The benefits of sloughing your skin smooth and bleaching your way to a gleaming smile can entice you to scrub harder and whiten longer. But when taken to extremes, some beauty practices can have ugly consequences, including damaged gums and dry, brittle hair. Here are four grooming moves that work best in moderation, plus steps to undo any damage that’s been done.
Facial scrubs can give your skin a healthy glow. But overzealous or too frequent use can remove skin’s top protective layer, leaving it raw, ruddy, and broken out. “To compensate, oil production goes into overdrive, so you’ll exacerbate the problems you’re trying to treat,” says David Bank, MD, a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, NY.
Immediate relief: Apply a 1% hydrocortisone cream to soothe inflammation. Use a fragrance-free cleanser and moisturizer, and skip products with aggravating ingredients like retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids.
Long-term strategy: Switch to scrubs with soft jojoba beads, which are less likely to tear skin than products with apricot seeds or walnut shells. Gently exfoliate once or twice a week—not every day, says Bank.
BLEACHING YOUR TEETH
All teeth whiteners use peroxide to bleach away stains. But unlike dentist-monitored procedures, do-it-yourself kits can easily be abused, says Lana Rozenberg, DDS, a New York City cosmetic dentist. If used more than recommended, peroxide can have caustic consequences, resulting in porous tooth enamel, irritated gums, and teeth that are sensitive to heat and cold.
Immediate relief: Stop whitening for at least 6 months or until symptoms subside. Brush with a toothpaste containing potassium nitrate, such as Sensodyne ($5, target.com), which blocks the pain signal that goes from your teeth to your brain. And spread a fluoride toothpaste over your teeth and leave it on overnight. “Fluoride helps remineralize enamel loss to strengthen weakened teeth,” Rozenberg says.
Long-term strategy: Limit home whitening to once every 6 months and for no longer than 20 days in a row. Cut back on discoloring foods and beverages such as tomatoes and red wine. (Try one of these five ways to keep your teeth from turning yellower.) If you’re a die-hard coffee or tea drinker, opt for a latte, or use extra cream (the whiter your drink, the less it will stain).
SCRAPING YOUR FEET
A pumice stone is great for removing dead, callused skin. But going too deep can leave you susceptible to infection and sensitivity. And never use foot razors. “You risk infection by slicing the skin, blisters, or corns,” says Bank.
Immediate relief: If skin is bleeding, apply a topical antibiotic such as bacitracin and cover with a bandage. Skip pedicures until the wound heals.
Long-term strategy: Trade your porous pumice stone, a breeding ground for bacteria, for a stainless-steel file, which can be sterilized. Once a week, buff the top layer of your soles in the shower. “The water helps loosen dead skin so it’s easier to take off,” says Bank. Follow with a lotion—such as Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair Foot Creme ($5, drugstore.com)—that packs alpha hydroxy acids, which slow the buildup of dead cells and minimize the need for scraping.
Volumizing mousses, gels, and sprays can lift a limp coif, but here’s the downside: The type that makes hair stiffest is made with alcohol and heavy-duty polymers, which wreak havoc on your hair. Polymer buildup weighs hair down, while alcohol strips away its moisture, says Joey Battisti, creative director of New York City’s Gerard Bollei Salon.
Immediate relief: Once a week, wash with a clarifying shampoo, which contains extra detergent and residue-removing acids like cider vinegar to remove buildup.
Long-term strategy: Use styling tricks that add height without product, says Battisti, whose favorite is flipping the head down and aiming the dryer nozzle at the hair’s roots. Also try alcohol-free stylers, which contain water-soluble ingredients that won’t dry or weigh down your hair. Try Suave Professionals Luxe Styling Infusion Volume Soufflé Mousse