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Notes on More is Not Always Merrier

There is a common and unfortunate misconception that using more products in your skincare routine will automatically equate to better results. This is far from the case. More dermatologists and estheticians are seeing clients who come in with a self-diagnosis of sensitive skin (a lifelong skin type) when in actuality they have sensitised skin (a skin issue occurring from product overload).

Despite what marketing claims would have us believe, using too many products can cause more harm than good. The acid mantle is an ultra-fine film of amino acids, sweat and sebum (oil) that naturally veils the outermost layer of the skin. It performs an important protective function, preventing bacteria, viruses and other contaminants from penetrating the skin. When we use too many products or switch frequently between them, we can damage the acid mantle and its antimicrobial role. A damaged barrier function shows up in the skin as inflammation, break-outs and congestion, and dry and flaky patches – hence why people experiencing this are quick to assume they’ve suddenly turned into a sensitive skin type.

With so many powerful active ingredients readily available in over-the-counter formulations ranging from cleansers to moisturisers, it’s no surprise we may accidentally go overboard. Retinols and acids, for example, can cause irritation when used in conjunction as they both work to exfoliate the skin. While I encourage the use of active ingredients, they should be handled with care. Always introduce them at a low dosage and allow the skin to gradually build up a tolerance. 

If you feel you may be experiencing an impaired barrier function, I’d recommend paring back your routine. For most people, a simplified morning routine might look like a gentle cleanse with an oil or milk, the use of an antioxidant treatment such as a vitamin C serum, and a layer of non-comedogenic moisturiser that won’t clog the pores, followed by a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF50. In the evenings, double cleanse (an oil or milk to remove makeup and debris, followed by a cleanse with a slight lather to clear out the pores), the use of a hydrating serum such as a hyaluronic acid, followed by an eye cream and nourishing night cream or mask to lock in hydration. This easy-to-follow daily routine can be complemented by using a chemical exfoliator a few times a week (PHAs are especially delicate) or retinol treatment.