Years and years ago when I had the time and energy and patience to play JRPGs from dawn to way past dusk, I played this game called Parasite Eve. It was kind of disappointing because it was a lot more linear than I’d expected and only delivered about 12 hours of gameplay. It did, however, have pretty bad-ass cutscenes (for the time), and there was a line of text at the end of the intro sequence that: “The worst foe lies within the self.” Which is so true. Even when it comes to skincare. So if you’re working on improving your skin, watch out for these bad skincare habits and work on breaking them.
I’m not talking about the obvious bad habits, like not wearing sunscreen or regularly washing your face with harsh, alkaline cleansers or failing to maintain good basic skin hygiene. No, I’m talking about the subtler bad habits. There are some very common and very counterproductive skincare habits that can set you back months or years in your quest for the best skin you can achieve.
1. Starting everything all at once
The initial process of skincare discovery can be exhilarating. If you’re a Redditor, you can spend hours upon hours reading through posts on Skincare Addiction or Asian Beauty. And even if you aren’t, it’s incredibly easy (and fun) to fall down the rabbit hole of super informative Asian skincare blogs like Fanserviced-B and nonsonoquitter and Holy Snails. One of the most addictive types of blog post, at least for me, is the skincare routine breakdown. Lately I’ve been poring over Snow White and the Asian Pear‘s summer skincare routine and The Wanderlust Project‘s nighttime skincare routine. It’s just really fun to see what everyone else is using.
The temptation, especially if you’re relatively new to this, is to think that because these routines work so well for your favorite bloggers, they’ll work for you, too. But there’s no way to get around the fact that your best skincare routine is going to be one you build yourself–and you’re going to have to go slow if you want to avoid disaster.
The thing about throwing every single thing in your new routine onto your face at once is that if your skin doesn’t like one (or more) of your new products, you will have absolutely no idea which product gave you issues. You’ll waste weeks or months experimenting and eliminating in order to find the culprit.
Solution: I know it’s torture, but go slow. Add one product to your routine at a time and give it at least a week before you introduce another. That way, if a product irritates your skin, breaks you out, or just flat-out doesn’t make a difference, you’ll know exactly which one it is (for the most part).
2. Throwing every active at your face right at the start
As you may have noticed from your favorite skincare bloggers’ daily routines, actives are pretty popular. Actives are great. AHAs and BHAs can work wonders for skin tone, skin texture, and the appearance of your pores. Vitamin C is a skin-brightening, collagen-building powerhouse. Retinoids are killer for most of the signs of visible aging.
The thing is, actives like retinol and vitamin C and chemical exfoliants work so well because they’re really strong. If you’ve never used a chemical exfoliant or a retinoid before, your skin might be in for a shocker. L-ascorbic acid vitamin C can sting like crazy, especially in the beginning. Retinoids can cause a crapton of peeling and irritation when you first start using them. And the overexfoliation and dehydrated skin caused by overdoing AHAs and BHAs takes weeks to repair, weeks in which you’ll have to baby your skin with only the blandest and most un-fun products you have. Talk about a setback.
Solution: Take things very slow when starting actives. It’s not only about introducing one at a time, but about gradually evaluating your skin’s tolerance for each. Start by using one active product just once every three days for at least a week. If your skin feels fine, then go to once every other day, again for at least a week. If your skin continues to tolerate the product well, you can try using the active once a day–and don’t even think about adding another active until that seems to go well. Also, if you’re using any prescription retinoids, follow your derm’s instructions to the letter and consult him or her if you have any questions or problems with your treatment.
Also keep in mind that not everyone’s skin can tolerate daily actives at all. You may find that you can only use them once every other day. You may find that you can’t use more than one active a day, so you’ll have to alternate your actives. That’s okay, and plenty of people still see great results that way. The most important thing is to listen to your skin and respect its limits!
3. Trusting the “authority” of cosmetics salespersons (and corporate fashion and beauty media)
Story time! When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was completely devoted to fashion and beauty magazines. Every month, I devoured the new issues of Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, Glamour, and Marie Claire, and I took all their recommendations as straight gospel.
That means that I spent a lot of time (and a lot money) at the cosmetics counters in various department stores. I let Clarins sales associates massage all manner of lotions and creams into my face, I snatched up every Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden product I saw mentioned in a magazine, and I unquestioningly chugged the La Mer Kool-Aid and dropped over a hundred dollars on a tub of Creme de la Mer.
(Which, by the way, is pretty much just Nivea in the blue tin with some sea kelp bioferment mixed in.)
(And also, you’d think that for that price, they could come up with better packaging, as my friend Chel from Holy Snails pointed out once.)
So what did all my trust in magazines and department store beauty counter salespersons get me?
Breakout after breakout after breakout and a face that bore a startling resemblance to the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.
Here’s the thing (and I hope I don’t get into too much trouble for saying this): When it comes to skincare, corporate beauty media is not an authority in anything except trends and new releases. If you’re unfamiliar with the way media works, you might be shocked to learn how many features and featured products started out as press releases and press samples. Brand PR drives a lot of corporate media content development, and it’s often harder to tell which magazine stories were pitched by PR reps than it is to tell which blog posts feature press samples.
Cosmetics salespersons are problematic for a very similar reason. There is no standardized skincare education that sales associates have to undergo in order to sell skincare products (and really, even esthetician training and licensing requirements vary widely enough that I’d say you shouldn’t really count all estheticians as authorities, either).
You know what cosmetics salespersons are trained in? Selling cosmetics.
That doesn’t mean that all cosmetics salespersons are shady. Far from it! Many work in cosmetics sales because they love skincare and cosmetics and want to be a part of the industry. What it does mean is that they don’t always have a rounded and objective knowledge base. And it also means that they are usually trained by their employers to believe and spout the corporate buzzwords and corporate pseudoscience cooked up to sell their products.
It’s how you end up with sales associates that tell customers they’re “too young to need to use cleansing oils,” that burning and breakouts from a product mean that “it’s working,” and that the “chemicals” (oooh, scary!) in skincare products “enter your bloodstream” (spoiler: yeah, not so much). In most cases, they aren’t lying to you on purpose (note: I said “in most cases,” not “all”). They’re just misinformed or uninformed. If you aren’t careful, that lack of knowledge–and lack of knowledge of your skin–can lead to problems for you.
As for corporate beauty media, I still think it’s fun to check out what’s new and trendy and consider ways to incorporate the hot new thing into my routine. I mean, K-beauty itself is one of those hot and trendy things that all the magazines are buzzing about. But looking at trends with a critical eye and knowing which products or ingredients sound too good to be true will go a long way towards saving some money and some pain.
4. Sticking with one brand for every single step
The thing about brand loyalty is that it’s very limiting. The fact that a brand makes your holy grail moisturizer doesn’t mean that its serums are guaranteed to be a slam dunk too. Some larger brands make so many products that at least a few of those products are going to be duds, while others offer so few products that you won’t be able to come up with an effective or well rounded routine if you don’t look elsewhere.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out multiple products from a single brand. Something about Tosowoong works really well for me, as you can see. But be aware of why you’re choosing a product. It shouldn’t just be because it’s made by a certain company, but also because the ingredients suggest that it will offer some substantive benefit to your skin.
Solution: Try out multiple products from your favorite brands as much as you want, but be aware that other brands may offer equivalent or even better options for the need you’re trying to address. Again, samples can be your best friend.
5. Expecting perfection
The last counterproductive habit I want to talk about is the biggest one, the one that’s almost guaranteed to cause you the most pain and the most dissatisfaction if you let it take hold. It’s the habit of expecting perfection.
It’s really easy to think that perfect, poreless, ageless skin is attainable. I mean, every picture in every magazine and every movie star ever has at least that one moment of sheer flawlessness, and there are plenty of regular people floating around on the Internet with pictures that showcase their inhumanly amazing skin.
You know why it’s so hard to get your skin to look like the skin of models in magazines? That’s because even the skin of models in magazines doesn’t look like the skin of models in magazines. Pictures are edited more often than not, or at least very flatteringly lit or taken on particularly good days (ahem…I’m too lazy to Photoshop and I don’t know a damn thing about lighting, but I know enough to only take selfies on good skin days, unless they’re selfies on Snapchat).
Driving yourself crazy trying to achieve perfection will accomplish nothing except to drive you crazy. Skincare isn’t about finding the magic potion that will put a real-life Insta filter on your face. It’s about the incremental improvements that bring you to the best skin you can have. Remembering that will help you see the positive changes you’re experiencing more clearly.
Solution: Manage your expectations. “Perfect” is unattainable in most cases, but “your personal best” is not. Take regular progress pictures, trying to get the same location, angle, and lighting each time for optimal accuracy, and be aware of the small but real improvements that each step in your skincare routine has delivered. The more realistic your expectations, the happier you’ll be with your real results!
Are there any bad skincare habits I’ve missed or that you’re trying hard to change?