How To Simplify Your Skin Care Routine To Avoid Breakouts

By Jessica DeFino
New York Times
Too many products can stress out your skin. Here’s how to scale back. Prop stylist / Megan Caponetto. Photo / Travis Rathbone, The New York Times

Multistep routines can cause breakouts and other issues, experts say.

Laura Read, a former beauty influencer from London, didn’t understand why her skin was breaking out. She regularly collaborated with cosmetics companies for her YouTube tutorials and had her pick of lotions, potions and creams to address the issues. But

Eventually, she turned her attention to “the amount of products I was testing and trying.” She limited herself to cleanser and moisturiser — “no serums, no toners, no face masks, nothing” — and her skin issues resolved within weeks.

Mary Schook, a celebrity aesthetician based in New York City, has seen the same. She said her clients often come to her inflamed and confused: They have access to the “best” products money can buy — but have the “worst” skin of their lives.

“Every appointment is a recon mission,” Schook said. “People are stressing out their skin by overusing skin care products.”

Influencers and celebrities aren’t the only ones experiencing this, experts said. As intricate skin care regimens trend on social media and product sales continue to climb, the consumers buying into these routines are breaking out, too.

How can products stress out your skin?

Breakouts and other skin issues happen for a host of reasons, from psychological stress to hormones, but over-applying products is also a common cause, said Dr Sonia Khorana, a physician based in Britain who specialises in dermatology.

The skin barrier is the body’s outermost layer and the immune system’s first line of defense, said Dr Tamia Harris-Tryon, a professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Made primarily of proteins and fats, it protects against environmental threats, also known as stressors. These include sunlight, pollutants, allergens, irritants and microbes, she said.

“The barrier is like armour in that it breaks down aggressors so that they are rendered harmless,” said Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist based in New York. But prolonged exposure to any of those stressors can result in overtaxed skin.

Skin care ingredients can be stressors, too. And every ingredient applied to your skin is another potential threat for the barrier to assess, Robinson said.

The more products you use, the harder it can be for your skin to do its job and the more problems that may pop up, Harris-Tryon added.

Product overuse can result in dryness, redness, breakouts, blotches and dermatitis. And it can cause flare-ups of underlying skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis.

But it’s “possible to de-stress your skin,” Khorana said. All you need is less.

What should you remove from your routine?

To start, “take a vacation from your actives,” said Dr Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist in New York. These ingredients “activate” surface-level changes in the skin and include things such as retinoids, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide and lactic acid.

They’re often celebrated for “addressing wrinkles or evening skin tone,” but impressive results can come with undesirable consequences, Robinson said.

You should also forgo any face cleanser that makes your skin feel tight or itchy, as both are signs of a disturbed skin barrier, Bowe said.

Khorana added that this is especially true of cleansers that feature surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate, as this class of ingredients can cause “dryness, irritation and eczema.”

Avoid products with alcohols, exfoliants, essential oils and fragrances, Bowe said, since these are also likely to irritate. And consider giving up washcloths, because rubbing the skin can be damaging, she added.

The bottom line: “If a product is causing your skin to be irritated or turn red, don’t use it,” Harris-Tyron said. The same goes for one that leaves you with tingling or stinging sensations.

What should your routine look like instead?

While your skin is healing, the experts all recommended sticking to the basics: cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen.

“Use a gentle, non-foaming, pH-balanced cleanser,” Khorana said, and use lukewarm water to rinse.

You don’t even have to wash your face twice a day, Bowe said. “If you want to skip it in the morning and just splash your face with water, that’s perfectly acceptable.”

Look for a moisturiser with “calming, soothing, nourishing” properties and apply it to damp skin morning and night, she said. She suggested formulas containing ingredients known to support the skin barrier, like squalane, jojoba and sunflower seed oils, and ceramides.

As for daytime sun protection, Bowe said mineral sunscreens made with zinc oxide may be gentler on skin than chemical formulas.

Khorana said it can take around four weeks for your skin to clear up, so be sure to stick to the new routine. “It is important to be patient while the skin repairs itself,” she said.

Once her clients have healed, Schook said that they rarely return to their previous multistep routines. “If they’re seeing results with this really simplified approach, why would they?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Written by: Jessica DeFino

Photographs by: Travis Rathbone


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