There’s a ton of talk about what order to apply your skincare products in (when in doubt, apply thinnest to thickest, like layering clothes in the winter). But until recently, I hadn’t given any thought to the order of my full nighttime routine. As it turns out, there is a right way to do it, and a few simple tweaks may mean less acne.
Meet the Experts
Lindsey Zubrtisky, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist.
Loretta Pratt, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC.
Here, we spoke to two dermatologists about sneaky ways your hygiene routine is working against you. And the best part is all you have to do is switch up a few small things, no purchases required.
1. Brushing your teeth as the last step of your routine
A common mistake is brushing your teeth as the last step of your routine after washing your face. I was guilty of this and never gave it a second thought, but it makes sense when you think about it. “You should fully brush your teeth, then wash your face, then apply your serums, actives, and moisturizer,” says Lindsey Zubrtisky, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist who’s known as @dermguru. Seeing her Instagram reels on the topic made me realize I needed to switch things up.
“Toothpaste contains harsh ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, baking soda, and fluoride that can lead to acne, perioral dermatitis, rosacea, and dry/irritated skin, especially if left to sit on your skin all night long,” she adds. “When you brush your teeth, bacteria from your mouth may dribble out onto your skin, which can cause acne on the lower face or chin.”
When you wash your face after brushing your teeth, you wipe away any excess bacteria and toothpaste, so it doesn’t have time to cause damage to the skin.
2. Cleansing your face before washing your hair
Everyone’s shower preferences are a personal journey: Some people shampoo first, then leave the conditioner on while they shave. Others may brush their teeth in the shower. Some, like me, cleanse their face and body while the conditioner sits on their hair for a few minutes. Sorry to all the people in my camp, but we’re doing it wrong.
“Cleansing your face in the shower should always be the last step. This helps to rinse away any residue, debris, or buildup from the hair-washing process, which can clog your pores and lead to acne breakouts,” says Zubritsky. This small shift can make a big difference, especially if you have acne-prone skin and use scented hair products.
3. Not washing your face after applying hair products
Similarly, if you can swing it when you’re getting ready, try washing your face after you’ve styled your hair with products, especially anything that sprays. “In an ideal world, it’s best to wash your face after styling your hair to avoid any hairspray on the skin that can clog pores and lead to ‘pomade acne,’” Zubritsky says. “However, if this isn’t doable, I recommend covering your face with your hands or a towel when applying hair spray to avoid getting any directly onto the skin.”
If you wash your face after styling your hair, you can pull the hair off your face using clips, a terry cloth headband, or a dry washcloth draped across the hairline, which will help catch any water before it reaches your hair and causes frizz.
4. Chewing too much cinnamon gum
It seems random, but certain types of gum can lead to redness around the mouth. Perioral dermatitis is a red rash that typically appears in a ring around the mouth — while it’s not acne, the small red bumps look a lot like it. “Perioral dermatitis has sometimes been attributed to minty toothpaste, mouthwashes, mints, and chewing gums containing cinnamates or artificial cinnamon flavor,” says Loretta Pratt, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC. The cause of perioral dermatitis isn’t fully known, but other common culprits are heavy cosmetics and moisturizers, steroid creams, and certain sunblocks.
5. Not starting with clean tools
You already know this one, but it’s worth mentioning again. One of the biggest hygiene mistakes people make in their beauty routines is not starting with clean tools, whether that’s their hands, brushes, or beauty blenders.
“Wash your hands before applying makeup with your fingers [and] avoid dipping unwashed fingers into jars of creams and makeup,” says Pratt. In addition, it can be helpful to wash your hands with your face wash before applying your skincare products or applying them directly from the bottle to your skin.
Washing makeup brushes is satisfying and annoying; we could probably all stand to do it more. However, investing in a soap specifically for brushes (or even using a trusty bodycare product like Dr. Bronner’s) can make washing makeup sponges and brushes a little more fun.
6. Using saliva as a touch-up tool
Calling all moms from the ‘90s who licked their thumbs to get food off their kids’ faces: beyond feeling super gross, Pratt says saliva is not a good cleanser. “A pet peeve of mine is seeing people put spit/saliva on their finger or tissues to remove something from skin or on a cut,” she says. “The mouth is teeming with bacteria, and it is not advisable to get saliva on open wounds.” Saliva also contains irritating enzymes to the skin and may even cause acne. So when your mascara is running, or you see something on your face, use a makeup wipe or water to get it off.
7. Not cleaning pillows and electronics enough
If something is going to be in regular contact with your face, like your pillow or phone, it should be clean. Anyone who’s ever gone to snap a picture only to find that their camera is smudged knows that phones or tablets get dirty fast. Try to make a weekly, if not daily, habit of cleaning your phone screen. You can buy a cleaner or use alcohol diluted with water and a microfiber cloth — avoid using products with bleach or hydrogen peroxide, which aren’t good for phone screens.
Pillowcases and towels should also be washed weekly; even if you go to sleep with clean skin, bacteria from your hair and your saliva can end up on your pillow, plus dust from the air.
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