If, all of a sudden, your skin has become blotchy, bumpy, broken out or dry, it’s possible that you’re overdoing it with skincare products. While you might think “more is better” for benefits, the reality is that too much skin care can have negative effects on your complexion. Applying products too often, using too many topicals at once or combining products that don’t work well together can all wreak havoc on healthy skin.
How much skincare is too much?
We’ve all been there. It’s hard to resist trying exciting new skincare products, or doubling (or tripling!) up thinking more is going to get us better results. But when you use an array of products together, you may experience skin irritation, acne flare-ups, peeling, redness, discoloration or even dark spots.
Experts advise creating a skincare routine that’s simple. “The basics of skin care include three steps: cleanse, protect and then restore, repair and treat, if needed,” notes board-certified dermatologist Dr. Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD and founder and CEO of AmberNoon.
“One of the most frustrating things I come across when reviewing patient skincare routines is to discover that they are using multiple products with the exact same active ingredients.”
Besides wasting money and causing potential skin issues, overuse of skincare products can lead to disappointment and frustration. We expect to see the advertised results, especially if we’re doing what labels recommend by applying products at certain times of the day or using them a certain number of days per week.
Which areas are most affected by overuse of product?
It’s not surprising that the thinnest-skinned areas of the face (such as under the eyes) and neck, along with skin folds, tend to be the most susceptible to effects of using too much product. Folds are areas where two skin surfaces touch, such as around the eyes, the mouth and neck.
When excess amounts of product with active ingredients that are drying are used, irritation and inflammation occur. “Alternatively, a hydrating product that is applied in excess runs the risk of accumulating in the pores and triggering comedonal acne or milia,” she says. Milia are small white bumps or cysts that appear under the skin’s surface.
It’s always wise to apply product evenly across the skin’s surface, taking care to not allow excess amounts to settle into thinner areas or folds.
What skincare products are best to use, and when?
For starters, everyone should be using a daily moisturizer, preferably one with an SPF of 30, applying about a dime-size amount (about a half of a teaspoon) of product to your clean, fresh face in the morning.
Additionally, a nighttime moisturizer that delivers hydrating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin E, and protective/healing ingredients, such as vitamin C, is ideal. At night, you also might apply a targeted serum or treatment that addresses your particular skincare needs (such as dark spots). Such treatments should be applied before your nighttime moisturizer for best results.
In general, product applied in the morning is intended to protect your skin from environmental stressors such as UV light, pollution and humidity. Evening products are designed to repair skin from the damage incurred during the day while you sleep at night.
For example, vitamin C is likely better suited for daytime use to protect skin from pigmentation risk from UV or blue light exposure, while retinol may best be used overnight to repair cellular damage.
Oily or acne-prone skin
If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you might use salicylic acid products as an all-over treatment (as opposed to a targeted spot treatment) when there’s an active breakout or acne present.
“In terms of dosing skin care, once daily for salicylic acid products that stay on the skin or up to twice daily for salicylic acid based cleansers should be relatively well tolerated for oily skin types,” Ilyas advises. Salicylic acid may be an ingredient in moisturizers, too, but use caution, given potential for irritation, peeling or flaking.
Salicylic acid also might be used on occasion by those with normal skin to help with exfoliation and unclogging pores. It works as a “keratolytic,” meaning it breaks apart dead skin cells so they can be washed away rather than left on the skin’s surface to accumulate.
For all other types of skin, salicylic acid should be used sparingly, if at all. Those with “sensitive skin, thin skin from aging, rosacea-prone skin…will find that the thinnest skinned areas (such as around the eyes, creases around the mouth and on the neck) will become irritated over time” with use of salicylic acid, Ilyas says.
Besides daily and nightly moisturizers and targeted serums (as noted above), retinol is commonly used for anti-aging benefits. Retinol works by targeting specific cell receptors regulating gene expression to increase the rate of cell turnover, increase collagen production and decrease the rate at which collagen is broken down.
If you’re new to using retinol, start with application every other night, then increase use as tolerated. Some moisturizers are enhanced with retinoids, allowing you to save a step with a single multi-purpose product.
How often to use skincare products for best results
Dr. Ilyas recommends the following ingredients and application frequencies for healthy skin:
- Salicylic acid spot treatment: nightly
- Salicylic acid face moisturizer or all-over face serum: once daily
- Glycerin: once daily, twice if needed
- Dark spot correcting treatment: once daily
- Retinol face and neck cream/under eye cream: once daily, at night
- Hyaluronic acid, vitamin C & E: once daily
- AHA, kojic acid, dark spot correcting treatments: once daily