Consider this your ultimate to-do list for healthier, more beautiful skin. The bad news: These are non-negotiable. The good news: They're easy!
By Corrie Pikul
1. Double up on fruits and vegetables.
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Eating the right amount of fruits and vegetables can give you a healthy, vital glow. A 2012 study in the journal PLoS One found that people who ate a lot of colorful produce were perceived as being healthier and more attractive (seriously!). One reason is that the carotenoid-containing fruits and vegetables (e.g., carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, squash) boost the skin's yellow, red and orange tones, says Elisa Zied, RD, a nutritionist and author of Younger Next Week. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate a lot of vitamin C, in particular, were less prone to wrinkles and dry, scaly skin (possibly because the nutrient promotes the production of collagen). Think you're doing just fine in the, erm, produce department? Zied recommends 4.5 cups a day of fruit and vegetables and says that the average woman consumes only around two and a half cups.
2. Do this only twice a day.
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Most women wash their face three to four times a day, says Emmy Graber, MD, a dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Boston University School of Medicine, but studies show that twice a day is optimal. The more you wash, the more likely you are to strip your skin of natural oils. What's more, Graber says that some of the exfoliating particles found in scrubs (like pieces of fruit pits) can cause microscopic scratches on the skin. And microbeads that are gentler on the face can be bad for us in other ways (they've recently been found to pollute the ocean, and increasingly, the Great Lakes and may boost the level of toxins in the fish we eat). Graber says that a washcloth does a fine job at sloughing off dead skin cells, dirt and makeup.
3. Don't worry so much about wearing enough sunscreen...
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...under your eyes. This sounds blasphemous, but the skin under the eye tends to be very thin and sensitive, says Graber, so while it is prone to sun damage, it's also susceptible to irritation from the product's ingredients. You're better off getting a pair of large sunglasses—think Jackie O.—and wearing them everywhere. Note: Graber says they must specify 99 to 100 percent UV protection (if they just say "UV protection," without a percentage, they probably don't screen much at all).
Every dermatologist we talked to said that the worst, most noticeable sun damage they see on women is on the chest. Any time you're outside in a top that exposes your chest (which is probably more often than you realize), bring your sunscreen down to the bra line, says Brooke Jackson, MD, a dermatologist and associate professor of Dermatology at UNC at Chapel Hill. And if you use moisturizer or other treatment for your face, consider using it on your neck and chest, as well.
6. Choose the least-popular sleep position.
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Only 14 percent of Americans sleep on their back—even though it's the best way to prevent sleep wrinkles. Sleeping on the side or on the stomach (done by 63 percent and 16 percent of us, respectively) has been shown to cause wrinkles on the parts of the face pressed into the pillow, says Neuhaus. If you can't sleep on your back because you have a snoring problem, sleep apnea, bad knees, a bad back or a too-snuggly partner, consider a silk pillowcase or a special pillow with a cutout for your face.
7. Add another yearly reminder to your calendar.
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You've heard that you should visit a dermatologist once a year for a skin cancer screening. Here's why: "Dermatologists will likely pick up a skin cancer or abnormality at an early stage because of training," Jackson says. And the earlier you catch skin cancer, the easier it is to cure. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests making an appointment on your birthday ("birthday suit" — get it?), but any date you'll remember will do.