Why You Should Ditch Your Excessive Skincare Habits

A few years ago, my bathroom cabinets would have made a minimalist face. Small vials of vitamin C, large essences and all kinds of acids filled the shelves. I treated skincare like speed dating; chop and switch when products didn’t meet expectations and swipe left when the next brilliant thing in skincare arrived.

I’m not alone either. 78% of people surveyed by Swedish beauty brand Foreo in a 2021 global survey said they had expanded their skincare routine since the pandemic began. #Skincare was the top beauty hashtag on Twitter in 2021, while the famous #skincareshelfie has now amassed over a million views on TikTok.

Despite my due diligence (I studied acids, invested in some at-home facial tools, and familiarized myself with multi-masking), the glowing complexion I expected never arrived. A rash that no amount of moisturizer could handle spread from one side of my forehead to my chin; cleansers stinged my face, while toners left it feeling tight. Far from being at the peak of its skin health, my complexion was worse than ever (see left image below).

When I share this news with Stefanie Williams, dermatologist and founder of Eudelo Skin Clinic, she is not so surprised. “I often see patients who abuse skin care,” she confirms. “Most are over-hydrating (using too many moisturizers or lipid-rich formulas) or layer too many products, resulting in skin being ‘lumpy’ or congested with open or closed comedones (blackheads or whiteheads).”

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Meanwhile, the other side of the spectrum is over-exfoliating. “This refers to the use of irritating ingredients such as retinoids (vitamin A derivatives that have been shown to increase cell turnover and minimize fine lines) or alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such than glycolic and lactic acid,” adds Dr. Williams. In excess, both can cause redness, dryness, itchy skin and, in severe cases, contact dermatitis – a skin rash that looks like eczema.

An explanation of why too many products can cause you problems starts with the stratum corneum. Essentially, it’s the glue that holds everything together and the outermost layer of skin, also known as the skin barrier. Consisting of lipids (fats) the products can indeed reduce the effectiveness like the ceramides, they make it possible to be defended against the daily aggressions (UV rays, infection and pollution).

“When you overuse actives or constantly change formulas, your epidermal barrier function is impaired and too much water evaporates from the skin, leading to a drop in the water content of the stratum corneum,” says Alexis. Granite, consultant dermatologist for Cera Ve. “As the skin dries out, small cracks appear in the barrier, which can let in irritants and germs that can cause dermatitis and make existing skin conditions worse.[such as acne and rosacea].’ According to research published in the Journal Of Clinical And AestheticDermatology, erosion of the skin barrier is one of the leading causes of skin problems for dermatologists.

Can this reduce the effectiveness of the products?

While an enthusiastic approach to actives doesn’t leave your skin visibly irritated, it could dampen their effectiveness due to the way certain ingredients interact. It’s ironic, really. While single-ingredient options such as hyaluronic acid and niacinamide were designed to make evidence-based ingredients more accessible to you and me, DIY skincare layering – using multiple single-ingredient formulas – can ultimately reduce efficiency. Take vitamin C and AHAs; used together, the acids can destabilize the pH balance of vitamin C, rendering both useless and can cause irritation.

What is the impact on the environment?

Also consider the impact of these multi-step routines on the environment, and the case for removing them becomes even stronger. “Two decades ago, brands would launch product ranges seasonally – now it’s weekly,” says Millie Kendall, CEO of the British BeautyCouncil. Not only does increased production create excess waste – the cosmetics industry produces around 120 billion packaging units worldwide every year, according to recycling company TerraCycle – but it also fuels the belief that more steps, and therefore more products, are the solution.

As beauty platform Skoosh Skin reported, 77% of women in the UK buy up to 100 products a year, but use fewer than 10 items regularly. This equates to over 5kg of beauty and packaging waste in a lifetime and a cost of over £180,000. I am as guilty of this as the next person; it pains me to think of how quickly I gave up on formulas that didn’t work when in reality I never gave them the time or space to be effective.

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Here to help us reduce our bloated routines is movement on command. One of the leading brands is Skin + Me, a personalized skincare service based on the theme of excess. “I experienced the worst skin of my life in my mid-twenties,” says co-founder Rachel Jones. “I got carried away trying every new skincare brand and product launch, and added so many steps, tools, and ingredients that it became a constant process of trial and error. and mistakes, leading to tenderness, clogged pores, and breakouts.” Jones launched Skin + Me in 2020 to offer an online consultation offering active ingredients specifically tailored to your skin’s needs; a formula that dispenses just the right amount of product every time.

How to Start a Simple Skincare Routine

The first step, Dr. Williams tells me, is to understand your skin’s needs. Be clear about
what you want to achieve, whether it’s reducing breakouts, minimizing the appearance of fine lines, or fortifying the skin barrier. Then consult a qualified expert if skin problems such as rosacea, sensitivity and acne persist. If you can’t, there are now online marketplaces like Trinny London’s Match2Me, where you get product suggestions based on your concerns and skin type.

Next, start a simple but thoughtful routine, then stick to it. “I would start with products rather than ingredients,” adds DrGranite. “Essential basics include cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen. Then, in the evening, after washing, you can apply a retinoid. Note that if you introduce the latter, it is important to do it gradually to avoid irritation.

Want to add another step? You can, but do it one product at a time – wait two to four weeks before introducing the next one. To fortify the skin barrier, Dr. Williams also points to hyaluronic acid to help hydrate your skin and stabilize epidermal barrier function without causing congestion.

What skincare products can you remove?

Consider unnecessary steps. Do You Really Need a Facial Scrub and Retinol? Maybe not. “If you’re already using a chemical exfoliant such as a retinoid, there’s usually no need to add a mechanical exfoliant such as a scrub,” confirms Dr. Williams. This could lead to over-exfoliation of your skin and, you guessed it, an impaired skin barrier.

Another contentious subject: the eye contour cream. This should only be an additional consideration if your eye area is of particular concern, confirms Dr. Granite. And for the toner? Miss it, apparently. “Most people really don’t need toner unless they have very oily skin,” says Dr. Granite. “Toners can be quite stripping and if you’ve chosen a cleanser that’s right for your skin type, this shouldn’t be necessary.”

What does a reduced routine look like?

For me, a simplified routine looks like a harsh (albeit gentle) cleanser (CeraVe HydratingCleanser, £10), an antioxidant serum (SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Antioxidant Serum) and an SPF and moisturizer (CeraVeFacial Moisturizing Lotion SPF50, see right), with the addition of retinol (Murad Retinol YouthRenewal Night Cream, £70) in the evening:

Finally, if it is not broken? Don’t fix it. If your multi-step routine is working for you, feel free to stick with it. Skin health is different for everyone and what works for one person may not work for another. But if, like me, your multi-step routine produces more heartache than glow, there’s good reason to scrap it.

Donovan B. Sanford