30 beauty tips I wish I'd known sooner
Leave your cuticles alone
Some people paint beautiful landscapes in watercolours. Others take up boxing, learning a new language or dance form, playing the guitar. My de-stressing hobby is reading up on skincare, makeup, and beauty tips. Like most desi kids experimenting in the kitchen, I’d mix neem powder, haldi, and coffee grounds and scrub my skin to get rid of acne. Praying that the power of mother nature would somehow undo the havoc my teenage hormones had unleashed on my face.
I still bear the scars of these misguided escapades, so now I watch YouTube videos by dermatologists and read product reviews for fun. I know that a 22-step skincare regime won’t make my skin as smooth as a porcelain plate. The truth is, we don’t really require a ton of skincare or makeup. When it comes to skin health, cleansing, moisturising, and sun protection are all most people need. But as much as I hate to admit it, those brief moments when I’m layering my toner and serums or trying to perfectly blend out my concealer without causing creases is probably the only time my mind is genuinely blank. Beauty rituals are my meditation.
They’re also how I’ve managed to created a mental repository of beauty tips and hacks from experts and enthusiasts like me who have had to learn the hard way about what works for different skin types. Sometimes it’s about how azelaic acid works to curb rosacea and acne. On other days, I go down rabbit holes starting with reading about regional ingredients in different countries and ending up on a page about a town in Alaska that’s had a cat as mayor for 20 years.
Without making too much of a khichdi of the endless information available online, let these beauty tips and tricks guide you as I wish I had been when I was younger.
Brush your teeth before your skincare routine
One of the beauty tips you’ll wish you knew sooner if you suffer from acne, dryness or redness around your mouth and chin, is to brush your teeth before you do your skincare routine. As beauty enthusiast and content creator Royce Watson explains, toothpaste residue can remain and irritate the skin after brushing your teeth.
Richard Lipari, DDS, cosmetic and general dentist in New York, also agrees. “Everyone’s skin is different, so the degree to which the skin may be affected depends on the person. You should always wash your face after brushing your teeth.”
Pinch test for dark circles
Watching Bambi Does Beauty’s video on Instagram was a game-changer for how I approached caring for my undereye area. Not all dark circles are created equal, and causes can range from genetic bone structure to ageing, thin skin, and hyperpigmentation.
The pinch test can help you figure out what’s causing yours. Very gently pinch the skin under your eyes with two fingers. If the darkness disappears, then it’s likely that it’s being caused by the appearance of blood vessels under thin skin. If the darkness stays, it’s more likely to be hyperpigmentation. With an improved understanding of the cause, you can better choose how to tackle it (we have some expert suggestions).
Moisturise in the shower
By now, we know that it’s most effective to use hydrating ingredients and moisturiser while your face is slightly damp. The same principle applies to body care.
If your skin gets drier than a 3-day-old chappati in the fridge, keep your body lotion in the shower so it’s handy for when you’re done bathing. You don’t have to be sopping wet when applying it, but it does take some getting used to.
Tackle body odour with a chemical exfoliant
The exfoliating face toners you have in your skincare routine (and hopefully only use once or twice a week to prevent over-exfoliation) can be used in your underarms to tackle body odour. Give it a quick swipe to break up oil and dead skin cells.
That said, YouTube’s favourite dermatologist Andrea Suarez does caution that overuse of strong acids in the underarm area can cause sensitivity and disrupt the pH of the region. Acids can get trapped in the folds of the skin. So if you are using a chemical exfoliant for your underarms, you’ll want to keep it at a low percentage or use a gentler exfoliating ingredient like mandelic or lactic acid, rather than a strong glycolic acid.
Pigment shampoos and masks can ease the hair dye fade
I’m a simple woman; Lady Gaga’s colourist said she uses pigment shampoos, so I wanted a pigment shampoo. A purple shampoo helps tone and maintain the pop star’s platinum-blonde hair.
Aditi Vyas of Continuity Salon recommended a pigment mask for brown hair when I was getting my hair colour. It’s essentially an in-shower treatment that can extend the life span of the hair colour job by temporarily tinting or toning your hair, neutralising any unwanted undertones that show up as the colour fades.
Don’t forget the neck
I’ve picked up a lot of beauty tips from content creator Amy Chang, but one that I wish I had known sooner was to pay attention to my neck as much as my face. The skin on our neck ages faster than the skin on our face. Ageing aside, structurally, it’s thinner and gets a lot of wear and tear.
“Between sun exposure and the addition of looking at our phones repeatedly, we are seeing neck changes even earlier,” dermatologist Dendy Engelman said in an interview. So take what you’re applying to your face down to your neck too. However, because the skin is thinner, you want to be careful when exfoliating your neck.
Sunscreen isn’t only for your face
In September, a photo of a woman who used sunscreen only on her face and not her neck shocked the internet as the sun damage was so apparent. I’ve been diligent with sunscreen application on my neck since then, but it occurred to me that the rest of my body had been left to fend for itself for a long time too.
Skin cancer is democratic that way. It can appear anywhere on your body. Commonly on your back, legs, arms and face, the areas usually exposed to the sun. So forget trying to look like you’re 20 forever; use the body sunscreen for your health.
Your scalp needs clarity
When swapping beauty tips, we often focus on skincare. The skin on our scalp tends to be left out of the conversation.
There’s nothing we hate more than an oily scalp. Sometimes it’s a day or two later, but for some, it can be right after you wash your hair too. In this case, it’s not exactly oil but rather build-up that’s accumulated on your scalp. Dr Noopur Jain, MD dermatology and founder of SkinZest, recommends a clarifying shampoo once a week that can cut through the product and sweat build-up that a regular shampoo might not tackle. Don’t use this product every time you go for a hair wash, or you’ll be walking straight into an arid hair zone.
Makeup will rarely be flawless
I’m all for a ‘natural’ makeup look with minimal products, but it took a while to really sink in that it’s only for those who are genetically blessed that makeup will ever look ‘flawless’. Everyone has skin texture, bumps, scars, moles, and marks.
Don’t let the camera, lights, and filters fool you. Of course, you can create a canvas that’s as smooth as possible if you moisturise, exfoliate and use pore-filling primers. At the end of the day, makeup still looks like makeup. And if you enjoy painting your face in various colours and experimenting, then you do you.
Use your antiperspirant at night
This was the oddest of all the tips I’ve come across as a beauty writer and enthusiast. While it’s more of a personal hygiene hack, Dermatologist Mark Strom explained that antiperspirants work better when your body temperature is lower, and you’re not actively sweating so much.
Even if you wash it off in the morning, it’s likely to work better for you than had you applied it in the morning.
It may not be acne but a fungal infection
If you feel tiny bumps under the skin on your forehead that always feel itchy-scratchy, then no amount of acne-fighting products will work because it’s possible that it’s not acne but a fungal infection called Malassezia folliculitis, also known as Pityrosporum folliculitis. Some refer to it as fungal acne.
An excellent way to test it yourself is by using a product you may already have in the bathroom – dandruff shampoo. These shampoos have anti-fungal ingredients that can also treat this type of ‘acne’. Replace your face wash with the dandruff shampoo and let it sit for a minute before washing it off. Follow it up with a good moisturiser because it can be a bit drying. You’ve got your confirmation if you notice a difference in the bumps. For more widespread and recurring bumps, speak to a medical professional for a more in-depth anti-fungal treatment plan.
Keep the heavy stuff away from your under eyes
One of the beauty tips I picked up from my grandmother was putting castor oil on my eyelashes to keep them strong and thick. But I have also spent many years wondering what in the world those little white bumps in my undereye area were.
The small under-the-surface white bumps are milia which a doctor told me I had been aggravating with the sticky castor oil, attracting sweat and grime. Dermatologist Lindsey Zubritsky says we should avoid heavy products like oils and thick occlusives like vaseline in that region. Instead, an eye cream formulated with retinol can exfoliate the area to break up milia while keeping it moisturised.
You don’t have to wash your face in the morning
As someone who grew up with a lot of acne, washing my face twice a day seemed like a good idea to dry it all out (it was not). Unless you’re a heavy sweater, have used a heavy occlusive the night before or have very oily skin, you don’t need to use a cleanser in the morning.
A water rinse will do to clean your face. It took some time to break the habit and get used to just washing my face with water, but improving my skin’s sensitivity and dry patches was worth it.
The makeup products you’re layering should match
By match, I mean they should be the same base to prevent product pilling and patchy application. Content creator Sabrina Molu figured out this gem and shared it with the rest of us.
If you’re using a water-based primer, then using a water-based foundation or BB cream will make the application much smoother. Match silicone-based products with other silicone-based products, and oil with oil-based. Mind blown.
You can’t change your pores
After years of poking, prodding, and drying out my skin with toners and face masks, I learnt you can’t get rid of pores or ‘close’ them.
“Pore size is predetermined by genetics. Studies show that fairer and dry skin tend to have smaller pores whereas darker and oily skin tend to have large pores,” says Dr Madhuri Agarwal, dermatologist and founder of Yavana Aesthetics Clinic. “You can’t change the size of your pores, just like you can’t change your height.”
Medical dermatology assistant and content creator Shivani, AKA skinbyshiv, says you can only minimise their appearance using an exfoliant like salicylic acid or retinol.
Don’t save products for special occasions
There’s always one luxurious lipstick or expensive face cream that you splurge on and then feel guilty about, so you use it dar-dar ke. But saving products to use once in a while will be counterproductive because everything comes with an expiry date.
The packaging will sport a ‘best before’ date or have a small graphic of a round tub and open lid with a number and the initial M. This symbol denotes how many months a product is useable from the time that you open it. A little plus-minus here or there won’t hurt your skin, but products are formulated to last for a specific period. The best-case scenario is that they’ll stop being effective or start disintegrating. The worst-case is growing mould or fungus that you then slather across your face, causing infections and skin problems.
Shampooing daily isn’t the end of the world.
Topping the list of FAQs for dermatologists is how often we should wash our hair with shampoo. Dr Andrea Suarez says it’s OK to shampoo as frequently as your hair type can tolerate. For example, people with oilier scalps may need to wash more often than others to deal with excess sebum and product build-up that can lead to dandruff and scalp issues.
Regarding the frequency of shampooing, Suarez says, “For some hair types, that may be once a week, whereas others need to shampoo daily. Suffice it to say, everyone’s hair is different, and we need to stop making blanket statements that ‘daily shampooing is bad for you.'”
Oily skin needs moisture too
Raise your hand if you grew up shunning moisturisers because you had oily skin. Your skin probably got dry because of excessive cleansing, making you produce even more sebum to compensate.
Not everyone needs a heavy cream, but you do need a moisturiser. There are plenty of lightweight options, gel creams, and lotions in the market that work great for oily and acne-prone skin. If you hate layering products, then opt for a hydrating serum and top it off with moisturising sunscreen during the day.
Check your stress
If your skincare goal is glowing like a firefly in Purushwadi, you might want to take up meditation. Of course, jogging and puzzles work, too – any hobby that helps you de-stress. That’s actress Cate Blanchett’s beauty secret. “I think that anything you can do to remove stress will give you a better glow. That’s the number one answer,” she said in an interview.
Stress leads to inflammation in the body which can aggravate skin conditions. Poor health shows its signs on our faces as well. If you find your skin looking dull, you may want to check your vitamin D levels. Look over your diet and gut health if you’re breaking out a lot. Talk to a doctor and get routine check-ups to see what underlying conditions could be showing up as symptoms on your skin.
Keep your razor out of the bathroom
A razor in the shower area is convenient if you need to shave your legs or arms quickly before heading out. Unfortunately, if you find yourself getting a lot more razor bumps, this could be the culprit.
Dermatologist Whitney Bowe says we should store razors in a dry place. Leaving a wet razor lying around in the often damp and warm bathroom causes rust, degrading the blade and making it dull. This, in turn, causes razor burn, and the transfer of bacteria can also lead to infections. Change your blades frequently, and wipe them dry after each use.
Don’t shampoo too quickly
Whether it’s a medicated shampoo, clarifying shampoo or a regular one, Dr Aanchal Panth says they all need time to work.
“Shampoos contain ingredients which break the sebum down and help in cleaning the scalp. You have to let the shampoo sit on your scalp for 3-5 minutes for the ingredients to work. This will clean the scalp more effectively.”
You don’t need a lot of lather or product, just a gentle scalp massage with your fingertips to ensure the shampoo is getting to all the right spots.
Sandwich acids and actives if you have sensitive skin
Sensitive-skinned folk are understandably extra cautious when introducing actives into their routine. So most stay clear of the more potent stuff like glycolic acid, and retinoid or retinol. But if you are going to use something like retinol which can increase skin sensitivity, try sandwiching it. Talking to Tweak India about using retinoids safely, Dr Hemlatha Kanodia suggested applying moisturiser before and after the active. “You can also try short-contact treatment, where you apply it for 30 minutes to an hour and then wash it off.”
Give products time to work
Dr David Lim says patience tops the chart when his patients seek routine advice and beauty tips. Skincare acids or prescription products, everything needs time to work.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new purchase and be disappointed when your skin looks the same one week later. Lim says that cosmetic skincare can take anywhere from four to six weeks to show any of its benefits, and prescription products can take upwards of three months to have any impact.
A higher ingredient percentage is not always better (or necessary)
Should you use a 25% vitamin C, 15% niacinamide serum or 30% glycolic acid? A higher percentage doesn’t mean it will be better for your skin. All ingredients have a range in which they work the best, and the stronger it gets, the more likely it is to irritate the skin.
For vitamin C, most experts agree that a concentration between 5-20% is what you need to get the desired result. Niacinamide works fantastically at 5%, and a trained professional is unlikely to administer anything higher than 10% of glycolic acid at their clinic. Unfortunately, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
Have a separate face towel
Instinct may have you wiping your face with whichever towel you have in front of you – hand or body towel – but Dr Lily Talakoub says that body towels can contain remnants of soap, moisturiser, fragrances and other ingredients that could potentially irritate the face and lead to breakouts, clogged pores, and even rashes.
Dermatologist Sejal Shah adds that it is also a bacteria and cleanliness issue since “Bacteria, fungus, dead skin cells, oils and other debris can collect on the towel,” Shah tells Allure, increasing the risk of “infections, acne flares, and irritation.”
Don’t leave sunscreen in your car
I love that we’re all taking sunscreen reapplication more seriously now, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of leaving the bottle in the car for convenience.
Sure, it reminds you to protect your skin if you’re out and about. But cosmetic chemist Dr Michelle Wong says that heat builds up in a closed car, which can degrade and destabilise the sunscreen formulation. So no matter how much you apply, there’s a chance you’re not getting the amount of sun protection written on the bottle. Stick a travel-sized bottle in your bag instead.
Acne isn’t about hygiene
I’m pretty sure that everyone who has experienced moderate to severe acne has heard a comment about their hygiene at one point in their life. The next time someone says that you need to wash your face so it’s ‘clean’ and your acne will go away, tell them that the connection between hygiene and acne is a myth repeatedly busted by medical experts.
Dr John Fournier says, “Acne is absolutely not caused by poor hygiene. In fact, washing the face too frequently or too aggressively causes the skin to dry out.” Drier skin means your skin will produce more sebum to compensate, which could lead to more breakouts. Acne has a variety of causes ranging from hormones and genetics to dietary choices, over-exfoliating, and skin irritation. There’s no singular cause for everyone with acne, and it’s best determined by a trained medical expert, not the next-door neighbour.
Hair loss is extremely common
According to experts, the loss of anywhere from 50 to 100 strands a day is completely normal. However, telogen effluvium is on the rise, especially given the state of the world over the past two years. It’s a stress-related condition where, according to Dr Daniel Sugai, your hair goes into the ‘sleep phase’ and falls out.
This form of hair loss involves the shedding of more than 150 strands of hair a day, especially after a bath. “It can last 6-12 months, sometimes longer.” With stressors in our life, including COVID-19, job loss, grief, relocating cities, and surgeries, telogen effluvium can hit almost three months after a stressful event. Sugai adds that most cases resolve independently, and your hair will begin to regrow. If your hair refuses to grow back over time, you might have alopecia. Seek out a doctor’s diagnosis for further treatment.
Leave it to the professionals
When I started seeing videos of people doing at-home microneedling with a derma roller, I was tempted to pick one up myself to deal with deep acne scars. But the use of face tools, especially invasive tools such as blackhead extractors and derma rollers, is best left to the professionals to handle.
“I personally love microneedling for the treatment of acne scars, fine lines, wrinkles, pores, uneven skin texture and skin tone. But I strongly discourage the use of home microneedling devices,” says dermatologist Jenny Liu. Without proper sanitation and technique, Liu says there is a high risk of doing more damage to your skin and catching an infection that can potentially worsen your scars and hyperpigmentation. As someone with indented scars caused by some severe digging with an at-home extraction device, I wish I had known this sooner.
Leave your cuticles alone
I’m a skin picker who constantly attacks her nails, and I feel bad for my cuticles. So I started trimming the cuticles to stop myself from picking at them. But it turns out that’s not a very good idea.
“Cuticles protect your nail matrix. Trimming them or pushing them back disrupts them and can allow bacteria in, leading to a nail infection,” says Dr Aamna Adel.
The best thing you can do for your nails and cuticles is to keep your hands moisturised. And if your cuticles are dehydrated, add a thin layer of vaseline to your fingertips before sleeping to trap in some moisture.