Getting Off the Skincare Merry-Go-Round

By skincare merry-go-round I mean doing things that get you nowhere, wastes your time and money, and is probably making your skin worse instead of better.  Instead of going with the flow and doing things because everybody is else is doing it, take a good hard look at your skincare regimen.   Do you continually jump from one thing to another?  Do you compulsively buy when somebody raves about a product?  Is your skin getting better or worse over time?  These are things that you need to think about.  You may want to rehaul your whole skincare regimen at the end.  I learned these things during my own personal journey of going from skincare junkie to skincare minimalist.  I’ve done it all, and I learned the hard way that less is best.     

Things to Keep in Mind

1.   Skincare is not a one-size-fits-all type of endeavor.  What may be a miracle product for one person may be total disaster for somebody else.  Everybody’s skin history, physiological makeup, lifestyle, level of health, genetics is unique.  You can’t expect a product to work identically for everybody.  Keep that in mind when you start using something and it’s not working out.   Don’t keep on using harsh treatments that are making your skin an irritated, red, peeling mess, even if everybody insists it’s okay because lots of people do it or that you must endure the pain for the gain.  You shouldn’t have to go through any pain to obtain beautiful, healthy skin.   It’s your skin, get to know it, take control of it, and don’t go by anybody else’s experience. 

2.  Be a saavy consumer. . . know what you are applying.  Blindly believing what you hear from other consumers and using claims from manufacturers as a way of making purchasing decisions is not the best way to go.  I used to routinely buy into product “raves” and “fads” touted on forums without researching the ingredients, and 90% of the time the products didn’t work for me.  So keep in mind it may be a very small number of people raving ecstatically about a product they’ve only used a few days or weeks.  Don’t be sucked into the buying frenzy before checking out the facts.  You’re likely to end up  with a bathroom full of useless and expensive lotions and potions.  Of course testimonials are helpful, but many times you have no idea if what people say is true, and it’s all subjective anyway. What may be great results for somebody else may seem miniscule to you, depending the condition of the skin to begin with.  Somebody with minor problems cannot compare their results with somebody who has major problems.  Also, that person may be younger than you, be healthier than you, use other products, gadgets, etc, etc.  So because of all the variables, you cannot solely go by testimonials.

To further assess if a product is worthwhile trying, read the label; know what is in the product, and how the ingredients work to affect changes in your skin. Look for in vivo studies or patents.  Look at the background of the people selling the products.  Do they possess the knowledge to formulate skincare products properly?  Do they possess advanced degrees and understand the physiology of the skin, biochemistry, cosmetic science and formulation?  Anybody can throw ingredients together and call it a product, but a cosmetically “elegant” product that smells, feels, and looks good on the skin and doesn’t go bad is extremely difficult to achieve unless you have training and years of experience.  Do they participate in the big national trade shows?  Any skincare company worth looking at will participate in trade shows like the International Congress of Esthetics and Spa (ICES) or the Face and Body Conference and Expos.  The latest skincare innovators always attend these shows.  Also look at who carries or sells the products.  The more reputable products are sold by doctors and estheticians, because their livelihood depends on producing results for clients. 

Don’t buy something just because it’s expensive.  The belief that “expensive means it works” may apply for cars, but is seldom the case in skincare.  Unlike cars, most skincare manufacturers keep the consumer in the dark about how the products work and don’t provide any meaningful studies for comparison.  They can say whatever they want to and nobody can prove otherwise.  Just be extremely wary of expensive skincare products containing cheap ingredients as the main ingredients or companies who don’t openly provide information about ingredients.  You may be paying for a pretty package, advertising, and wishful thinking. 

3.  Think about the pros and cons of any skincare product.  Most people focus on the pros and totally brush off the cons.  This is really short-sighted thinking and can lead to problems in the long-run.  You have to weigh any benefits with the risks and decide if it’s worth it.  You may find a wonderful line that produces visible results, but if you have to spend hundreds of dollars each month to maintain the results, then maybe it’s not such a good thing for your skin or pocketbook.  What if your skin becomes dependent on it after awhile?  What if you couldn’t afford it anymore, then what happens?  You may find a product that gets rid of your hyperpigmentation but will you have to use it forever?  Is it making your skin sensitive?  Think about the chemicals that are being applied on the skin daily or twice daily.  Anything you apply on the skin could potentially enter and accumulate in the body in some amount, especially if you apply it for long periods of time.    

Consider the case of Retin-A.   We’ve all heard about the pros of Retin-A for anti-aging.  But most people don’t even think about its cons, which are many.  If you intend to use Retin-A for anti-aging, you have to realize it’s sold as a treatment for severe acne, not anti-aging.  It has potentially skin damaging side effects if misused or overused, which many people routinely do.  Long-term studies of the effectiveness, side effects, or safety of Retin-A for anti-aging have never been done.  Just read the drug insert for Retin-A.  It’s clearly stated as such:   

Indications and Usage:
RETIN-A is indicated for topical application in the treatment of acne vulgaris. The safety and efficacy of the long-term use of this product in the treatment of other disorders have not been established.


The common belief that Retin-A is the gold standard for anti-aging has been floating around for 20+ years old at this point.  How it gained that reputation is very dubious (Read the 1st article in Resources for the whole story), but it’s also evident many people cannot tolerate it and should not be using it.  Retin-A is a drug and very potent and irritating.  It’s known to thin the epidermis, cause broken capillaries, dry the skin, and make the skin extremely sun sensitive and prone to hyperpigmentation.  Overuse of Retin-A increases the likelihood it will take over the skin’s ability to function on its own.  If you are a long-term Retin-A user, you may find that once you stop, your skin will take a dramatic turn for the worse.  If that happens, the skin has become “addicted” to Retin-A.  Also consider that pregnant women cannot use Retin-A which implies it can enter the bloodstream over time and harm developing fetuses.  That also means it may be affecting your own organs over time.       

Recent research has revealed other forms of vitamin A (retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, and retinaldehyde) which are much less irritating and provide similar benefits as Retin-A over time.  Same thing applies to another old standby of skincare, L-ascorbic acid (LAA or vitamin C).  There are pros and cons to using that.  It may increase collagen and brighten the skin, but LAA is extremely unstable and irritating to many people.  You may be better off using a less irritating form of vitamin C such as MAP or tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. 

Considering the low absorption rates of Retin-A (2%) and LAA (2%) and the high irritation potential, does it make sense to use them when there are other safer alternative forms?   Just because everybody else is using it, doesn’t make it right for you.   Look for things that you can tolerate and provide similar benefits. 

4.  Think simple and your skin will thank you.  Putting multiple products on a daily basis and mixing products from multiple skincare lines may be setting your skin up for sensitivity or, worse yet, cosmetic intolerance syndrome (CIS).  CIS is a little known condition of the skin discovered and coined by Dr. Howard Maibach, a leading research dermatologist at UCLA.  Have you ever noticed how you can be using products for the longest of time with no problem and then, all of a sudden, you develop a rash, or irritation from it?   It’s not a true allergic reaction, because it develops over time.  CIS is the result of continually applying irritants and topicals to the skin on a regular basis.  The skin is not designed to handle all these outside ingredients on a regular basis and treats most of it as waste products to be disposed of.  Unfortunately the skin’s waste mechanism becomes so inundated after awhile that it just shuts down, and the skin becomes sensitized.  By reacting this way, the skin is telling you to stop applying stuff, but most people apply even more stuff to try to fix the situation.  It becomes an endless loop with your skin becoming more and more sensitive and depleted over time.  This is especially true of aging skin.  It may present as rosacea or acne at first, but then your skin becomes sensitive to just about anything after awhile.  With the most severe cases of CIS, even the application of water sets off an allergic reaction, or it affects the whole body.  Thankfully, full-blown CIS is very rare, but you don’t want to go down that path.  If your skin is becoming sensitive and stings after applying things you used to tolerate, you need to stop and reassess what you are putting on your face on a daily basis.

The best thing to do to avoid this from happening is to minimize the topicals you apply daily and especially chemical and synthetic sunscreens and moisturizers.   If you have to use sunscreen, use a powder sunscreen.  Use gentle cleansers that don’t foam and don’t over wash; once a day is adequate for most people.  Forgo moisturizers and liquid makeup if possible.  The skin should be creating its own moisture anyway.  Ironically, regular use of moisturizers can make your skin drier (see Resources), and liquid makeup, moisturizers, and sunscreens are major causes of clogged pores.   The goal of skincare should be to get your skin to the point where you don’t need makeup to hide any flaws or moisturizer to keep it moisturized.  The goal is to make the skin self-sufficient again.    

5.  Honestly evaluate your skincare regimen’s effectiveness by discovering the true state of your skin.   How do you do this?…. Stop using products and go bare for 2 or 3 weeks.  This is the only way you will ever know what your skin truly looks like at baseline.  Otherwise, your skin is an artifact of your regimen.  It may look good as long as you continue doing it, but it is not changing the health of your skin.  For 2 or more weeks, just wash with water, gentle cleanser, and use powder sunscreen if going out.   Apply no foundation makeup, no moisturizers, no topicals, no actives; perform no manual exfoliation or peels.  If your skin continues to look good after 2 or 3 weeks, then you can feel confident your regimen is working to make your skin healthy and has not become dependent on the skincare products.  If your skin turns into a mess, then you know your skin has become a prisoner of your skincare regimen, and you will be on the merry-go-round forever, unless you start changing something.  Unless you can promote healthy skin functions by improving cellular health, any surface “results” usually diminish or stop after awhile.  Then you have to start looking for another product to takes it place.  It becomes an unending search because you are not addressing the true causes of your skin issues.  Don’t continue to use damaging skincare products until your skin has become so distressed and worn out that it turns into senescent skin which is impermeable and nonreactive, skin which has aged so much it can’t recover with any treatment, even normally effective ones.  Once your skin reaches this state, you might as well toss in the skincare towel.  Your skin is at its end-point.     

6.  You cannot separate the skin from the body.  It’s an integral part of your body.  Similarly, you cannot separate the mind from the body.  If your body is not taken care of properly, it reflects in the skin, especially if you smoke, drink excessively, are chronically ill and on medications, eat poorly, never exercise, stress out all the time, and never get enough sleep.   Skincare should be thought in a holistic setting, taking in account all these other factors.   Fix your body, and the skin follows suit.  The mind greatly influences the functions of the body through physiological pathways.  Stress creates cortisol and shortens telomeres faster, it ages you.  Positive thinking or the placebo effect may actually promote the results you are hoping to achieve.  Studies have shown this to be true.  See Resources below.  So, when starting any new product, think positive thoughts.  Give it a long enough trial to produce visible results, usually 3-6 months is adequate.     

Final Thoughts

I was on the skincare merry-go-round for 30+ years, and I’m so glad to be off of it now.  True skin freedom is when you can go out without makeup and not be slathered in sunscreens and moisturizers every day….to have the best skin for your age but not be a slave to any regimen or product.   If you want off the merry-go-round too, remember to:

1.  Think outside of the box.  What was discovered 20 or 30 years ago may no longer be the gold standard or best solution available.  Stop believing everything you hear and read as truth (even my blog).  Question things that just don’t seem right.     
2.  Be informed, do your research. 
3.  Take calculated risks after weighing all the pros and cons. 
4.  Be flexible and adaptable.  Don’t give up at the first setback.  But don’t blindly continue if it clearly isn’t working either.   
5.  Most importantly, be patient.  Most worthwhile things in life take time.  “Miracles” in skincare are usually short-lived.      




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