Ultra-Casual Friday: YMMV and Why Skincare Isn’t Simple

Sorry, guys! I was planning to write a Post-Turkey Panic Shopping guide this weekend, but there’s a topic that’s been stuck in my mind for a while now, and the only way I’m gonna purge that clog is to talk about it, so that’s what you’re getting from me tonight.

I read a couple of skincare forums, where I sometimes see people express distrust of skincare as a whole, usually due to their personal disappointment in a particular “proven” ingredient or “hyped” product. And it’s totally understandable. For those of us who value our personal appearance, skin problems can be extremely frustrating and anxiety-inducing. Our faces are typically the first things the world sees of us, and when we’re not happy with our faces, it’s easy to feel down, discouraged, desperate. Desperation often leads to certain forums. There, people learn about things like actives proven to address certain issues–AHAs for superficial textural problems and active breakouts, for example, and BHAs for pore issues–and often end up trying, with high hopes, a product that they’ve researched and determined to be correctly formulated. What could go wrong, right? It’s been proven to be effective!

Thing is, even with “proven” ingredients in “proven” formulations, it’s not always that simple.

PocketDerm and Curology prescription bottles
Actives are great, and I use mine all the time. But “great” doesn’t mean “infallible.”

One complaint I’ve heard more than once is that all skincare must be a scam, because if the proven ingredients and formulations were really “proven to be effective,” then they would work for everyone the same way. If they don’t–and nothing works for everyone, let alone the same way every time–then the products must be snake oil made of lies.

That oversimplification isn’t helpful to anyone, especially not those who are working towards their own version of the most effective routine and their own healthiest skin. That’s because there is absolutely nothing simple, straightforward, or universal about the human body. Physicians of all medical specialties often find themselves prescribing a medication to a patient only to discover that that medication doesn’t work for that particular patient or causes undesirable side effectssuch as nausea, vomiting, explosive diarrhea, spontaneous combustion, sudden death, or occasional mild shortness of breath. Going back to the drawing board to try a different medication, sometimes several different ones, is not at all uncommon.

All the medications prescribed have been proven to work for the conditions doctors prescribe them to treat, and for the most part, all those medication choices are objectively valid. But at the individual level, some will work, some won’t, and some will do the thing they’re supposed to but may also do unwanted things they’re not supposed to do. There are medications that are lifesavers for some and killers for others. The reason why is so simple. Every single person’s body is a little bit different and responds a little bit differently to the substances it encounters.

Let’s take it back to my AHA and BHA example. AHA products formulated at appropriate concentrations and pH levels have been proven to improve skin appearance by accelerating the removal of the outermost layer of dead skin cells. BHA products formulated at appropriate concentrations and pH levels have been proven to penetrate the sebum in pores to loosen clogs of dead skin cells there, leading to clearer pores. But. Any given AHA or BHA product may not work for a particular person, for so many different reasons:

  • Something in that product irritates the person’s skin, so that even if the exfoliants work effectively, the overall result is not what the person wants
  • That particular person produces more sebum, clogs, or dead skin cells than that particular acid product can effectively address
  • Something about that person’s skin chemistry (or skincare routine) interacts negatively with that product, reducing its effectiveness

Not a complete list, but you get the point.

On the flip side, I bet a lot of us know that person who had some kind of cosmetic or medical issue that no amount of medical or scientifically validated treatment could fix, who turned to a more “alternative” treatment and suddenly experienced improvement. You know what? I’m not going to invalidate their experience as placebo effect. In my opinion, there’s a definite possibility that something about whatever they did just happened to work very well with their individual body functions–it may not be something reproducible in the population at large and it may not be something I’d care to explore for myself, but if it works for them, who am I to say I’m sure that that’s impossible? In the same vein, if something that works for someone else didn’t work for me, I’m not going to assume that they were lying or exaggerating. For better or for worse, everyone is different.

Ultimately, sometimes the “proven” actives aren’t the answer, and sometimes the more “alternative” concepts may prove themselves beneficial. Keeping an open mind is the best way to enable yourself to benefit from both.

That’s why I like to put together routines that take advantage of both.

I’ve talked about the limitations of scientific research in cosmetic skincare before, and I’ve talked about YMMV before, but this goes beyond both of those earlier posts, I think. It’s not just about keeping an open mind, but about managing your expectations.

Definitely do your research. Definitely understand which ingredients’ claims have been substantiated, and what limitations they have, so that you can identify the products that are most likely to give you the results you want. But be aware that likely does not equal guaranteed, and understand that trial and error is just a part of the process.

Here’s my YMMV story: At the beginning of my skincare journey, I picked up a pair of very well regarded chemical exfoliants from a niche but very well regarded skincare brand with a reputation for doing things the sciencey way. I used those exfoliants for a long time. 6+ months, probably. And they were okay, I suppose. They didn’t do anything terrible to my skin. But they didn’t produce any particularly noticeable results, either. Then I switched to a different brand’s chemical exfoliants out of curiosity. The new products, though objectively weaker than the ones I’d used before (higher pH, lower concentration), worked much more effectively and much more rapidly on my skin. Why? I’ve no idea. It’s just YMMV, and I’m just glad I found the things that work for me.

And as you know, there are certain less substantiated ingredients that I’ve discovered do wonderful things for my skin.

Pick up a product hoping for results but not expecting miracles–skincare isn’t in the business of miracles, not unless you take marketing claims and advertising copy seriously. The good stuff is out there. Thing is, it needs you to find it for yourself. Being ingredient-aware and keeping track of the products you’ve tried will help. What will help even more is recognizing that patience and an open mind are the things most likely to get your skin to where you want it to be. There are very few things that can produce real and lasting results overnight–even the proven actives often take weeks or even months to show visible improvements. Know what to expect, and you’ll be much happier as you work on building your own best skincare routine.

What are your YMMV stories? What “proven” actives didn’t work for you, and what “gimmick” ingredients did? I wanna hear all about them in the comments!


21 thoughts on “Ultra-Casual Friday: YMMV and Why Skincare Isn’t Simple

  1. Thanks so much for addressing these points. This is what bugs me the most about terms like “non-comedogenic”; ANYTHING can be comedogenic given the right circumstances on a particular person’s skin’s reaction. And those complete skincare product sets that are supposedly perfect for each specified skin type–lookin’ at you, Clinique–are just too, too tempting to an unsuspecting person. It’s unfortunate that the skincare industry’s marketing everywhere tends to be so motivated to reach out to a wider customer base by claiming universality (I might have made up a word) in their products. Money and advertising copy talk. We’re all individuals, and that includes our very skin literally.

    Hmm… Mainly, for popular, well regarded products, the Mizon Snail Recovery Gel and the Benton Snail Bee Essence. I really, really wanted to love the Snail Recovery Gel, but it had so many silicones that it suffocated my skin (at least, that’s what I concluded). My skin LOVES the Snail Repair Cream so it was very difficult to give up the darn gel. And the Benton Snail Bee? People raved about it so much but it broke me out horribly practically the moment it touched my skin. I wish I knew why! I hope I’ll have a chance to try another bee venom product sometime, though.

    Heh, sorry, this ended up longer than I thought it would!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahaha, no need to be sorry! I love your comment and I totally agree about the term “noncomedogenic” (it’s practically meaningless!) and the prefab skincare routines.

      My other big YMMV is Laneige. Lots of people love their stuff, I know, but nothing of theirs has ever really done much for me :/

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I recently tried Etude House’s snail mask (a white creamy essence, surprisingly) which felt very greasy for my skin. I thought maybe it was just the snail version, so I tried the Hyaluronic acid face mask (also creamy!), and sadly, woke up to two deep angry red pimples! I should have known better after seeing it was creamy too, but didn’t want to waste it. My LUSH Grease Lightning serum and COSRX whitehead power liquid has calmed them somewhat but now I’m curious… are all Etude masks creamy? Every other brand of mask I’ve tried so far has had a clear, light gel-type essence. Is there a way to know which masks are creamy and which have clear gel? (Hoping not to repeat that greasy experience…)

    Either way, I’ve got to agree wholeheartedly with your post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I actually seek creamy essences. I am guilty of literally petting my face while wearing one… I find them by hunting down reviews so I suppose you could avoid them the same way. I wish the texture of the essence was more heavily advertised in product details.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Haha I guess we have opposite problems! And yes, I really wish the essence texture (at least creamy/clear) was clearly specified on the product description. I’ve been following recommendations of reviews but even then many don’t comment specifically on the creamy vs. clear aspect. Since my last comment I’ve tried the Etude House vita-complex mask, and that was really nice and had a clean feeling, clear gel-type essence.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Fewm of the YMMV products for me is BHA, silicones, and snails. BHA basically transform my skin oberweek, eliminating those pesky grits, pore clogs and drastically reduce zits.

    Snails on the other hand… works only when my skin was aggravated. Rash, open zits; and it would work like a swing of Fairy Godmother wand. But when my skin is in nicer condition, I’d put them at the back of my drawer.

    Silicones is THE harbringer of disaster. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this — and it also mystifies me that people think anything is simple enough to be a cure-all for everyone it touches. That’s just not how being human works, and it’s glossing over getting to know your own personal complexity too — which I personally feel is fun.

    The Benton Snall Bee line has been highly praised and is obv full of dynamic ingredients, but when I tried it I got zero results. Nothing. Didn’t enjoy using it and also didn’t feel it was benefitting me, so I passed it along to someone who I hope does. I don’t think that it makes it a bad product at all, and I wouldn’t speak poorly of it if I reviewed it — only talk about what I experienced.

    I’m with you on Laneige — I bought the coveted Water Sleeping Mask after reading a zillion reviews. It was nice and pleasant to wear, but I don’t get the results I get with my Goodal Waterfull Sleeping Pack. I think in the end it’s all about learning what ingredients *really* work for you I’m still learning that myself!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your timing is amazing. I started an origins post to possibly restart my blog, uh maybe skip reading it if I finish it though… Pile of darkness with a hint of skincare. But I go in to YMMV (mostly from the mental health side,) and explain how skincare has saved my life (no exaggerations,) on multiple occasions… But I’ve tried so hard to share the joy of the prettier sheet masks with a friend struggling with depression and self image and for her they are nothing more than boring paper sheets. We used to dress up in party dresses and at work we are known for our crazy heels so I thought maybe the Medi Heal Dress Code blue would make her feel beautiful (and hydrated!) for a little while. YMMV. She didn’t even take me up on my offer of Etude House Kitty ears because she has so many cat ear headbands. The woman has a kitten tattoo and a cat themed vanity plate. Again… YMMV.

    My sad products have mostly been brand based sadness. I can’t make my skin love The Face Shop or most Skinfood products at all. No lip treatment will make my lips smooth for more than a few hours… And the much loved Donkey Milk masks haven’t even made it to my reviews because the Whitening one made my face feel stripping cleanser followed by a day of no moisturizer or SPF level tight so the aqua and healing versions are just sitting in my mask crate because I’m afraid to try them.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. YMMV can even vary on skin on different parts of your face and body. I tried so hard to make my face love snail goo but it refused with the determination of a thousand angry bees. I had resigned myself to consuming snaily goodness only through this blog when I looked at all my failed snail products one day and decided to test them on my body. Voila! Snails on my body are fine but on my face is a big no-no. And, because I have combo skin, sometimes a product on one part of my face will be fine, but not so much on another. Skincare is like dating, you gotta try a lot of frogs before you find your skincare prince(s).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. YMMV is so important and I think people don’t really understand it like they should. Science never ever uses absolutes as it operates based on percentages of a general population. When it gets translated by businessy people you get absolutes, or words and phrases that seem like they are absolutes. Which then frustrates customers

    Everyone’s biological makeup is different, it should be absolutely no surprise if one product works for one person and doesn’t for another. In the same way we are not surprised when one person can eat something and another person breaks out into hives being near it.

    Bodies are weird. My skin hates vitamin b topically applied. How does that make any sense? It’s a vitamin!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I don’t think they’re “gimmick” ingredients, but right now my skin is loving licorice root and propolis the most. The second tier would be tea tree oil, ceramides, and snails, and the third tier is donkey milk. This is because I majorly irritated my sensitive skin two weeks ago, and these are the ingredients that have helped to heal it and reduce inflammation and irritation. When my skin is in a different state, the hierarchy of tiers could change, and there might be other ingredients on the list, showing that YMMV doesn’t just vary from person to person but even for one person–that is, due to factors like climate, weather, diet, medications, hormones, or just plain stupidity (like giving my sensitive skin a half-hour long oil massage that it hated!!), different ingredients and products will work or not work for one person. Today’s best-loved product could be next week’s “wreak havoc on one’s face” product.

    I also hear you on the PC versus CosRX acids, at least the BHA (never tried BC’s AHA). 🙂 Same experience here. I’ve also learned recently from my derm that it’s not good for my skin (I have rosacea) to be too acidic, and cutting back on my acids has improved my face by reducing redness and irritation. Similarly, although I’m firmly in the low pH cleanser camp, I’ve learned that some of my best cleansers are in the “high” range of low pH–that is, they’re not basic, but they might be more neutral with a pH of 6 or 6.5, but combined with other factors, those cleansers still work best for me than the lower pH ones (except for the Acwell one, which is a 5.5 and works fine for me, but is frankly b-o-r-i-n-g–but sometimes I need boring).

    Returning to the notion that YMMV applies to even one person’s skin depending on multiple factors, this is why it’s important for me to have a “skincare wardrobe” (thanks to you, Cat, and others for coining this term!). After effing up my skin recently, the only moisturizer that has worked for my skin is the CosRx honey overnight mask–it’s worked so well at calming my skin that I’ve been using it as my morning occlusive as well. The funny thing is, other propolis products, like the LJH Vita Propolis Ampoule and Shara Shara Honey Bomb, have not worked as well–maybe they contain ingredients that irritated my skin when it was in its compromised state. When I placed another order for the CosRx honey sleeping pack yesterday, I decided to order the CosRx propolis ampoule as well, thinking my skin may like that formulation better than the LJH one. We’ll find out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, good luck with the Cosrx ampoule! I want to hear what you think about that–I’m getting down to the end of my Tosowoong propolis ampoule and I’m pretty bored and looking to switch it up (hopefully without going back to LJH just yet).

      I love your ingredient tiers btw! Licorice root extract was one of my first “need to have it” ingredients after I loved the original recipe Missha FTE so much. I was so bummed when they removed it from the new FTE that I stopped using it.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!! I loved reading your comment ❤


  9. Hah- You caught me redhanded. Thank you for this post! I shall just use one product a week before adding another to see which is most effective and vice versa as I’m not too satisfied with what my routine is doing for me. However, does this mean using my cleanser one week, the toner the next and then the moisturiser the week after etc? I’m a bit of a novice so do excuse my noobness(if this is even a word).

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  10. My YMMV story was a Vitamin C serum and eye cream I bought from Amazon. I was getting huge flaming zits from it. At one point, I had two massive red blemishes right on either cheekbone, like a zitty Pikachu. But I kept using it! Because no one breaks out from Vitamin C, right? You know that little hollow next to the bridge of your nose? The eye cream gave me a zit THERE, possibly the biggest I’ve ever had IN MY LIFE, and at that point, I was like, “okay, I guess we’re done here.”

    The worst part? Even knowing all that, there’s still a tiny part of me thinking, “maaaaaybe it was something ELSE in that serum that broke me out because, after all, no one breaks out from Vitamin C…”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What also makes the process such a challenge is our skin can vary day to day in what it needs. Case en point, my oily/dehydrated skin looooves active, in particular vitamin c, azaelaic, and glycolic acid. However, the last few days my skin wants nothing to do with acids and instead is craving a Cosrx honey ceramics cream, which my skin usually cannot stand more than once a week. Weather, health (cold, flu, more serious ills), travel, stress, diet, etc., any number of things can change what our skin needs. All that goes back to curating a skincare wardrobe; not everything is needed everyday.

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  12. I’ve been gaining interest in the CosRX line particularly the BHA. haven’t exactly tried and actives yet for fear of my “acidic skin”. My skin can’t tolerate metal jewelry, I get red itchy rashes and I have no idea how it’s going to tolerate CosRx Blackhead product.
    I have bought thr Missha FTE Intensive though. Going to try it every other day at first and hope for the best I’ve finally found something compatible to my skin.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My problem with YMMV is that people for whom a product works refuse to accept the fact that it may not work for everyone.
    They agree with YMMV in theory, but in practice, or how it looks on a certain beauty forum, the reality is very different.

    And I have a problem with such hypocritical attitudes.


  14. I have really bad skin, sensitive skin. I swam competitively for about 9 years…and chlorine is skin murder. So my face would get so dry it would literally peel off, and I had horrible acne. So bad my mom actually decided to buy the products which normal American teenagers use to take care of acne. Usually these contain Benzoyl Peroxide or salicylic acid. I used the acid one first, and my face literally turned into a puffy red balloon. Then a month later my Dr. gave me some cream with benzoyl peroxide in it…same reaction. I have to be really careful of acids, I can’t even eat a citrus fruit or I will get chemical burns on my hands. Fortunately in small amounts that are found in lotion and such I can tolerate citrus but most acids I avoid at all costs. *don’t worry I have ridiculously sensitive skin…these things are usually considered safe and most people, including the rest of my family, do not have such reactions*

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