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.
Solution: You don’t have to give up the cosmetics counters completely! Just approach them with ingredient awareness and an understanding of your skin and ask for samples before you buy.
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
Considering the love I have for brands like COSRX and Tosowoong, it might sound funny for me to call brand loyalty a bad habit.
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?
21 thoughts on “5 Bad Skincare Habits to Break Right Now”
Preach! You’re so dead on about so much! One of the hardest things I had to learn was to listen to my skin and scale back acids to what was suitable. Also, the longer I do this, the longer I spend “breaking in” and testing a new product because when things go wrong (and they do) or just doesn’t live up to expectations, I want to know exactly what and why.
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Awesome points! I could go into detail about how I’ve gone through every of these points in my skincare journey – but I won’t! Maybe that can be a future blog post.
Anywho, I think the toughest one for me was to transition from taking the word of media as gospel to listening to *my* skin. How much torture did I put my skin (and my sanity) through before I realized I needed to do this, I don’t know.
The whole “starting everything at once” thing is something I still have a tough time with. ALL THE PRETTIES!! My face neeeeeds them now! I’m a very patient person, but apparently it all goes out the window when it comes to beauty stuff. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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The last one!
I have to add to this that I have friends whose skin comes close to flawless IRL too. But it turnt out after a while that they’re just really clever with make up! Still, bottom line is my expectations are too high and I’m prone to comparisons. And those are poisonous habits to have.
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Oh, and really really great post! As always ~~
Oh, this was beautiful. Awesome article! Hit me right in the truth-feels. I especially love the point about not expecting perfection. When you work really hard on your skin, you feel like there should be an immediate, obvious payout. And that payout should be flawless skin. Sigh. I also had to learn that what might be a HG product for (what seems like) the entire world may be horrible for my skin. ::side-glance at P50 Original::
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Thank you! And I’m so glad I’m too cheap to fall for P50…Chel’s working on a Pixi Glow dupe to ease all our cravings for that stuff!
This is such good advice and we’ll written 🙂 I’ve had to admit recently (to myself – no one else cares) that I need to scale back on the exfoliation and masks. It’s just so hard to have self control when you really love a product!
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Yup yup! Exfoliation is the hardest thing for me to control myself with, because that “silky smooth” feeling is so, so addictive.
Each of these points is so flipping important! Thank you for putting this list together. I have some thoughts around pointes 1 and 4 and 5.
1. Like you said, it’s important to go slow and incorporate things one at a time, when things go wrong, in order to identify the offending product and ingredient.. But on the flip side, you also want to be able to identify which product is responsible for all of the improvement in your skin. Very important, especially when it comes time to repurchase.
4. I totally agree. I think of my skin like the rest of my body. I want to vary its diet to keep it properly nourished and treated. Many brands have entire lines devoted to a handful of star ingredients, but do you really need saccharomyces ferment filtrate 5 times in your skin’s diet (via your essence, your serum, your emulsion… and so on)? I liken sticking to one line of products to going on a restrictive diet.. like a sweet potato, cabbage soup, or even Atkins diet. This sort of diet may get your all of the nutrients you need, but it’s definitely less than optimal.
5. We do the best we can with our skincare routines, but what a great reminder to appreciate where we’ve been, and how far we’ve gotten! Progress (without attachment to perfection) is one of the most fun and motivating parts of skincare!
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Such a nice and true post and I agree to every bit of it 🙂
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I always look forward to your blog posts! I feel like that, while I already know most of these points, your pointing them out makes them so much more ‘real.’ When I began AB my skin was so dehydrated it drank up everything I could throw at it. I can’t really say it was because of the particular product, as much as I was finally giving it hydration. We have similar skin so I always look forward to your recommendations on ingredients to look for. Thank you skincare friend!
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can you explain the difference between the effects of the Tosowoong mists and the essences? I am interested in the propolis/syn-ake/snail line products but not sure whether I should buy the mists (which are cheaper) or the essences.
Love your posts! Been lurking here a while & finally saying hello. Saw the bit about Neutrogena retinol which I wondered about myself – I used it for years. Last winter I upgraded to Skinceuticals 1% retinol. I figured my skin tolerated Neutrogena fine I’d go straight to the 1% and skip the 0.5%. My skin was in total shock. It literally took months to adjust. I know the Neutrogena did make some difference but I’m convinced the amount of retinol in it is teeny. But every little bit helps right? And sometimes that’s all your skin will tolerate. Anyway, thanks for the blog! 🙂
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Which sample service do you use?
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Haha, sorry, “sample service” just means the custom of stores handing out lots of samples 🙂
awesome post. I’ve posted my question earlier on your awesome ” My Routine” post and was browsing your blog for info…and found this awesome post…and I have two questions 🙂
1. AHA, BHA, Vitamin C, Retinol….I’m trying to figure out in what order to use, should I use them during same pm routine or I need to rotate them:well today use AHA, tomorrow retinol and etc
2. If using during the same night what is the order and how long to wait between products?
Fiddy, I understand that you are not giving any “medical” advises and everybody skin is different…but please, please help me to understand the basics 🙂
I’ve been through other great websites you’ve recommended Skin and Tonic, HolySnails and White Asian Pear and although routines are listed – there is no information on my questions above 🙂
Hah- I’ve been caught red-handed. Thank you for this post! I shall start with one of my products before adding one every week since I’m not too satisfied with the results my routine is giving me at the moment. However, does this mean that I should start with my cleanser before adding my toner the next week etc? Or use the basics in one week before adding the others? Thank you!
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HEY so idk if you’ll see this but i have oily/acne prone skin. My esthetician gave me a medical skincare to use & it’s finally starting to show SOME results after using it for 2/3 months but not a whole lot. Plus their entire product line is really expensive & I’m on a budget. (a $40 toner being their cheapest & a nearly $200 serum is their most expensive SMH). I want to start using korean skincare bc the American ones I’ve used so far haven’t helped at all & I guess I’m curious on trying Korean brands & generally they’re cheaper and a lot of ppl have said good things abt it. But the reason why I broke out w/ acne in the first place is because I kept on switching up skin products so I’m kind of skeptical. :((
Should I switch or just stick to what I’m doing now? Sorry for the long post RIP.
Idk if you’ll see this but it’s worth a shot HAHA so I have oily & acne prone skin. My esthetician gave me a medical skin care to use & it’s finally starting to show SOME results after 2-3 months but not a whole lot. Most of their products cost are expensive (a $40 toner being their cheapest & their most expensive was nearly a $200 serum SMH) which bothers me bc I’m on a budget. I want to start using Korean skincare bc the American brands I’ve used so far haven’t helped much so I guess I’m curious on trying Korean brands & generally they’re lot cheaper but the reason why my acne worsened in the first place is bc I kept on switching up skin products so I’m kind of skeptical. :((
Should I switch or stick to what I’m doing now? And sorry for the long post rip.
Hiya! What medical skincare line is it? I hear very mixed things about those salon/esthetician-sold lines in general but I’m curious.
If you’re thinking about revamping your skincare, I would definitely suggest to do it very carefully and methodically (and slowly). Look at the routine you have now and choose either: one thing that your routine does not give you, or one product you use that is not giving you what you expect. If you want to add something in that your routine doesn’t give you, then look for a product that fits your requirements. If you want to replace one of your products, same deal. Basically just replace/add only one product at a time and since your skin is acne-prone, give the new product at least a couple of weeks without making any other change in your routine so that if you have problems, you’ll know what is causing them.
Thank you for responding! Anyways, it’s not a very well known skincare line in my opinion. It’s called pv skincare (?) http://pvskincareproducts.com/ this is their website. I’ve done TONS of research during my free time but I’m also hesitant because the medical skincare is actually helping a bit but like I said, I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars each time i run out but since I plan on replacing them I’m worried the products I’m interested in buying won’t help & my money would just go down the drain.
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