamel loss to my two front teeth (as a result I’m now pretty evangelical about tooth care). By leaving the serious stuff to the professionals you could be saving yourself some long-term (and often ironically expensive) damage.
21. Choosing Professionals Carefully
If you do go for professional treatments, choose carefully. Again, just because the place where you get your nails done 100 metres from your house offers laser treatments, that’s not necessarily where you should be going (or shouldn’t- just do your research first either way). Instead do your due diligence; check online for objective reviews, always get a consultation before any treatment at all, walk away if you have even the tiniest bad feeling, and wherever possible use recommendations from friends.
22. Patch Testing
Self-explanatory (and fairly tedious when you just want to get stuck into a new product), but especially if your skin is at all sensitive, whenever trying out something new do a patch test somewhere unnoticeable 48 hours beforehand.
23. Being Patient
I’m always in a rush and have the patience of a small child, but I’ve really come to understand that skin needs time to adapt to any changes in products and routine before you can really make a judgement on what’s working and what’s not. It takes around skin six weeks to complete one skin cycle (the time it takes for a new skin cell to form at the deepest layer of the epidermis and make its way to the surface), so you should expect to wait at least that long to start seeing real results from anything new. That means not writing off that serum/retinol/new moisturiser too soon, and instead waiting before introducing another new product to an existing routine so you have time to work out what’s working for your own particular skin type and what’s not.
24. Quality, Not Price
While I think there’s something almost primal engrained in most of us that automatically equates price with quality, experience tells us that actually that’s not always the case. While there are plenty of extremely expensive, extremely high quality products out there (no doubt hand filtered and bottled by virgin milkmaids somewhere in the Swiss Alps etc), there are also plenty of high quality, effective products at the lower end of the budget scale. Some of my absolute favourites come from The Inkey List, The Ordinary, Bybi, Good Molecules, Fourth Ray Beauty, and CeraVe.
25. Being Sustainable
Ok, so this final one isn’t so much about you and your skin (although in a round about way it also is since pollution etc = more free radicals), but for the benefit of everyone it’s still a beauty habit that’s absolutely worth getting into.
Handily, there are plenty of great ways to stock up on products sustainably, including using brands that are committed to forgoing single use plastics like REN and Bybi, or ones who use glass packaging like Espa. You could even stick to locally produced products in your town or country, or replace the plastic Q-Tips for bamboo ones and the cotton pads for re-useable ones. For some more ideas on cutting down on beauty waste, take a look at this sustainable beauty guide.