Recently, I did a Q&A session on my Instagram stories. Among the many skincare questions (and a few questions pertaining to who I think are the hottest men alive), one stuck out and made me want to write more: a request for “your best advice for anyone just starting to dive into skincare.” It was a great question that called for more space than a single Instagram story slide. So Jake, here’s a list of three mistakes for skincare newbies to avoid.
1. Overdoing the Actives
One of the most exciting areas of skincare, especially for those of us with very specific skin goals in mind, is actives.
I define actives as the very small and elite class of ingredients that have been extensively studied, demonstrated to produce substantial changes to skin, and that have effective formulation parameters well established. The best known and most generally accessible are:
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acid. When formulated in concentrations of about 5 percent or higher at an acidic pH (I like a pH 3-3.5 AHA product), they will accelerate the shedding of dead skin cells from the upper layers of skin, resulting in smoother texture and brighter tone. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid, when formulated in concentrations of 2 percent or higher, will cut through oil to loosen up debris from within open pores, resulting in cleaner and often smaller-looking pores. Both AHAs and BHAs can also help reduce breakouts.
Similarly, L-ascorbic acid vitamin C and retinoids like retinol and tretinoin will, if formulated effectively and used in conjunction with sun protection, help stimulate collagen production and reduce hyperpigmentation, resulting in firmer and more even-toned skin.
Knowing these things is exciting. It opens up a whole new world, one in which the products we put on our face actually do things that we can see.
Problem is, too much of a good thing is a very bad thing. Overexfoliation is very common among actives lovers. Overexfoliation is one hell of a pain to suffer with and repair. One day your skin is looking and feeling better than it ever has before. The next day, your skin has taken on a dry, shiny, tight look and feel, as if it were replaced with plastic wrap. You may develop scaly, bumpy patches or increased sensitivity and/or breakouts. That lovely glow is no more. All that’s left, at least until your barrier recovers, is pain.
Take it easy with the actives. As always, only introduce one new product to your routine at a time, and in the case of actives, don’t start using it every day right away. Try once every other day or, if your skin is particularly sensitive, twice a week. Increase the frequency only when you see that your skin is tolerating it well after a few weeks. Avoiding overexfoliation is worth the effort it takes to practice patience with your actives.
Too much of a good thing is a very bad thing. Overexfoliation is very common among actives lovers, and it’s one hell of a pain to suffer with and repair.
2. Starting an Entire Routine All at Once
To directly quote my original answer in the Instagram Q&A: “For the love of God don’t start an entire routine all at once.”
When you’re just starting out as a skincare newbie, you don’t know what your skin likes or dislikes. The number of different ingredients used in cosmetics is staggering, and the likelihood that at least one of those will bother your skin is definitely greater than zero. Personally, my skin has a problem with certain ferments. Not the ingredients themselves as listed on a label (that would be too easy), but something about some specific fermentation process, which is not differentiated in the ingredient names. The ferments my skin hates will give me an eczema-like scaly, dry, sensitive, red reaction that takes a week or longer to go away, even with the best care.
For this reason, throwing an entire new routine at your face all at once is a recipe for disaster and discouragement. If something in your new routine bothers your skin, you will have no way of knowing which product caused the problem, since you started using them all at the same time. If more than one product is unsuitable for your skin, again, you won’t know which ones. You’ll end up having to start from scratch. Only this time, you’ll be dealing with a reaction or breakout for which you don’t yet have any reliable fixes. That’s worse.
Lots of brands and vendors sell curated routine kits. That’s cute and all, and sometimes they do choose nice products. I’ve thought about this a lot, and while I think it’s fine if you want to buy the entire kit, I will caution you not to start everything at the same time. However, I do also think the chances that you’ll end up with products you don’t like are quite high. I find it better in the long run to build your routine one step at a time, according to what you learn about your own skin, as I detail in my book.
Throwing an entire new routine at your face is a recipe for disaster. If something bothers your skin, you’ll have no way of knowing which product caused the problem.
3. Believing in the “Best” Product of Any Kind
We live in the era of clickbait capitalism, where sales are often driven by online content that seeks to capture as many eyeballs and dominate as many fragmented attention spans as possible by making dramatic claims right up front.
“THE BEST TONER FOR YOUR SKIN TYPE”
“THE MOISTURIZERS EVERYONE NEEDS IN THEIR LIFE”
“THIS EYE CREAM WILL CHANGE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE AND INVENT A TIME MACHINE THAT TAKES YOU BACK TO THE SKIN OF YORE”
This problem has existed for over a decade now, driven by the rise of clickbait media in general. These days, it’s only made worse by the extreme short formats of popular social media platforms like TikTok. I am fully aware of how old and bitter that makes me sound, but IT’S TRUE.
Clickbait articles, short-form videos, and even the Instagram captions that I stretch to their limits don’t have enough room for the nuance that discussions of skincare really need. The desire to make a point in a short space—and in some cases, the recognition that not all audiences have the patience for nuance and really do just want to hear THE BEST SOLUTION EVER for their problems, creates an ecosystem of oversimplification. Keep track of what THE BEST THING is for a while, and you’ll see how quickly it changes—even THE BEST statements made by a single publication or creator.
As I also said in my IG Q&A, “Don’t blindly buy everything someone says is the best or a must-have.” Ultimately, you’ll end up spending a lot of money on products that simply may not be right for your skin, because there is no objective, universal “best” anything.
So What Do I Do and Who Do I Believe??
You listen to me and you believe what I say.
Hahaha. I’m kidding. Sort of.
I know that this article may come across as discouraging. I don’t intend it to be at all. If you approach it with an open mind and an acceptance of some trial and error, skincare can be an incredibly rewarding and interesting pursuit.
Over time, you’ll get to know your own skin better and better. This will help you refine your product choices more and more, and it’s so fun to get to the point where you can look at a product and know more or less whether it’ll be a good idea for you. I hardly have any fails these days, and when I do decide to branch out and try something different, I can do so confidently, knowing that even if something bad happens, I have the tools and knowledge on hand to fix the problem.
Have you made any of these skincare newbie mistakes on your beauty journey? Tell us about it in the comments!