With celebrities like JLo, Victoria Beckham and Hailey Beiber swearing by their routine 10+ step skin regimens, not to mention the global rise of the Korean skincare practices – it is now so much more common for us to be looking for those extra products to build our perfect skincare routines.
As a previously acne-riddled kid whose idea of a comforting study break was surfing the web for the product or DIY ingredient that would save my skin, I remember my own confusion when first introduced to these elaborate skincare routines online. Right, we would need toner to make it easier for the moisturiser to be absorbed, serum for targeted skincare concerns, but wait – what’s an essence then? Or an ampoule? Not to mention that there was still the all-important moisturiser and sunscreen, after which a whole makeup routine would be layered on to the skin.
If it wasn’t for parents who balked at the petrifying thought of more ‘chemicals’ on teenage skin, I would have jumped on the bandwagon in a blink as well – but all I managed to negotiate was an added targeted serum, which thankfully, was enough for my skin then.
This temptation, as we know, is a worldwide phenomenon - in fact, a 2021 study published in the Spanish Journal of Marketing concluded that Generation Y (those born between 1986 and 2005) females have favourable attitudes towards beauty products, with their choices influenced by ‘subjective norms’. This refers to a person’s perception of the attitudes of those important to them – which of course, now includes social media influencers and the whole host of fast-changing trends that come with them.
A really nice thing in the UAE is that you have products from everywhere – Europe, Australia, Canada, South Korea, for example – so this means we can always access these new worldwide trends.
In the multicultural cities of the UAE, skincare products arrive from every corner of the world, prominent UAE-based beauty influencer, with expertise in perfume, oud and skincare, Maha Al Marush tells us. She says, “A really nice thing in the UAE is that you have products from everywhere – Europe, Australia, Canada, South Korea, for example – so this means we can always access these new worldwide trends.” But, what if the trend is one step too far for your skin? Gulf News speaks to Dr Moutusi Audhya, Dermatology Specialist at Dubai-based Aster Day Surgery Centre to find out.
Dr Audhya says, “The skin of every individual is actually unique and different from others, and your regimen must be based on the needs of your skin type.
“Nowadays, the concept that people generally follow, fuelled by social media is that skincare involves layering of many different products – and that this is good skincare. This is actually far from the truth. For the skin – it’s always less is better, because you can always add on later if needed. If it is more, then you cannot make it less easily and the damage may take a long time to heal.”
Nowadays, the concept that people generally follow, fuelled by social media is that skincare involves layering of many different products – and that this is good skincare. This is actually far from the truth. For the skin, it’s always less is better, because you can always add on later if needed. If it is more, then you cannot make it less easily and the damage may take a long time to heal.
Although 10 to 15 step routines work for some, this need not be the case for everyone. Too many products, she warns, may actually irritate your skin and cause other skin problems – such as irritation, photosensitivity, itchiness and burning, and dark spots on your skin.
“Your skin will not be able to take it for very long,” she adds.
The real results of skin gymnastics
Dr Audhya breaks down what happens to your skin in light of these trends.
“Your skin basically has two layers – the epidermis or upper layer and the dermis or lower layer.
“The outermost layer of the epidermis is the stratum corneum that acts as a skin barrier and protects our skin from harmful irritants, which otherwise could otherwise get into lower layers of the skin – and also helps in locking our natural oils and moisture in the skin.”
The pH of our skin is around 5.5, on a slightly acidic side, which helps also shield our skin from viruses and other microorganisms.
Here’s where using too many products or exfoliating your skin very often is harmful - It can cause disruption of this outermost skin barrier, stripping it of its natural oils and nutrients and changing its pH. The result? Irritants will be able to penetrate your skin and cause dry skin, itchiness, flakiness, and redness on the skin, and you could be more prone to skin infections by microorganisms.
Code red: Skincare gone too far
What if the damage is already done, and your skin is perhaps leaning towards an alarming baboon pink? Well, the immediate thing to do would be to stop all the different kinds of products that you are using on your face, says Dr Audhya. This includes AHA, BHA acids, retinols and salicyclic acid cleansers, for example.
Use a regular, bland moisturiser, mild cleanser and sunblock that is gentle and will not cause further irritation from the skin. If only mild damage is done, Dr Audhya estimates that it could heal within five to seven days, but if not – it might need more time.
Here’s a quick list of what can go wrong with add-on skincare products:
- Adding a new product and using it in the wrong order: “Nowadays I have seen people applying retinol, then moisturiser and another retinol – that way neither your retinol is getting absorbed nor is your moisturiser is working for you,” says Dr Audhya. If using retinol, it needs to be applied before moisturiser to be absorbed.The same goes for oils, which should be applied as a final layer to your skincare, just before sunscreen. If using an oil before any moisturisers or serums, the oil will block absorption of any useful ingredients from the other products.
- Disrupting your pH too much: Some cleansers and exfoliants tend to be more alkaline, and excessive use can affect your skin barriers, says Dr Audhya. This can especially happen as those with oily skin may have the misconception that they need to wash their skin very often, she adds.
- Being incompatible with your skin type: Oily skin woes include worrying that any new products could clog pores and cause the dreaded breakouts. To prevent this, it’s important to look for non-comodogenic products, which are specifically formulated to not block pores. The same goes for other skin types – check whether it can work for your skin
Decoding your face
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – navigating today’s skincare universe sure is a taxing job. Millions of flawlessly packaged products promising tempting benefits await your attention – whether on shelves or online. It really isn’t hard to run into one that is at odds with your skin and pushes your finely balanced routine over the edge.
Protecting your skin, Dr Audhya explains, begins by knowing your skin type. These include normal, dry, oily and combination skin (where your T-zone or forehead, nose and chin area are oily and your cheeks are relatively drier).
She says, “You can decide your skin type by yourself. In the morning, if you’ve not used anything on your face in the night – go to a mirror and examine your face. That would be your skin type.”
Then, you would need to identify if you have any specific skincare concerns. These could be pigmentation, scars, fine lines or acne, for example. An option is to take skin tests or consultation at a dermatology clinic, and do your research on suitable ingredients. When trying a new product, Dr Audhya recommends testing it on the area behind the ear for at least 48 hours as it is more similar to the skin on your face.
“If you’re using it, always start it slow, always start with a very small quantities – anything that has to be used on the face has to be used on a small pea-sized amount only. In one or two days just watch out if you have itchiness or redness or burning, depending on that you can decide whether it is okay for you or not.”
If you’re using it [a new product], always start it slow, always start with a very small quantities – anything that has to be used on the face has to be used on a small pea-sized amount only. In one or two days just watch out if you have itchiness or redness or burning, depending on that you can decide whether it is okay for you or not.
For a sure starting point in skincare, she explains, “The three most important or basic ingredients that every individual needs is a – cleanser, moisturiser and a sunblock.” The type will also definitely depend on the type of skin that you have. She adds that chemical exfoliation once or twice a week would be good for the skin, and consistency is key to establishing good skincare practices and seeing effects.
If a regular routine stops working for you, it might be that your skin’s needs have changed depending on the climate, and it would be worth checking whether your products are being stored properly as per its instructions, often away from sunlight. She says, “The same skincare routine may not be applicable for monsoon and summer and winter. Depending on the weather changes, your hormonal changes and other reasons – there might be changes in your skin, may cause breakouts.” If a hormonal breakout, visit a dermatologist for further treatment.
But, how do we know if we have hit the nail on the head?
“Your skin will be soft and moist, it will not be dry, flaky or too oily, it will not be itchy. There will be a generalised evenness of the pigmentation, the texture will be fine - with no bumps or abnormalities on the skin. Also, there will be not be any burning when you’re exposed to the sun. Then we know the skin is healthy,” says Dr Audhya.
What works and what doesn’t?
Amongst the variety of options online, Dr Audhya gives some pointers for popular trends that actually work. She says, “Retinol is a very good product that works both for acne and anti-aging. You need to start it very gradually - always use at night, and use sunblock in the morning.”
For skin pigmentation, she recommends Vitamin C, adding that you can use it in the morning and accompany with retinol at night. Finally as a moisturiser, Hyaluronic acid is a good addition to your skincare routine – in either serum or cream form.
On the other end, some products are an absolute no-no. Dr Audhya says, “Baking soda, toothpaste for acne, lemon juice - these are not definitely things to be used on the skin. They can make the skin red, photosensitive and more.
“You also need to stay away from fairness creams. Lot of people do come with complications from using these regularly for a long time – for example, acne, peeling, thinning of the skin and other infections - as many fairness creams might contain steroids that are very harmful for your face.”
She adds that toners are not also generally advised because they can strip your skin of good nutrients and natural barriers, and any harsh essential oils and fragrance containing essential oils, can also harm your skin.
Finally, the crux of the matter is – a product can be good, but you might not need it. Dr Audhya says, “If you feel the regular routine is working for you, then it is not necessary that if you’ve seen a trend on social media that you should follow it as it might do more harm than cause benefit.”
“My skin is gleamin’, the way it shine, I know, you’ve seen it,” sings Ariana Grande in her super-smash hit song - ‘7 rings’. We’re getting there, Ariana, we’re getting there.