If gobs of evidence on the health dangers of smoking haven't yet convinced you to kick butt, perhaps vanity will be the motivation you've been looking for. According to a report in the British Journal of Dermatology, smokers are four times as likely to suffer from adult acne than non-smokers. Of the 1,000 participants, women between the ages of 25 and 50, 42 percent of smokers had acne, while only 10 percent of non-smokers showed any signs of adult acne. Doctors have long known that smoking severely damages skin by weakening its elasticity, along with a slew of other negative effects. This study suggests that cigarette smoke may also clog pores, which contributes to acne. Check out the mind-blowing ways your body starts to heal after you quit smoking.
Sleeping on dirty sheets
Conventional wisdom dictates washing your sheets weekly, but if you've got clogged pores, you might want to do it more often. Pillowcases and bed sheets can easily harbor a buildup of oil, dirt, and dead skin, which transfers back to your skin at night, clogging pores and causing blemishes. "You want your sheets to be clean and not clogging your pores," says Samer Jaber, MD, of Washington Square Dermatology. "Washing bed sheets can make a difference, especially if you are a sweater." Consider switching out your pillowcase at the very least, at least every three days. Use these laundry hacks to make it faster and easier.
Touching your face all day
"Touching your face regularly can trigger acne through the spread of the P. acnes bacteria," Dr. Jaber says. On an average day, we touch countless germ-ridden objects and materials: cash, sink handles, public transportation surfaces, handrails, doorknobs, and the list goes on. (These are among the germiest items you touch on a daily basis.) By touching your face throughout the day, you are transferring the many bacteria, viruses, oils, allergens, and impurities from your hands to your skin, which can clog your pores. The best way to combat this bad habit is to compulsively sanitize your hands, and ask friends to point out when you touch your face so you can start to kick the habit.
We're a long way from slathering on baby oil for a tropical bronzing, but soaking up the rays in any capacity will clog your pores. "Sun tanning and resultant sun damage can worsen pores, as the sun can damage the surrounding skin tissues, making the pores appear larger," Dr. Jaber says. To make matters worse, many sunscreens are comedogenic (pore-blocking), which is the ultimate beauty catch-22. So on top of reducing sun exposure, it's important to choose the right sunscreen. Chemical sunscreens can irritate skin, while mineral sunscreens can sit atop the skin and clog pores. The best sunscreens are lightweight and have zinc and titanium dioxide as active ingredients. (We're loving Colorescience Daily UV Protector SPF 30 Whipped Mineral Sunscreen, which blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays as well as environmental aggressors using zinc and titanium dioxide, plus it has a universal tint that doubles as foundation.) Here's what the labels on your sunscreen really mean.
Talking on the phone
If you regularly have a phone screen glued to your face, you may notice localized breakouts on your cheeks, along the sides of your face. Phones are exceptionally filthy, collecting makeup, dirt, oil, and bacteria from any surface they come into contact with (think of the tables and chairs they're set on, plus the germs they mingle with in purses and pockets). To avoid clogging your pores every time you talk on the phone, switch to a hands-free device or wipe down the screen before each use or at least daily.
Wearing makeup during a workout
"Sweating is your body's natural method of cooling your skin, and wearing makeup can trap sweat and bacteria, blocking your pores. This can result in skin congestion, which can cause blackheads, skin irritation, and increased breakouts," says Dr. Jaber. "Over time, if you repeatedly wear heavy gym makeup, you may notice that you develop worsening acne and uneven skin tone on your face." No matter how gorgeous you want to look during your spin or yoga class, it's not worth clogging your pores. You can melt off makeup super quickly, like while you're walking from the dressing room to the fitness studio, with makeup-removing wipes such as The Body Shop Tea Tree Cleansing Wipes, with tea tree oil, which is a natural disinfectant. Read more about how bad it is to wear makeup at the gym.
Picking at blemishes
This can be a vicious cycle: You compulsively pick at your blemishes in an effort to remove them, which in turn causes even more blemishes. By picking at every little bump and zit, you are contributing to skin inflammation and irritation, which greatly affects pore size in the long run. Further, the squeezing and stretching of skin makes the transfer of impurities from your hands highly likely, which will of course clog pores. Though it's easier said than done, it's important that you find a way to resist the temptation to pick at your skin, and instead use a spot treatment to rid of any blemishes. (We love MD Complete Skin Clearing Acne Breakout Treatment, with zit-zapping benzoyl peroxide and soothing natural botanicals.)
Skipping out on exfoliation
"The most important thing you can do to decrease pore size is to remove excess oil and exfoliate dead skin cells," says Dr. Jaber. By not bothering to exfoliate, you are allowing natural oils and dead skins cells to accumulate on your face. This buildup clogs pores and prevents newly replenished skin from reaching the surface. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, consider using a light chemical peel daily to exfoliate. We like Hydropeptide 5X Power Peel Daily Resurfacing Pads with a non-irritating blend of glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid to dissolve the bonds holding dead skin cells together so they can be easily sloughed away. For a budget pick, consider Pixi Glow Peel Pads, with a whopping 20 percent glycolic acid and calming rose water, to be used two to three times weekly for exfoliation. Always follow with an oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer and in the morning, add an SPF.