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Today I wanted to share a bit about the 'rules' I try to follow when using active ingredients in my skincare routine in the hopes they might help you avoid repeating some of the mistakes I've made over the years...
If you tried to use every active ingredient from azelaic acid to salicylic acid to alpha arbutin to retinoids to niacinamide to Vitamin C, you'd end up neutralising the effects of some of these ingredients, causing major irritation or using many of them so infrequently that they wouldn't have the desired effect. If you want to go for powerful actives; you're going to have to choose which are the most important to you, instead of going for the scattergun approach. Or choose serums that blend together different actives so they'll work together in harmony without causing sensitivity.
This is something I've been way too complacent about, but is actually incredibly important. Just because you've used in ingredient before doesn't mean all formulas containing it and every concentration will be suitable for your skin. All you need to do to avoid a world of pain (if you do have a reaction) is to apply a little dot of the product on your forearm, wrist or behind your ear every day (after you've showered in the morning so it doesn't get washed away before it's absorbed into the skin) for three days and monitor the area for redness, bumps, irritation or any other reaction. You really don't want to have smeared a product all over the delicate skin on your face to find out you react to it!
Mild tingling and brief redness are normal, burning is not!
It's an entire thing on TikTok and other social media platforms that if a skincare product burns, it's somehow 'working'. Nope... Look, if you've recently upped the concentration of your retinol or you're using an acid for the first time ever, you may experience a little redness or a mild tingling sensation (or even skin peeling, in the case of retinoids), however the redness should be very brief and not a prolonged irritation. If a product is causing you pain, lasting redness or irritation: wash it off and stop using it! Common sense prevails and effective skincare should not be harming your skin.
Be very cautious with ingredient-mixing
I did touch on this briefly, but I personally recommend only using one active ingredient serum or toner in your skincare routine. You can use a different one in the morning to the evening, but I personally avoid mixing and layering different actives myself within the same routine. Some people I see on Instagram are using an acid toner, a Vitamin C serum, then a niacinamide serum in the same routine, which is a lot. Fair enough, if it works for them, but I don't think it would work for the majority. Try to look after and respect your skin barrier instead of pounding it with strong actives, because when it's compromised, it'll give you some real problems with sensitivity and you won't be able to use any actives at all for a while.
Always wear sunscreen
The vast majority of skin ageing comes from environmental factors and sun exposure forms the largest part of that pie. Sun exposure can also exacerbate pigmentation issues. Aren't these the sorts of things we're looking to combat when it comes to using active ingredients? Prevention is always better than cure, and it's a total waste of time to use a bunch of products to counteract something you stop in its tracks by using a high-protection, broad-spectrum sunscreen. Not to mention, Vitamin C, acids and retinoids can all make the skin more susceptible to sun damage, so not wearing sunscreen whilst using these ingredients could put you in a worse position than the one you started in.
Stick with it for at least 4-6 weeks
It takes around 6 weeks for your skin cells to complete turnover, therefore it follows you should allow an active product that amount of time to work its magic. For me, personally, Vitamin C and niacinamide can appear to do absolutely nothing for a good month, before suddenly delivering some amazing results. Unless you've finished the product up and not seen any benefit; I generally advise to carry on using these sorts of ingredients for as long as possible before making your mind up. When it comes to hydration and preventing water loss in the skin; it's pretty easy to see results quickly, however skin texture and tone takes a long time to correct, so try to stick with it!
Give your skin regular breaks
Finally, sometimes I think we all get so het up in trying to treat our complexion problems that we bombard our skin with strong ingredients relentlessly. Whether it's swapping the retinoids for ceramides once a week or taking a week off all actives and focusing on barrier repair every couple of months; your skin needs a break sometimes. Figure out what works for you and don't overload your skin with a relentless regime of strong ingredients; it won't thank you for it!