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Are You Using Too Many Skincare Products? An Expert Weighs In

Put down the retinol and listen up.

Are you overdoing your skincare? RELIFE Ireland Dermatology Nurse Specialist Advisor, Selene Daly, gives her advice on popular skincare ingredients, the harm they can cause if used incorrectly, and why a bargain isn’t always better.

Once upon a time, makeup remover and a light moisturiser was the full extent of our skincare routines. But now, with the skincare market constantly evolving and launching new products every fortnight, 10-step skincare routines have become the norm. You likely start with a micellar water to melt away your makeup, then follow up with a cleanser, toner, moisturiser and SPF. At night, maybe you'll add in a favourite serum and a mask on weekends? Then, perhaps, there's also an eye cream for targeting dark circles and fine lines, retinol to keep things smooth and youthful, and a dose of vitamin C for brightness. It sounds like a pretty complicated routine but it's become second nature for today’s skincare obsessives.

And even if your skincare is relatively stripped back, what happens when an issue arises? Do you plough on with the regular regime regardless, or throw the kitchen sink at it? After all, there's nothing like a dose of salicylic acid to dry out a blemish, or a layer of glycolic acid to lift a dull complexion.

But do we really need it all? That's the question we posed to Selene Daly, dermatology nurse and RELIFE Specialist Advisor. Below, Daly gives her advice on popular skincare ingredients, how many is too many, the harm they can cause if used incorrectly, and why a bargain isn’t always better.

follow the science, not the hype

"Layering a myriad of high tech products on our face can not only be a waste of money but these increasingly complex routines have begun to have an adverse effect on people’s skin," warns Daly. "Redness, itching, sensitivity, shine, breakouts and peeling are all common signs of a product overload." While beauty consumers have never been more educated when it comes to knowing and understanding products, many of us are getting swept away. "Our skin is the largest organ of our body, so we need to follow the science, not the hype when it comes to our facial treatments," says Daly. "The availability of powerful actives in high street stores and online ads has grown and so too has our curiosity to try hyped-up ingredients. People have taken to online resources to research skincare and source various derivatives of vitamins A and C, as well as other active skincare while bypassing the usual professional consultation."

bargain isn't always better

While many affordable beauty products do a great job, they can sometimes lead to bigger skincare issues further down the line. "I would beware of bargain active skincare as beauty labelling can be deceiving, explains Daly. "Active ingredients come in various formats and the base in which they are sold is almost as important as the active ingredient itself. Too many harsh preservatives can potentially cause sensitisation and flares of dermatitis, for example."

know your actives

"When it comes to active ingredients less is definitely more," tells Daly.  "For example, if you are using a vitamin C antioxidant in the morning, putting a few more pumps on your face won’t boost its efficacy, but, in combination with moisturiser and an SPF, it might cause your foundation to flake. Similarly, using too much vitamin A may cause skin irritation, particularly if it’s combined with other skin actives." Overwhelmed? Don't be. Daly has broken down everything you need to know about Vitamin A and C below...

Vitamin A:

Vitamin A has many forms – those most commonly used in skincare are retinol (alcohol form), retinoic acid (active form), retinaldehyde (aldehyde form), and retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate (ester forms). Consumers may not be aware that some are more effective, while others have fewer side effects. Most cosmeceutical brands will recommend starting retinol at 0.25%, building up to a higher dose of 1%. However, customers can now purchase ‘affordable 5% retinol’ which may appear as more powerful but, in fact, cheaper versions of retinol use an ester form, which requires higher concentrations to become effective. Using any form of vitamin A, means that you must use a good quality sunscreen to avoid permanent sun damage. Vitamin A treatments work by removing rough dead skin cells, however, this also removes some of the natural protection that the skin has. Overusing a vitamin A product can also result in shiny skin, so again it’s a good idea to start low and increase slowly.

Vitamin C:

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that brightens dark spots, smooths fine lines, and, importantly, scavenges free radicals from the environment, pollution, and UV radiation. However, vitamin C can easily become unstable, causing overaction and skin inflammation. Like retinol, vitamin C has several derivatives that all work in different ways, the main one is l-ascorbic acid, the purest form of vitamin C. What often escapes attention is the importance of using sunscreen as the main pillar of an anti-ageing routine. Between 80% and 90% of all ageing can be attributed to overexposure to UV rays so it’s vital to use a good broad-spectrum sunscreen as part of your morning routine.

Layer down

If, like us, your current skincare routine consists of 10 steps, it can be difficult to know how and what to stop using. "The rule I use for myself is to have a maximum of three layers on my skin at any one time," advises Daly. "My recommendation is to use a gentle cleanser in the morning, pat the skin dry and use an antioxidant (vitamin C) followed by a moisturiser and sunscreen. This can be followed by an evening ritual of a cleanse, occasional use of a retinoid, for example, every second night, and a moisturiser."


"If you have overdone it on the actives and find that the skin on your face is irritated and sensitive, stop using your current products immediately," urges Daly. "Use mild, fragrance-free cleansers and moisturisers. Spring is a good time to take stock and look at exactly what you are using on your face. Take the time to gather all your products and thin out your stockpile."

Main image by michela ampolo on Unsplash 

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