Types of Retinoids: What’s the Difference and How Do They Affect the Skin?

Skincare can be confusing—especially when it comes to retinoids. With so many different products and percentages available, it can feel almost impossible to choose the best one for you. To make matters worse, you often have to distinguish between different types of retinoids, as each one affects the skin in a slightly different way. Like I said, it can be confusing stuff to sort through!

Luckily, after spending over 30 years as an esthetician and product formulator, I have a lot of experience with retinoids. In this post, I will discuss the various types of retinoids and the pros and cons of each. I will also talk a little bit about the history of retinoids and how they work to achieve more smooth, youthful-looking skin. My hope is that it also brings you some much-needed clarity and helps you become a smarter, more informed skincare consumer. Let’s go!

The History of Retinoids

First, I want to give some background on retinoids, what they are, and how they came to be so widely used in the skincare industry.

Retinoids are a class of compounds derived from vitamin A. They have been researched since the early 20th century, which was when the structure of vitamin A was first discovered. Back then, most of the research had to do with using vitamin A to address specific skin conditions. It wasn’t until 1969 that research showed retinoic acid was beneficial for treating acne. Retinoic acid, or tretinoin, is the most active form of vitamin A (but more on that later).

In 1971, the FDA approved tretinoin for topical use in the treatment of acne. Soon after, Johnson & Johnson created the first prescription-only tretinoin cream. To this day, it’s still only available by prescription since it needs to be used carefully and specifically to manage potential side effects. You’ll often see tretinoin creams at only 0.1% or less. Only a tiny bit is needed because the body can readily accept it.

After that, in the ’80s, patients and doctors started noticing that tretinoin was providing powerful anti-aging benefits. With time, they noticed that the appearance of sun damage was greatly improved, and skin looked younger and smoother overall. This eventually led to tretinoin being used for anti-aging purposes as well.

My Personal Experience

In the late ’80s, I was an 18-year-old esthetician in Boston. I had just got my first job at a full-service salon, which offered skin services along with hair and nail services. One of the salon’s regular clients was a man named Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick. At the time, he was the Chief of Dermatology at Mass General Hospital.

I’ll never forget the day he showed me his hands. He held out both of his hands and said, “Renée, can you see the difference in my hands?” One hand looked so much younger than the other; it had fewer wrinkles, fewer brown spots, and less uneven texture. It was all thanks to tretinoin.

Dr. Fitzpatrick would demonstrate how to apply tretinoin to his patients by taking a pea-size amount (which was what he recommended for applying to the entire face) and rubbing it on one of his hands. He would do this, day in and day out. To his surprise, he began to notice that one hand looked much younger than the other! This realization was what led Dr. Fitzpatrick to become one of the doctors instrumental in getting the FDA to recognize Retin-A as a cream that could help reduce wrinkles.

My Clients’ Experience

When the story broke on the TV news that there was a prescription that could be beneficial for wrinkles, everybody ran to the dermatologist. Here’s the thing, though. Back then, there wasn’t an awareness of how to use it. People began slathering it on like it was some sort of face cream when it really needs to be used sparingly and specifically to manage side effects.

Lo and behold, they were experiencing side effects like skin dryness, peeling, and even cracking. As an esthetician, my schedule suddenly became super busy. Clients were calling in and telling me, “Renée, my skin is so dry! Help me!” As I was talking to one client when she came in for her facial treatment, her nasolabial fold (laugh lines) cracked and started bleeding right in front of my eyes. It was crazy.

Now, what happened next was most of the people that were experiencing the harsh side effects decided to give up on it. However, I had a few clients that stuck with it, and I saw their skin transform. It took a while to see the improvement, but within 6-9 months, I really saw it starting to change for the better. Their pores looked smaller, pigmentation was disappearing, and there were fewer visible lines and wrinkles. Really, it was reversing the look of sun damage. It was incredible and I became a believer.

How Retinoids Affect the Skin

Remember how I said retinoids are derived from vitamin A? Well, our bodies can’t make vitamins, so we must get them externally. We can get vitamin A either through topical application or through the ingestion of beta carotene-rich foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. When broken down, vitamin A and its metabolites are very beneficial. They can affect everything from vision to inflammation to the proliferation of cells.

Proliferation means growth. Retinoids increase cellular turnover in the skin, meaning they grow faster, which is going to make the skin a little bit thicker. They also make the outermost cells shed, which is why some people think it’s exfoliating, even though that’s really a secondary effect. This makes the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin) more compact, which gives a nice anti-aging benefit.

Retinoids also stimulate the skin to produce more glycosaminoglycans, which are compounds that have sugars in them. This helps aid in the moisturization of the skin and helps support collagen production. Finally, retinoids are antioxidants, so they help prevent a lot of oxidative stress. Retinoids are truly amazing and do so many great things for the skin!

Just remember that using retinoids is a marathon, not a sprint. They must be used consistently and carefully to achieve results and manage side effects. Check out my beginner’s guide to retinol and retinoids to learn more.

The Different Types of Retinoids

Types of Retinoids

1. Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin)

Our skin can only use vitamin A in the form of retinoic acid. Since tretinoin IS retinoic acid (Retin-A is a brand name), it’s already in its most active form, which means it doesn’t have to go through any conversions to become retinoic acid. That explains why it’s so effective and why it has the potential to be so irritating. It’s a very tiny molecule that penetrates very readily and is easily accepted by the skin. The other retinoids have larger molecules and require more conversions. The more conversions it requires, the “weaker” a retinoid is.

As I said, tretinoin is only available by prescription, and it must be used carefully and consistently for the best results. I only suggest getting a prescription if you’ve been using other, milder retinoids for some time and you’re now looking to address the appearance of more serious sun damage.

I always compare it to running. If somebody wants to compete in a marathon, and they have never run before, they shouldn’t start running 10 miles a day (using prescription retinoids). They should slowly ease into it (start with milder forms first).

Read the beginner’s guide to retinol and retinoids.

2. Retinaldehyde (Retinal)

Retinaldehyde has a small molecular size and only takes one conversion to become retinoic acid, so it’s considered to be the “strongest” of all non-prescription retinoids. As such, it can be irritating, especially to people who have never used retinoids before. That’s why I recommend starting with something gentler and then working your way up to retinaldehyde.

3. Retinol

Retinol itself is not necessarily functional within the skin, because it has to be converted to retinoic acid. This is actually a two-step process that occurs in the cell. It first gets converted to retinaldehyde and then it’s converted to retinoic acid. Even though it requires two conversions, it’s still very effective, which is why it’s found in so many cosmetic formulations.

Retinol is notoriously unstable. The “ol” in “retinol” means it has a hydroxy group on it that really wants to react with something. When this happens, let’s say in a jar or bottle, it’s degrading and will never get converted to retinoic acid in the skin. It reacts with temperature, air, water, and light. That’s why formulations with retinol should be manufactured in airless packaging.

It’s also important to avoid light. Retinol formulas shouldn’t be packaged in transparent containers, because it’s not photostable. That’s also why it’s not recommended to wear retinol during the day. UV rays can decompose retinol prematurely on the skin and create photosensitivity and phototoxicity, which is not good. That’s also why wearing SPF every day is so important!

I have been using retinol since I was 35. At the time, I had given up on a prescription retinoid, because it was causing eczema on my eyelids. I was testing my own retinol formula, and I remember waking up one day and noticing a pulsing sensation in my skin. I experienced the same thing when I used the prescription retinoid. That’s when I knew it was the real deal. I called it the Advanced Resurfacing Serum, and I’ve been using it ever since!

Read 4 things to look for in a retinol product.

What About Encapsulated Retinol?

Take a look at retinol products online or at the store, and you’ll see many of them list “encapsulated retinol” as an ingredient. This means that the retinol was put inside of an encapsulate, like a liposome or oil, to protect it from light and air exposure. Since retinol is notoriously unstable, hiding it inside of a shell gives customers some certainty that it’s stable when it’s time to apply it.

The downside of encapsulated retinol is that it’s expensive, so it might not be used at high levels. More importantly, though, there’s often very little retinol inside the encapsulates. So, really, you’re not getting very much retinol to your skin. Also, you need to ensure that the encapsulates will actually break open and release the retinol. Some of them break open from the force of rubbing the product onto the skin. Others disintegrate due to a change in pH when it comes into contact with the skin. Each one is a little different.

4. Retinyl Esters

This category of retinoids is considered to be the “weakest,” but it’s also the least irritating, which makes it perfect for people who have sensitive skin or are just starting out with retinoids. They are made up of larger molecules that require a three-step conversion to become retinoic acid.

Most skincare brands formulate with this type of retinoid since they’re much more stable than retinol. Some common retinyl esters include retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinyl palmitate. The last one is probably the most popular because it was one of the earlier retinyl esters created.

The drawback of using a retinyl ester is the three-step conversion. There are discussions going on in the scientific community about whether or not this conversion is actually happening at any great level. Let’s say it’s included at 1.0% in a formula. Not all of that 1.0% is getting converted to retinol. Even less of the retinol is getting converted to retinaldehyde, and even then, not all of the retinaldehyde will become retinoic acid. At the end of the day, only a small portion is getting converted. Because of this, it may have less anti-wrinkle activity compared to retinol.

The Bottom Line

Without a doubt, retinoids are powerful skincare ingredients, and I’ve seen their effects firsthand on my clients’ skin and my own skin. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide which type of retinoid is best for you. The goal shouldn’t necessarily be to work your way up all the way to tretinoin. Many people stick with non-prescription retinoids, and over time, see amazing results.

Once you start using retinoids, it’s a long game. Make a commitment to use them consistently, otherwise, you won’t see the best results. I, for one, have been using retinoids since I was 35. I’m now 52, and my skin looks all the better for it!

Next, find out whether or not you should wear retinol in the summer.

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Interested in Starting a Custom Skincare Line? Here’s What You Should Know First

Have you ever wondered what it takes to start a custom skincare line? It’s an endeavor more and more people seem to be taking on these days, but it’s not for the faint of heart. With so much interest from people who want to get into the skincare business, I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes information about what’s involved. 


The first step of starting any business is ideation. Before you even get into brainstorming product formulations, you have to be clear about your brand’s goals, values, philosophy, target customer, and mission statement. This is especially true in the skincare market, where it seems a new brand emerges weekly (including so many celebrity lines!). In order to be successful, you have to think about what makes you unique and how you’re going to set yourself apart from other companies. 

For me, it was my 9 Skin Types, which I developed based on my personal experiences as an esthetician. After working closely with people to solve their skin concerns, I saw a gap in the market and felt passionate about creating results-driven products that catered to more than just dry, normal, or oily skin (this was standard at the time). I’m proud to say my skincare business turned 25 this year, you can learn more about my business journey here!

Once you feel confident in your brand identity, this is where the fun part begins—new product development. This has always been one of the best parts of my job, and even after all of these years, I still love it and it’s where I spend most of my time. 

Questions to Answer Before Developing a Product

Once again, you’ll want to start by answering some basic questions.

1. What problem is this product trying to solve?

(In other words, what would make people want to buy this?) 

2. What claims will this product make?

You’ll always want to promote features and benefits but t’s important to know that there’s something called the Fair Packaging & Labelling Act, which requires you to substantiate any efficacy claims you print on a product’s packaging. Bottom line: there are limitations to what you can say to market skincare products. They are considered “cosmetics” by the FDA so you can’t use any medical terminology.

3. Is this tapping into a trend?

This one is important to me because I’m passionate about providing solutions, not gimmicks. Thinking about trends helps you determine if your products will have longevity. I have seen so many new “it” ingredients come in hot and then never to be heard of again so you really need to research what might have staying power.

4. Will this have any qualities to be a “hero product”?

Everyone wants to develop a product that hits it out of the park. To do so, (in my experience), a hero product should be visually appealing, have a nice scent to make the experience pleasant, is problem-solving, can multi task and can be used by many skin types. 

You’ll also want to do competitive research and analysis. Are there other products that fulfill a similar purpose, and if so, can you do it better? Can you offer people something else in terms of formulation, ingredients, format, or delivery?

Startup Costs

Before you move on to finding someone who can make your product for you, think about finances. Starting a business requires a big investment upfront, and you need to make sure you’re ready for it. 

To start your custom skincare line, start-up costs will be in three primary areas:

  • Product Development – Usually minimum of $5,000 for a single product
  • Business Expenses – varies, but at least $2,000
  • Marketing & Sales – starting at $500 and up

Check out this article for a more detailed dive into the startup costs for a cosmetic business.

Getting Your Product Made

So how long does it take to create a skincare product? Once you’ve got your concept locked down, expect it to take at least a year and a half before that product is ready to bring to market. This is about how long it takes to do everything right IF all goes according to plan, which we all know isn’t always the case.

Creating the Formula

Once you’re confident in your idea for a product and want to start the process of bringing it to market, the next step is to find a formulator (cosmetic chemist). Think of creating a product a bit like creating a recipe. As a visionary, it’s your job to come up with the idea for what you want—the type of food, how you want it prepared, what it should taste like, and which main ingredients should be used. After this, you take your idea to a professional who can help you put it all together and create a detailed recipe. They can tell you how to source your ingredients, how much of each should be used, how long to “cook” everything, etc. This is the role of a cosmetic chemist or formulator. They turn your vision into a recipe that you can bring to a manufacturer to have your product made. 

Finding a good formulator to carry out your vision is so important, and it definitely helps if you understand the process a little. For me, I have done continuing education in this field such as taking several cosmetic chemistry classes at UCLA. This doesn’t replace having a chemist, but it has allowed me to be part of product development in a more meaningful way. I also like to stay up to date on the latest by regularly attending trade shows, a great place to learn what’s new and meet others in the industry. 

Finally, before your formula gets made, figure out who will own it. I cannot stress this enough! I’ve known many people who commissioned a formula thinking they owned the final product, only to discover the formulator actually did. There are both pros and cons to owning your own formula. The pros include having more control and getting transparency (you’ll know who the suppliers are and how everything in the formula is put together). Also, considering how unpredictable supply chains are these days, owning your formula means you have more power to control your destiny should something happen. The con is that intellectual property is quite expensive, so it’s a big investment upfront. 

Me during one of my more recent lab visits
During a recent lab visit. It’s so fun to play!

Finding a Manufacturer

Now that you’ve got your formula or “recipe,” you need to find someone to make it for you. Some companies are more of a one-stop-shop and offer both formulation and manufacturing services, but this won’t always be the case. Finding the right manufacturers to work with can make or break your business, so it’s important to thoroughly vet them before agreeing to anything.

It can be hard to know where to begin finding a manufacturer, but I personally really like these three directories: Independent Beauty Association (IBA), Happi Magazine Directory, and the Global Cosmetic Industry’s directory. There are plenty of other resources out there, but these are a good place to start. 

Step 1: Interview & Research 

All labs will have slightly different practices and requirements, so it’s important to interview them to make sure it’s a good fit. These are some of the questions I think it’s crucial to ask:

1. What other brands (or types of brands) have they worked with in the past?

Everyone likes to say they can make anything, but it’s good to figure out what they have the most experience manufacturing.

2. Do they follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)?

This is a system for ensuring products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. This is so, so important because as a brand owner, it’s ultimately up to you to ensure the product you’re creating is safe. One of the ways to do this is to partner with reputable manufacturers and make sure you’ve seen their facilities. You can also check FDA.gov to see if facilities have gotten any warning letters. 

3. What’s their minimum order quantity (MOQ)?

As a brand just starting out, you really have to think about what kind of order volume you’re willing to commit to. In skincare, you’re ordering perishable goods that come with a shelf life. This means if you order more than you can turn around and sell within 6-18 months or so, that product becomes no good and you lose money. It’s the same cost for a manufacturer to set everything up to produce 500 units as it is to produce 20,000, so it’s in their best interest to have customers with large orders. This can be difficult when you’re first starting out, but thankfully many manufacturers are open to negotiation (as long as they have the physical capability of producing small batches). This is where a solid business plan is really important because they’re basically investing in you and banking on the fact that you’ll grow. 

One word of caution I will offer is to be wary of companies that jump at the chance to produce very low order quantities. A company can’t make much money this way, so in my experience, it’s possible they could be skimping on GMP or in other areas. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Back when I started, it was really difficult to find a lab that would take a chance on a brand as small as mine—most of them worked with huge brands. However, indie brands are a lot more popular now than they were then, so there certainly are labs that will cater to this. Again, just be thorough and do your research!

There are also those who go very small batch and make products out of their kitchens, but I’m not a big fan of DIY skincare for the most part.

4. What’s a realistic lead time?

A lead time is how long it will take before your product is made and ready to go. Remember that if you’re ordering in smaller quantities, you may be a lower priority for a manufacturer. This isn’t personal, it’s just business. Their priority will be those who place big orders because that’s what keeps their lights on. 

5. Who will be your point of contact?

The manufacturing process is rarely linear—there’s a lot that can come up and throw a wrench in things. It’s crucial that you have a reliable point of contact who will be able to answer your questions and walk you through everything. Ask who will be assigned to you before committing. 

6. Will there be research and development fees?

It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to charge these, and they’re only one example of “hidden fees” you may encounter.

7. What is the financial health of your company?

This may seem like an awkward question to ask, but you’re entering into a business contract with someone so it’s important. Most manufacturers are willing to tell you, even if they don’t share specifics. If they withhold that information, it could be a red flag.

Finally, ask around. Word of mouth is important, and it never hurts to reach out about others’ experiences with a manufacturer.

Step 2: Testing

Product safety testing is part of GMP and can get expensive. Bigger manufacturers will often cover some basic safety testing, so be sure to ask what they’ll be covering versus what you need to take care of. Again, it’s your responsibility to ensure these tests are done so you can be confident that the product you’re selling to people is safe.

Learn more about the different types of required safety testing.

Step 3: Written Agreement

Once you feel comfortable moving forward with a manufacturer, get something in writing. It’s best to have a written contract, and you may want to have it looked over by a lawyer. This way, you’re protected should anything happen down the line.

Step 4: Contingency Plan

Always have a backup plan. This could mean working with more than one manufacturer, or knowing where you’d go should something happen with your current manufacturer. I already work with quite a few labs, simply because there are so many products in my line and they all have different specialties or capabilities. Even if this isn’t the case for you, it’s important to have a fallback.

True story: there was a very big lab in Dallas that had been in business for over 25 years and they manufactured three of our products. One day, they closed down without telling anyone. There were locks on the doors and the phone lines were disconnected! If I hadn’t had other labs to fall back on, it would have been really challenging.

Me with my skincare line in 1998!


As if finding a formulator and manufacturer wasn’t enough, you should simultaneously be interviewing packaging companies. You don’t want to end up with batches of product and nothing to put them in! Packaging companies all have different capabilities, so you have to find the one that fits your needs. For instance, do you have a product with ingredients that require airless packaging? How much customization are you looking for?

Minimum order quantity comes into play once again here, for custom packaging 10,000 units isn’t unusual. The nice thing about packaging is that it isn’t perishable like the product is. However, with the supply chain being as unpredictable as it is these days, you could end up waiting a good while before getting your custom packaging. Stock packaging exists, too, and is readily available. But you are at the mercy of whatever they happen to have.

Some of the manufacturing directories I listed earlier also have information on sourcing packaging, but another good one for this is the Beauty Packaging trade publication. I also attended the Luxe Pack show last month. (First trade show since the pandemic, yay!)

Turnkey Option

I know a lot of this sounds…overwhelming. It absolutely is! And what I’ve listed out here so far really only scratches the surface. For those who don’t want to go through the process of finding a formulator, manufacturer, and packaging, there is another option. It’s sometimes called “turnkey,” and refers to an agency that will take care of a lot of the steps for you. Basically, it’s a one-stop-shop where they formulate, manufacture, and also produce and print packaging.

Sounds great, right? The benefit of this is obvious, it saves you a lot of time and effort. There are also cons, though. That convenience comes with a fee, and it can be pretty expensive to hire an agency like this upfront. In addition, you lose a lot of the control and transparency you’d have if you maintained personal relationships with all your manufacturers. You’re at the mercy of using whichever suppliers and other partners the turnkey agency employs, so you’re not necessarily seeing as much of the process. I can completely understand why people choose to go with this option, but maintaining control and transparency over the production of my skincare line has always been super important to me. This is why I choose to go to the effort of working personally with labs. 

What’s Next?

Even after you’ve finally gotten your dream product made, the work never ends! In fact, this is only the beginning. Here’s what comes next: 


Where are you going to keep all your product? Is the environment suitable, meaning not too humid, hot, etc.? If you go the warehouse route, you may need to audit facilities.


Who’s going to fulfill your product and ship it out? Will there be an intermediary or third-party logistics? What are you going to ship your product in?


Finally, how are you going to make sure your product reaches people? A good marketing and selling strategy is something you should have in place before you place a large order. As I mentioned before, skincare products have a shelf life, so you need to be able to turn them around quickly enough. I caution you not to get so caught up in the manufacturing process that you forget about marketing. 

Also, don’t forget to communicate with your customers, listen to them, and take their feedback into account. Here’s another story for you. Have you heard of my best-selling Anti Bump Solution? It’s a spot treatment for cystic blemishes, but when I first started selling it we didn’t know it helped with that. It was just marketed for regular pustular-type acne, but we started hearing from people that it was working wonders on their hormonal breakouts. Thirty-plus years of this product, and I’m still not entirely sure why it works so well for cystic breakouts but I’m glad it does as it’s been such a miracle worker for thousands of people!


If you haven’t already, you’ll want to get your business licensed as an LLC. This means you can transfer liability insurance to the company so that if something happens with one of your products, you aren’t personally liable. So many people think this won’t happen to them, but anyone can have a reaction to any ingredient. This is part of responsible business practices, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

Phew! So there you have it, the bare bones of what goes into starting a skincare line. Was there more or less involved than you expected? It’s really hard work that never stops, but if you can do it correctly and with a purpose, it’s such a rewarding experience.

Next, learn about skincare marketing terms and what they really mean. 

*Starting any business or product line is a difficult process that requires a lot of time, energy, and work. The content of this blog is for informational purposes only, you should not construe or interpret any such information here or anywhere on our site as legal or financial advice.

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Here’s How Renée Fades Redness On Her Neck With Skincare and Treatments

I was about 45 when I first noticed some redness on my neck, accompanied by patches of brown hyperpigmentation. Having been an esthetician since my early 20s, I immediately recognized the discoloration on my neck as a harmless (but annoying) condition called Poikiloderma. It’s sometimes also referred to as “Poikiloderma of Civatte.” But in 2020, when I was 51, was when I really noticed it became a lot more prominent. 

The reason it became more noticeable was due to my increased activity outdoors at the start of the pandemic. Gyms were closed so I took all my workouts outside. Between cycling, running, and hiking, I spent enough time in the sun and heat that the red and brown patches on my neck really fired up and it stayed consistently visible until recently when I decided it was time to do something about it. 

In this post, I’ll explain how and why poikiloderma develops, how I manage it at home, and which professional treatments gave me the best results. 

What is Poikiloderma?  

Poikiloderma is a harmless but fairly common condition that causes skin discoloration and thinning. As you can see in my photos above, it’s a combination of red and brown pigment that’s found on both sides of the neck and sometimes the center of the chest. Affected areas can also experience hypopigmentation, which is an absence of pigment altogether. All this creates a blotchy and generally discolored look.

Redness on the neck associated with poikiloderma is caused by vascular damage. It’s common to have little clusters of dilated or broken capillaries, which is what makes the skin look so red. 

Brown patches associated with poikiloderma are hyperpigmentation caused by an excess production of melanin. This is no different than hyperpigmentation brought on by conditions such as melasma or even just summer sun spots, but the combination of brown and red discoloration makes poikiloderma a little more complicated to address.

What Causes It?

The cause of poikiloderma isn’t entirely clear. Since it’s a group of symptoms rather than an actual disease, there are multiple factors that can contribute to this condition.

The main trigger, however, seems to be sun damage. Poikiloderma is sometimes simply referred to as “sun aging.” Other possible factors include genetics, certain diseases, or hormonal changes (especially in women). 

Since poikiloderma mostly appears on the sides of the neck, I used to hear the theory that it was brought on by a reaction to perfume or cologne being spritzed onto this delicate skin and how it might interact with the sun. This has since been debunked, but I still avoid using perfumes or anything else sensitizing on these areas. 

Who Gets It?

Poikiloderma can occur in both men and women, and you’re most likely to develop it after the age of 40. It also occurs mostly in people with fair to medium skin tones. “Risk factors” include a history of excessive sun exposure, having a family member with poikiloderma, and having gone through menopause.

However, why exactly I developed poikiloderma has always been a mystery to me. I’m just not someone who’s gotten a lot of sun damage in my life by any stretch. Because I became an esthetician so early in my life (age 19!), I have never been a sun worshipper at all. That said, I do have three of the risk factors mentioned: I’m over 40, I’m currently going through menopause, and I have a fair skin tone. I guess because of that, the little sun exposure I did get was enough to trigger it??? Who really knows. 

How I Manage My Pokilioderma

Pigmentation issues can be one of the most frustrating types of skin concern to deal with. This is because they can usually only be managed, not eradicated, and it takes constant dedication to keep discoloration at bay. Add to that the vascular damage caused by poikiloderma, and you’ve got a condition that requires a lot of dedication to manage. 

I was able to fade the redness and the brown patches on my neck through a combination of a strict at-home skincare routine, lifestyle adjustments, and regular professional treatments. 

At-Home Management

I always want to set realistic expectations, so I think it’s important to note that topical skincare can only take you so far with a condition like poikiloderma. Once it’s set in, you’ll only see a dramatic improvement from professional treatments. That said, what you do at home every day still has a big impact over time. Keep in mind that a lot of it will be about prevention— topical products and good habits can keep poikiloderma from getting worse (and are important for maintenance after you’ve gotten professional treatments done).

Even if you don’t go the professional route, I recommend implementing a few of the following suggestions to strengthen and protect the skin on your neck. 

1. Wearing SPF and Avoiding Excessive Sun Exposure

Diligently wearing sunscreen and minimizing my sun exposure are the main ways I keep the discoloration on my neck at bay. As I already mentioned, sun damage is thought to be the biggest trigger for poikiloderma, so this is the most important thing you can do.   

Poikiloderma occurs on the sides of the neck, and this is actually one of the most overlooked areas for sunscreen application. The skin under your chin is often somewhat protected by the shadow from your face, so it’s no surprise sun damage develops mostly on the sides. Learn how to properly apply sunscreen to the face and neck (hint: most people are doing it wrong). 

Aside from relying solely on sunscreen, I cover up with sun-protective clothing when I can and try to stay out of direct sun during peak daylight hours. Listen, I love being outdoors, and I’m not going to stop living my life just because I’m worried about my poikiloderma. But making small lifestyle adjustments to avoid sun exposure here and there has a real impact over time.

2. Avoiding Heat When Possible

Sun exposure isn’t the only thing that can exacerbate redness and hyperpigmentation—heat is a big driver as well. Heat causes capillaries to expand and dilate, which increases blood flow and flushing to the skin. It also activates the already over-active pigment cells responsible for hyperpigmentation. This is one reason summer sun spots are so hard to control

3. Faithfully Using a Vitamin C Serum

In addition to wearing sunscreen every day, I faithfully apply a vitamin C serum to my neck. I use the Vitamin C&E Treatment because it uses a no-sting form of vitamin C that’s effective, yet gentle enough for the delicate neck area. Not only does this improve sun protection, but it also helps to suppress fussy pigment cells responsible for the brown patches associated with poikiloderma.

4. Applying a Gentle Retinol

A few nights a week, I’ll use this gentle retinol serum on my neck to improve and even out my skin tone. It helps speed up skin cell turnover so old, hyperpigmented cells rise to the surface more quickly. Once they’ve cycled to the top layer of my skin, I can easily slough them off with exfoliation. 

Retinol also helps build collagen, which is important since poikiloderma weakens the skin over time.

5. Exfoliating Regularly

I usually recommend a combination of chemical and physical exfoliation to fade pigmentation. The skin on the neck, however, is very sensitive, and I personally can’t handle exfoliating acids in this area as I get irritation. Instead, I stick to using this gentle facial scrub with rounded beads that won’t scratch the skin. Physical exfoliation is essential for fading pigmentation because it actually lifts expired pigment cells up and away to reveal brighter skin underneath.

If you’re someone who can tolerate occasional chemical exfoliation on your neck, use something like the Ultra Gentle Smoothing Serum. To avoid irritation, I recommend doing it on a night when you’re not using retinol serum or a physical scrub.

6. Using Neck Cream Every Night

Finally, I use the Intensive Firming Neck Creme nightly. It soothes skin and delivers antioxidants through plant extracts, and it also includes peptides to firm the skin.

7. Taking Vitamin C Supplements With Bioflavonoids

Bioflavonoids can help strengthen fragile blood vessels and prevent bruising. I take 1,000 mg of vitamin C with bioflavonoids every day as a preventative measure to avoid broken capillaries. This won’t get rid of poikiloderma or prevent the redness from appearing, but it’s all part of keeping the skin and capillaries strong to avoid further damage.

Here are six other tips to avoid broken capillaries.

Professional Treatments for Managing Poikiloderma

While a dedicated skincare routine and smart lifestyle choices are key components of managing poikiloderma, truly fading it requires some professional intervention. I started getting both laser and light therapy last year, and it’s made a huge difference in the amount of brown patches and redness on my neck. I get these treatments done by an esthetician at my dermatologist’s office.

Because of the combination of redness and hyperpigmentation, poikiloderma has to be addressed with two different treatments.

Vbeam Laser for Redness

The first treatment I’ve been getting is called Vbeam. Vbeam is a type of pulsed-dye laser that’s used to address redness and broken capillaries. It works by producing an intense burst of light that destroys damaged blood vessels without hurting the surrounding tissue.

Vbeam is a little uncomfortable, but not painful. It sort of feels like bursts of very cold air being pushed across my face.

IPL for Brown Spots

The second treatment is a type of light therapy called Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), sometimes also referred to as photofacial. It targets hyperpigmentation by breaking down bundles of melanin in the skin into tiny pieces so they can rise to the surface and be sloughed off. 

IPL is definitely more uncomfortable than Vbeam, but again, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s painful. This one feels more like little rubber bands being snapped against the skin. 

How Often to Get Treatments

I’ve been getting both Vbeam and IPL once a month since I started. I get both done during the same session, starting with the Vbeam. 

As you can see in the photos above (which were taken after only four treatments!), the results have been great and I’m very happy with them. 

How often you choose to go in is ultimately up to you. The dermatologist at my office recommended 3-6 initial sessions of both Vbeam and IPL to fade the redness and pigmentation from poikiloderma. I’ve obviously chosen to go in very regularly since then, but I can appreciate that not everyone is up for this. After the initial sessions, you may find you’re happy and can maintain results by following the at-home tips I outlined earlier. Then, you can go in once or twice a year for maintenance depending on how visible it is and how much it’s bothering you. 

The other option is going in for just one or the other. For example, now that summer is coming up, the heat might bring out more of the brown so I may go in for just a session of IPL. Or, if you’re someone who’s affected more by the redness, you can opt for just Vbeam. 

Bottom Line

Although no one knows exactly what causes poikiloderma in certain individuals, sun exposure seems to be the main trigger. The combination of brown hyperpigmentation and redness from vascular damage can be tricky to address. It requires a consistent at-home skincare routine, lifestyle changes like avoiding sun exposure, and professional treatments to fade discoloration. I’ve had a lot of success with a combination of Vbeam laser for redness and IPL for brown spots.

Finally, remember that, like melasma, poikiloderma is something that has to be continually managed and can’t be completely eradicated. No fun!

Next, learn how to repair sun damage on the neck and chest

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How to Prevent Breakouts Before Your Period (and Why You Get Them!)

If you experience an increase in breakouts before your period, you’re not alone. Much of what we know about pre-menstrual breakouts is anecdotal, but a 2014 study confirmed that around 65% of people get a flare-up in the week or so leading up to their period. 

As frustrating as this can be, knowing it’s coming also means you have the opportunity to get out ahead of it. In this post, I’ll share my top lifestyle and skincare tips to help you avoid those dreaded breakouts before your period. 

Why Do I Get Breakouts Before My Period?

Unsurprisingly, the hormonal fluctuations your body undergoes to prepare for menstruation are also what can cause an increase in breakouts. Just before the start of your cycle, your body starts to produce more progesterone. Progesterone can cause water retention and slight swelling, which often makes the skin appear puffier. (If you find yourself bloated and your pants get a little tight, then surely this will sound familiar.)

When this swelling occurs, it puts pressure on the pores and creates a narrower pore lining. To make matters worse, a spike in testosterone can make the oil your skin produces become thicker. When you have thicker oil trying to get through a narrower opening, this creates the ideal environment where breakouts can now begin. 

How Can I Prevent Breakouts Before My Period?

As frustrating as period-related pimples may be, knowing they’re coming means you can prepare. This allows you to get out ahead of your blemishes so they’re less severe and there are fewer of them. 

1. Start Taking Vitamin B6 a Week Before Your Period

There is some evidence that vitamin B6 can ease premenstrual symptoms, including breakouts, by improving metabolic function and hormone metabolism. I’ve had clients do this in the past and some of them feel it works well to reduce hormonal breakouts. (Remember, nothing is going to “cure” your breakouts 100%, so it’s always important to have realistic expectations.)

Most recommend taking 50-100 mg of vitamin B6 per day, starting about a week before your period. Continue taking it until your period ends. 

Of course, everyone’s body is different. You can’t really know if it will work for you until you try. The best thing you can do is to experiment and keep track of changes in your skin as well as other PMS symptoms to determine whether or not it’s helping. Vitamin B6 is considered safe for most people, but if you’re unsure, please check with your doctor.

2. Try Reducing Your Dairy Intake

If your blemishes are located mostly along the chin and jawline, consider cutting back on dairy during the week leading up to your period. Not everyone will be affected by dairy, and for some people, the type and amount of dairy products will make a difference. I encourage you to experiment a little and keep track of what does or doesn’t work for you.

If you experience chronic chin and jawline breakouts, here are 7 more tips for preventing them

3. Modify Your Skincare Routine 4-7 Days Before Your Period

Of course, one of the best ways to prep when you know breakouts are in your future is to modify your skincare routine. The plan of attack I recommend to most of my clients is to incorporate 2-3 non-drying products with salicylic acid into their routine. The idea here is that you want to start creating an environment in your skin where breakouts are less likely to occur. Salicylic acid is famous for its ability to clear pores by dissolving blockages and fighting inflammation that can lead to breakouts.

About 4-7 days before your period starts, replace 2-3 products in your current regimen with ones that focus on clearing away bacteria. Here are the products I recommend:

AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser

I recommend using AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser just once a day, at night. Since bacteria and oil build up throughout the day, using this cleanser in the evening provides a beneficial anti-microbial cleansing.

Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum

Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum uses 1% salicylic acid which offers an anti-microbial effect as well as exfoliation without drying out the skin. The addition of glycolic and lactic acids helps keep cells turning over so pores stay clear. You should never exfoliate daily, so use this serum every 2-3 days leading up to your period. If you start to experience any irritation, pull back and use it less frequently. (If you already use another exfoliating acid toner or serum with salicylic acid and would prefer to stick with it, that’s fine too. Try just using it an extra day during the week leading up to your period.)

Rapid Response Detox Masque

The Rapid Response Detox Masque is my absolute favorite product for hormonal breakouts. In addition to salicylic acid, one of the key ingredients is lichochalcone, a molecule contained in licorice root extract, which offers many anti-blemish benefits. It helps starve P. acnes bacteria so they can’t breed, and it also helps control oil production. Lastly, it hydrates the skin and reduces hormonal-induced puffiness. (Keeping skin hydrated is so important for preventing blemishes, so I love that this mask delivers all that moisture while it fights breakouts.)

You’ll use this masque every night after cleansing for a minimum of five minutes to clear surface bacteria within the pores while keeping the skin’s moisture barrier intact.

4. Spot-Treat Affected Areas to Prevent Drying Out Skin

I notice that a lot of people overlook the importance of keeping skin hydrated when it comes to preventing blemishes. Hydration helps regulate healthy oil flow, which is key. This is why it’s so problematic when people dry their skin out everywhere in an effort to treat a few blemishes. For individual blemishes, the best approach is spot-treating the affected area based on the type of pimple you’re dealing with.

If your blemishes are hormonal in nature (which is pretty common in those who experience breakouts before their period), I recommend Anti Bump Solution. It’s non-drying and anti-inflammatory, and it works wonders on those deep, painful blemishes that never come to a head. 

Learn how to get rid of any type of blemish fast without harming the rest of your skin.

5. Avoid Inflaming Your Skin

Acne is ultimately an inflammatory condition, so if you know you tend to break out before your period, avoid aggravating the skin in any way during this time. This can include things like using a sonic cleansing brush, using an abrasive scrub, or getting very active professional treatments such as microneedling. 

6. Consider Consulting With Your Doctor

If you find the monthly breakouts you get before your period are really bothersome and none of the tips above help, consider consulting with a gynecologist. They have a better understanding of hormonal fluctuations and may check your hormone levels via a blood test. They can prescribe birth control pills to help balance them. Sometimes, a prescription oral medication called Spironolactone can help regulate hormonal imbalances as well. 

Next, read about how an IUD caused this client’s hormonal breakouts and what we did to get rid of them.

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Mushroom Skincare Is Trending—Here’s How Fungi Can Benefit Your Skin

As an esthetician with over 30 years of experience, I’ve seen countless skincare trends come and go. Many of them were short-lived; they created a lot of buzz for a little while. Others lasted long enough to become serious skincare staples in their own right.

That’s what’s happening with the latest trend to sweep through the industry—mushroom skincare. Yes, it’s just like it sounds…Now more than ever, brands are harnessing the power of mushrooms to formulate new and effective products. (This is a trend I predicted earlier this year, and it’s certainly proving true!)

While mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years, we’re just starting to understand how they can benefit our bodies and our skin. In this post, I’ll discuss the various types of mushrooms that are commonly used in product formulations and how each one affects the skin. I’ll also explain why I think this is a trend with some serious staying power!

Why Are Mushrooms Trending Right Now?

I believe mushrooms are trending for a few different reasons. The first is that cosmetics trends, like clothing trends, are cyclical. Mushrooms were first introduced in mainstream skincare products about 30 years ago, so it’s only natural that they’d cycle back now. It’s just like how, if you keep your clothes long enough, they’ll eventually come back in style!

The second reason I think mushrooms are so trendy right now is that there’s a huge crossover happening between food, supplements, and skincare. Since mushrooms are found in so many supplements, it only makes sense that they’d make their way over to skincare.

Finally, people seem to be becoming more and more interested in alternative medicines. As I said before, mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Now, people are wondering, “If these mushrooms are good for my body, what can they do for my skin?

What Are The Health Benefits of Mushrooms?

Tero Isokauppila is the founder of the functional foods company Four Sigmatic, which specializes in mushroom-based products. He says mushrooms can benefit the body in many different ways. “Mushrooms can help support your immune system, stress management, gut health, athletic performance, and glowing skin. One of the main reasons for this is that fungi and animals have common ancestry and we share up to 50% of our DNA. This makes us very preceptive to mushrooms in our bodies.”

According to Isokauppila, all functional mushrooms are adaptogens, which means they help the body adapt to stress. “This is huge for overall health and wellness, as well as for your skin,” he says. They also provide basic nutritional benefits, being high in vitamins B and D. “Compared to other supplements or vitamins, there isn’t a toxic upper limit with functional mushrooms and they are safe for long-term use. In fact, you’ll see the most benefits with consistent long-term use,” he says.

Mushroom research is at an all-time high. Thanks to advancements in science and technology, we’re just starting to understand how they can benefit our skin. There’s still a lot of research to be done, especially since there are thousands of mushroom species out there, but the research that we do have is very promising!

How Can Mushrooms Benefit My Skin?

Generally speaking, all mushrooms have a bit of the same chemistry to them. They are composed of polyphenols, which are really potent antioxidants. They also have triterpenes, which help reduce inflammation, and complex polysaccharides, which are excellent humectants that form a flexible film over the skin to attract water and make it feel smooth to the touch. This combination—polyphenols, triterpenes, and polysaccharides—makes mushrooms really powerful skincare ingredients.

That’s not even to mention the vitamins and other biologically active compounds that we’re just beginning to discover and study. Specific types of mushrooms have even been shown to strengthen the skin’s immune system and provide anti-wrinkle effects. Cool, right?

What Types of Mushrooms Are Used in Skincare?

There are nine types of mushrooms I commonly see used in skincare products. The most common of these are silver ear mushroom (also known as the snow mushroom or tremella fuciformis), reishi, and shiitake. These seem to be the most popular because they’re readily available and they’ve been studied extensively.

Keep scrolling to see all nine and learn how each one can benefit the skin.

1. Tremella Fuciformis

Also known as the silver ear mushroom or the snow mushroom, this is by far the most common mushroom skincare ingredient. It’s famous for its high polysaccharide content. More specifically, it has a high content of mannose, xylose, and glucuronic acid, which act as humectants. They also provide film-forming activity to make the skin feel soft and smooth.

This mushroom is often called “the natural hyaluronic acid,” since it can hold up to 500 times its weight in water (that’s why it’s one of my favorite hydrating ingredients to formulate with!). According to one study, tremella fuciformis, when used at 0.05%, provided better moisture retention than 0.02% hyaluronic acid. I love that it offers additional benefits, too. Studies show tremella fuciformis can offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties. Perhaps that’s due to this extract’s polyphenol and flavonoid content, which are known antioxidants.

Recommended Products: Skin Correcting Serum and BHA Clarifying Serum

2. Reishi

Reishi (or ganoderma lucidum) is often an ingredient of smoothies and supplements, which is why it’s one of the most recognizable mushrooms on this list. It’s well researched and has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which it’s referred to as “the mushroom of immortality.”

It’s high in polysaccharides as well as something called ganoderic acid, which can reverse collagen degradation and address cellular damage. It can even help with dark spots since it helps decrease melanin concentration. Thanks to its beta-glucan content, reishi can also provide anti-inflammatory benefits.

3. Shiitake

Shiitake (or lentinula edodes) is also widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and it’s referred to as “the elixir of life.” It can address dark spots and discoloration, probably because of its naturally occurring kojic acid, which is a known skin brightener. It can also provide powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits since it contains ergothioneine and beta-glucan.

4. Maitake

Maitake (or grifola frondosa) grows in the wild in the mountains of Japan. It’s not very prevalent in skincare formulas in Europe and North America, perhaps because it’s not as readily available as other mushrooms. Like the other mushrooms on this list, it’s high in beta-glucan, which provides an anti-inflammatory benefit.

5. Fomes Officinalis

This mushroom is found in Eastern Europe and grows on the trunks of conifer trees. It was used medicinally for a very long time thanks to its astringent properties that come from a high agaric acid content. We now use it topically, and these same astringent properties can help minimize the appearance of pores while reducing oil production.

6. Coprinus Comatus

Found in Europe and North America, this mushroom is known for its skin brightening and anti-inflammatory properties. Like shiitake, it also contains the antioxidant ergothioneine (though coprinus comatus contains much more of it). Even though it can benefit the skin, it’s not commonly used in skincare formulations since it’s hard to work with. Once harvested, it immediately starts to decompose and lose its active content. After just a few hours, it will turn completely black and be unusable. Because of this, some manufacturers have special harvesting methods that allow them to extract the mushroom for use in cosmetics.

7. Chaga

Chaga (or inonotus obliquus) is becoming more and more popular as the mushroom skincare trend expands. Like reishi, it’s often consumed in supplements, although it offers some serious skin benefits when applied topically. Research shows that it can reduce redness and strengthen the skin barrier due to its high phytochemical content. Translation? It’s a good ingredient for sensitive skin types.

8. Northern Truffle

This mushroom, also known as albatrellus confluens, is sourced from Northern Europe. It contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, like grifolin, which may help inhibit pain receptors and reduce redness, sensitivity, and irritation in the skin. There’s a lot of interest in this mushroom for pharmacological applications as well as skincare.

9. White Truffle

The white truffle (or tuber aestivum) is another edible mushroom that’s being studied for its skin benefits. It’s sourced from Southern France and Northern Italy, and it has a high amino acid content that can effectively hydrate the skin.

The only problem with this mushroom (and the Northern Truffle, too) is that it’s a very expensive skincare ingredient. Truffles can’t be cultivated outside of their natural habitat, so they must be wild-harvested, which takes a lot of time, effort, and expertise. Plus, truffles are an important part of many cuisines, so they’re not as commonly used in skincare formulations.

Are Mushrooms Sustainable Skincare Ingredients?

As the skincare industry focuses more and more attention on sustainability efforts, it’s only natural to wonder about the effect of mushroom sourcing and cultivation on the environment. According to Isokauppila, the effect is quite minimal.

“Mushrooms are very sustainable,” he says. “They require small amounts of land/greenhouse space. They also help break things down in nature and restore harmony. Studies show picking mushrooms in nature, or not, has no impact on the number of mushrooms growing next season. So, buying both cultivated (ideally long grown) mushroom fruiting bodies and wildcrafted species is really good. Just avoid lab-grown mycelium products, which are grown on grains (rice or oats).”

The Bottom Line

The mushroom skincare trend shows no signs of stopping. Since they can do everything from soothing irritation to providing hydration and offering anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits, I think almost everyone can benefit from mushroom extracts!

Next, are waterless skincare products better for your skin and the environment?


  • Bhardwaj, Anuja et.al. (2019). Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (Agaricomycetes) Mycelium Aqueous Extract Modulates High-Altitude Induced Stress. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. vol.21, doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.2019030648
  • Venturella, Giuseppe et al. “Medicinal Mushrooms: Bioactive Compounds, Use, and Clinical Trials.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 22,2 634. 10 Jan. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijms22020634
  • Ma, Xia et al. “A review on the production, structure, bioactivities and applications of Tremella polysaccharides.” International journal of immunopathology and pharmacology vol. 35 (2021): 20587384211000541. doi:10.1177/20587384211000541
  • Liu, H.; He, L. Comparison of the moisture retention capacity of Tremella polysaccharides and hyaluronic acid. J. Anhui Agric. Sci. 2012, 40, 13093-13094.

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Skin and Circadian Rhythm: How to Optimize Your Skincare Routine

You’ve likely heard of circadian rhythm before, but chances are you associate it more with sleep patterns than with your skin. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Your body is constantly making adjustments based on the time of day. These adjustments are triggered by both your biological or “internal” clock and by external environmental signals.

The main environmental signal that dictates our circadian rhythms is light. This signal is picked up through the eyes and transferred to different organs. Other signals include things like temperature, exercise, and food (this is why you might’ve heard that it’s best to avoid eating late at night).

Many organs are thought to have their own circadian rhythm, and skin is no exception. 

Why Does Understanding the Skin’s Circadian Rhythm Matter?

I’ve always told my clients and customers that when it comes to treating skin, you have to work with Mother Nature and not against her. For example, the fastest way to get rid of a blemish is by working in sync with its natural life cycle. Using the right type of spot treatment with the correct ingredients at the right time makes all the difference in the world and is key to getting rid of a blemish quickly.

Circadian rhythm is a similar concept. By using the right skincare ingredients at the right time of day, you can optimize your skincare routine and give your skin exactly the type of support it needs for better results.

What Your Skin is Doing During the Day

During daylight hours, your skin is constantly exposed to aggressors like UV radiation, pollution, and free radicals, all of which can cause DNA damage. This means that during the day, your skin is protecting itself. You want to do everything you can to support its natural defenses.

These are a few of the physiological changes that take place in your skin during the day:

  • Lower Temperature: The surface temperature of your skin is lowest early in the day. Your skin gets a lot of heat exposure from the sun, though, which can increase inflammation, redness, and pigmentation.
  • Increased Sebum Production: Your skin’s production of sebum (oil) peaks in the early afternoon. This is basically your skin creating a natural film to protect itself from the environment (and the reason you may sometimes feel your skin is an oil slick by the end of the day).
  • Better Moisture Barrier Function: Studies suggest your skin is better at holding on to moisture during the day thanks to improved barrier function. This results in better moisture retention but also means your skin is less receptive to skincare products.
  • Increased Antioxidant Production: Your skin’s natural antioxidant production is increased during the day as it tries to protect itself from DNA damage caused by free radical molecules

Best Skincare Ingredients for Daytime

With this in mind, here are the best skincare products to use in the morning. All of these boost your skin’s natural defense mechanisms.

1. Sunscreen

No surprise here! A sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher is the most important step in your morning routine. It’s also the number one way to protect your skin against DNA damage from harmful UV rays. We already know sunscreen is important for preventing premature skin aging and skin cancer, but it seems there’s yet another reason to use it faithfully. Some studies have shown that UV radiation can disrupt your skin’s circadian rhythm for up to 24 hours. This means too much sun exposure could interfere with your skin’s nighttime repair processes. It illustrates the importance of protecting your skin with both SPF and sun-protective clothing.

2. Antioxidants

This is a great example of supplementing your skin’s natural defenses. Your skin is already working hard to produce antioxidants during the day, but adding more topically is a great way to give it a boost. Antioxidants help prevent skin damage on a cellular level by running interference against unstable free radical molecules.

3. Makeup

Yes, you read that right! I believe wearing some form of foundation makeup every day is a great way to give your skin extra protection. Here’s how it works.

For more detail, learn how to put together the perfect morning skincare routine.

What Your Skin is Doing at Night

If daytime is all about defense, nighttime is all about offense. This is when your skin gets to work repairing any damage that was incurred throughout the day. Even though your skin is constantly working to repair itself, these processes definitely peak in the evening (they don’t call it “beauty sleep” for nothing!). These are a few of the physiological changes taking place in your skin at night:

  • More Permeable Barrier: Now that your skin isn’t facing an onslaught of environmental aggressors, your skin’s protective barrier function is decreased. This means two things: 1) Your skin is more receptive to products, so you want to take advantage by adding a serum to your nighttime routine. 2) It’s super important to use a well-formulated moisturizer for your skin type to prevent water loss and support your skin’s moisture barrier.
  • Higher Cell Proliferation: At night, your cells are growing and dividing at a higher rate so they can regenerate.
  • DNA Repair & Renewal: Your skin gets to work repairing DNA damage from the day. This also helps bolster and strengthen your skin’s immune system.

Best Skincare Ingredients for Nighttime

With this in mind, here are the best skincare products to use at night. All of these boost your skin’s natural reparative processes.

1. Antioxidants

During the day, your skin uses up its antioxidant supply to defend against free radicals. Applying antioxidants topically at night means your skin can use them for repair instead. Here are five of my favorite antioxidant ingredients to look for.

2. Retinol

Retinol, or vitamin A, is technically also an antioxidant. It boosts skin cell turnover, which helps the skin to regenerate itself from within.

3. Exfoliating Acids

Exfoliating acids like AHAs and BHAs dissolve dead cells on the surface of your skin. These dead cells can make your skin look dull and may make it difficult for other active ingredients to penetrate effectively. Acids also help reduce unwanted pigment and encourage a more even-toned complexion.

4. Peptides

Peptides help build and repair collagen that’s been damaged by environmental aggressors. Collagen loss is a key component of skin aging, so peptides are a great (and generally well-tolerated) ingredient to look into.

Read more about how to build the perfect nighttime skincare routine.

What’s the Best Time to Do Your Nighttime Skincare Routine?

We used to think that repair processes only occurred at night during sleep. We now know that these processes actually kick in as soon as the sun starts to go down. Because your skin has its own circadian rhythm, the loss of daylight signals that it’s time to start moving into repair mode, even if you haven’t gone to bed yet. This may mean that it’s beneficial to do your nighttime skincare routine earlier in the evening rather than waiting until right before your head hits the pillow. Another reason I encourage this is that there’s less of a chance you’ll get too tired to do your nighttime routine and end up skipping it altogether.

Can Blue Light Affect Your Skin’s Circadian Rhythm?

Since the main signal governing our skin’s circadian rhythm is light, it stands to reason that blue light could have an effect. As I mentioned, it’s already been pretty well established that UV light has a big effect on these natural rhythms. Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum, which is emitted by the sun but also by our electronic screens.

While blue light given off by screens hasn’t really been implicated in skin aging, circadian rhythm may be another story. Truthfully, there’s a lot more research that needs to be done in this area before we can say for sure, but I do believe there’s a strong possibility late-night screen time can interfere with the skin’s natural cycles. And since a disrupted circadian rhythm can interfere with everything from the skin’s immune system to DNA repair, it’s definitely worth considering. We already know it’s better for your sleep habits overall to avoid screens right before bed, so if it can improve your skin as well, even better!

What did you think of this topic? I think circadian rhythms are fascinating and that there’s still a lot of potential yet to be harnessed in this field. I’m excited to see more research in this area and hope it will help provide even more insight into how we can optimize and personalize our skincare routines!

Up next, read 10 nighttime skincare tips that can make a big difference.

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5 Ways to Make the Transition from Winter to Spring Skin Care

As you start putting your hats, scarves, and down coats back into storage, it’s time to start thinking about making some adjustments to your skincare routine as well as your wardrobe. 

Thankfully, the transition from winter to spring isn’t as harsh as other seasonal shifts can be, but you still want to pay special attention to your skin any time there’s a significant shift in weather. As your environment changes, your skin will have different needs. While this doesn’t mean you have to completely rehaul your skincare routine for spring, there are a few adjustments I suggest making to help refresh your skin as it recovers from the stress of winter. 

Keep reading for five easy ways to adjust your skin care routine for spring!

Common Skin Concerns This Time of Year

During winter, the constant onslaught of dry air affects our skin in a number of ways. Through a process called osmosis, the air pulls moisture from your skin leading to dry, dead skin cells as well as moisture barrier disruption. Thanks to this, there are five main issues I see people commonly dealing with at the end of winter:

  1. Dull skin. Dry, expired cells don’t reflect light the way healthy, hydrated cells do, so many people are going into spring concerned about dull-looking skin.
  2. Sensitive neck. Because it’s so thin, the skin on the neck is already sensitive. Add in scratchy wool scarves and turtlenecks, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a winter skin rash
  3. Fine lines. These are lines that show up mainly around the eyes, and sometimes a little on the forehead. They’re small superficial lines caused by dehydration, which is why they become more prominent during winter. 
  4. Clogged pores. If you’re someone whose skin naturally produces oil, clogged pores can build up over the course of the winter season. While oil is still flowing, it gets trapped by a surface layer of dry skin cells and settles in your pores. This can lead to bumpy texture.
  5. Sensitivity. When our skin’s moisture barrier becomes compromised, tiny invisible cracks form. These allow moisture to escape while irritants can get in more easily. This is why, during winter, some products that you can normally use suddenly sting. 

5 Ways to Adjust Your Skincare Routine for Spring 

To address these skin concerns coming out of winter and get your skin ready for spring, here are five adjustments you can make to your skincare routine.

1. Switch Up Your Cleanser

This is usually one of the first things I tell people to do when a major seasonal shift happens, and springtime is no exception.

During winter, you may have been using a richer cleanser with a balm or lotion texture (I personally prefer lotion cleansers when it’s cold out). Once spring is around the corner, I typically encourage people to switch to a gel cleanser. Gel cleansers are a little better at cutting through the oil your skin will start to produce more of as temperatures rise.

Gel cleansers sometimes get a bad reputation for being drying, but this is all thanks to old-school foaming cleansers. Modern gel cleansers are sulfate-free, use low-foaming agents that won’t strip the skin, and include hydrating ingredients. 

If you’re looking to switch up your spring skincare routine but are worried about hydration, try the Moisture Protecting Cleanser. If dull skin is more your concern, I’m a huge fan of the Mint Renewal Cleanser for bringing life and circulation back to the face.

Speaking of cleansers, be sure you aren’t making these common cleansing mistakes.

2. Lighten Up By Ditching Oils and Heavy Creams

While there are some skin types (like Skin Types #7-9) that require richer, lipid-based moisture year-round, most of us need to start shifting our focus toward lighter, water-based hydration in spring. 

Be mindful that you don’t want to make this change all at once. Seasonal transitions don’t happen overnight, and neither should your skincare adjustments. On colder nights, go ahead and continue to use your winter moisturizer or face oil. On warmer nights, use something with more of a lotion texture, like Sheer Moisture Lotion. Lotions use a higher ratio of water-based ingredients compared to oils, so they’ll keep you moisturized without weighing you down.

This is also a good time to start incorporating hydrating serums with ingredients like hyaluronic acid into your routine (I like this serum because it also has vitamin C to brighten). You can also opt for gel masks to relieve thirsty skin.

3. Spring-Clean Your Pores With Exfoliation 

Constant dry, winter air leads to a buildup of dead cells on the surface of your skin. This buildup is responsible for making skin look dull and clogging pores. If you’re dealing with either of these issues, it’s time to up your exfoliation. 

I recommend adding in an extra day or two of exfoliation, depending on what your skin can handle (I recommend most people exfoliate three to five times a week). 

Remember, there are two ways to exfoliate. One is exfoliating acids, like AHAs and BHAs. I like Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum because it combines both, which is great for lifting surface dryness and clearing pores. The second way to exfoliate is physical exfoliation, like Mint Buffing Beads facial scrub. Once or twice a week, gently roll these rounded jojoba beads across your skin to physically lift off loosened dead cells. This is great for instantly making skin look brighter, making pores look smaller, and giving relief from clogged pores. (Pro tip: I love a gentle physical scrub to get rid of dryness on the neck.)

At-home exfoliation is great, but spring is also a great time to go for a pore-clearing facial with an esthetician! It’s always nice to go for a skin reset when the seasons change, plus this gives you access to a professional who can answer any questions you have about switching up your personal skincare routine for spring. (Learn how often you actually need to be getting professional facials.)

Read more about how to get your pores clean (and keep them that way).

4. Load Up On Antioxidants

I believe a serum with antioxidants should be part of any solid morning routine year-round but come spring, you’ll want to up your game. As we start spending more time outdoors exposed to the elements again, it’s helpful to up the dose you’re giving your skin topically.  

You might already be using a vitamin C serum in the morning, but I like adding antioxidants in at night, too. Using something like the Firm + Repair Overnight Serum allows your skin to use the diverse mix of antioxidants to repair itself, not just to protect itself like during the day. Topical antioxidants are the best way to protect your skin directly, but it doesn’t hurt to eat a diet rich in these 10 antioxidant foods.

And of course, let’s make sure we’re wearing SPF all year round! Come spring, it’s time to start focusing more on sun-protective clothing again. Remember, protecting yourself from the sun is the number one way to prevent visible signs of skin aging. 

5. Introduce Retinol Into Your Routine

Speaking of the best ways to prevent visible signs of aging, spring is a fantastic time to dip your toe into starting retinol. If you don’t already know, it’s amazing for smoothing fine lines, fading discoloration, addressing large pores, and bringing a glow to dull skin (basically, everything you want coming out of winter). That said, retinol is a very active ingredient so some people can’t tolerate it as well during winter when their moisture barrier is weakened. 

Spring is a great time to start using retinol because our skin is generally less sensitive since the weather is more forgiving. Always start slow when using retinol and then work your way up at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Hopefully, by next winter, your skin will be acclimated enough that you’ll be able to keep using retinol even during the colder months.

Interesting in retinol but not sure how to start? Read my Beginner’s Guide to Retinol. 

So there you have it, five ways to adjust your skincare routine for spring! I hope you found some useful information, and I’d like to leave you with one last bonus tip: always listen to your skin. As I mentioned, seasonal shifts don’t happen overnight. Let your skin tell you what it needs as you slowly settle into your new routine.

Next, read all about what you can do now to prevent summer sun spots.

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TikTok’s Viral Vitamin C Test Isn’t Foolproof—Here’s What You Should Know

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard countless dermatologists, beauty editors, and estheticians alike extol the skin benefits of vitamin C. It can protect our skin from aging caused by oxidative stress, boost collagen production, and encourage a brighter complexion by suppressing hyperpigmentation. For these reasons, it’s definitely a staple ingredient that I recommend almost everyone incorporate into their daily routine.

That said, vitamin C can have its downsides. The fact that it’s such a powerful antioxidant is also what can make it a very unstable ingredient. Vitamin C always wants to be reacting with something, so the minute it comes into contact with air, light, or water, it oxidizes and is no longer effective. (Have you ever had a vitamin C serum that turned brown? This is what happens when vitamin C oxidizes, and it’s definitely not a good thing.)

To make matters even more confusing, there are many different forms of vitamin C that can be found in skincare formulas, and they all have varying degrees of stability. 

With all these caveats, it’s no wonder people are intrigued by the viral vitamin C experiment made popular on TikTok. The experiment involves adding a brown-colored iodine solution to a glass of water, stirring it, then adding a few drops of a vitamin C serum. The idea is that if the solution turns clear, the vitamin C serum must be effective. Vice versa, if it doesn’t turn clear, the vitamin C serum must be ineffective. 

Unfortunately—like everything else when it comes to vitamin C—it’s not quite that simple. With the help of cosmetic chemist Valerie George, I’ll explain how vitamin C can change the color of iodine and why you shouldn’t be banking on this experiment to judge the efficacy of your serum. Here goes!

Why Does Vitamin C Turn Iodine Clear?

To understand why this reaction occurs, we need to delve into a bit of a chemistry lesson. 

According to Valerie, iodine is what’s called a divalent molecule. This means it prefers to be in pairs and will always be found bound to another iodine molecule. When iodine molecules are paired up, they take on a brownish or purple color.

Simply put, when you add certain substances to an iodine solution, that divalent bond can become disrupted and the iodine molecules get split up. This is what causes a color change. (Remember putting iodine on a potato slice in grade school and watching it turn bright blue? This is a similar reaction that’s caused by iodine coming into contact with the starches in a potato.)

When Vitamin C is added to an iodine solution, it breaks apart the bond joining the iodine molecules causing the brown solution to become clear.

It’s Not Just Vitamin C That Causes This Reaction

The type of reaction we’re seeing in this TikTok experiment is what’s called a reduction. The reason I want to stress this is that it’s not just vitamin C that can reduce iodine. Iodine could be reduced by any type of antioxidant, including citric acid, lactic acid, or vitamin E. The reaction can also be caused by other types of ingredients that have reducing power, such as sodium hydroxide. Almost all cosmetic formulas have multiple ingredients that could probably contribute to a reduction, so when you’re doing this experiment it’s difficult to say if a reaction was caused strictly by the vitamin C in a product. 

Not All Forms of Vitamin C Are Able to React With the Iodine 

Another way in which this experiment is misleading? Just because a vitamin C serum doesn’t reduce the iodine doesn’t mean it won’t be effective when applied to the skin. The reason is that not all forms of vitamin C are going to be available to travel out of a skincare formula and into the iodine solution. 

Take, for example, the Renée Rouleau Vitamin C&E Treatment. This product uses a stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C called tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD). The fact that THD is oil-soluble is one of the reasons it can penetrate into the skin really effectively, but it also means you wouldn’t see a reaction after dropping it into a glass of water where there aren’t any oils present. 

Additionally, there are enzymes within the skin that slowly convert THD to pure ascorbic acid—another reaction that can’t be replicated in a glass of water.

All this to say, you can’t really look at how a complex vitamin C product reacts with iodine in a glass of water and directly translate that to how it will interact with your skin. These are ultimately two different scenarios involving completely different chemistries. 

Bottom Line

While the vitamin C iodine experiment on Tik Tok is undoubtedly cool and visually satisfying, it’s misleading. It’s not an accurate method of measuring how effective a vitamin C serum is going to be when applied to your skin, and there are a number of other ingredients commonly found in skincare products that could cause the same color-changing reaction. 

Next, need help when it comes to choosing the right vitamin C serum for your skin? Here are 5 things to look for

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The Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Aging

Updated 02/11/22. As an esthetician, I’m always asked, “What should I be doing to my skin NOW to prevent wrinkles from appearing later?”  The truth is that there are many different things you can do. As someone who will be turning 53 this year, I know firsthand the difference that a healthy lifestyle and an effective skincare routine can make. And no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to implement new habits. Keep reading for my guide to healthy aging.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Aging

First, let’s talk about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic aging. We’ve all heard someone say, “Look how young they look! They must have good genes.” While we are genetically programmed from birth to age a certain way, genetics are now thought to only be responsible for 20-30% of aging. This is what’s referred to as intrinsic aging.

The other 70%-80% depends on extrinsic aging. This refers to aging caused by environmental factors, such as lifestyle and skincare—all of which you have control over. This is great news because it confirms that how we care for our skin far outweighs our genetic predisposition. When it comes down to it, healthy aging is all about making good choices.

Your Guide to Healthy Aging

Here’s what you can start doing NOW to promote healthy skin aging later.

1. Limit Sun Exposure

UV rays are the number one reason for premature skin aging. A study out of Australia even showed that “the skin of daily sunscreen users aged a full 24% less than that of occasional wearers.” This just goes to show how important daily sunscreen use is. You must apply SPF every day, 365 days a year, rain or shine, inside or out.

I started wearing sunscreen every day when I was 28 years old, which was considered pretty early back in 1998. I would have worn it earlier in my 20s but I just couldn’t find one that didn’t make me break out. So, I created my own! Weightless Protection SPF 30 is lightweight and won’t clog pores, cause blemishes, or feel greasy. It’s great for all skin types, and I wear it every single day without fail. (It’s my daily moisturizer, so no extra moisturizer is needed once I apply it.)

I really envy and admire all of the teens out there who are diligent about sunscreen. They are so lucky to have this knowledge and be able to put it into practice at such a young age. Sunscreen will undoubtedly and dramatically slow the progression of visible signs of aging, so make it a daily habit. And make sure you’re using it correctly (this is the right way to apply sunscreen).

2. Switch Up Your Sleeping Position

Did you know that the way you sleep may be the second most prominent cause of wrinkles (after sun exposure, of course)? Sleeping on your side is like ironing wrinkles into your skin. To prevent wrinkles from forming around the chest, neck, mouth, and eyes, you should sleep on your back. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you sleep on your side, you could potentially be spending more than 2,500 hours per year reversing the positive effects of your skincare routine. (See how I sleep.)

3. Wear Glasses and Sunglasses

Creases from repetitive facial expressions (like squinting, laughing, smiling, talking, and yawning) can ultimately result in permanent lines and wrinkles. Of course, our faces were meant to move, but you want to avoid facial expressions that are unnecessary, such as squinting. This will accelerate the appearance of lines and wrinkles around your eyes. Be sure to wear glasses (if you need them) and sunglasses. Don’t put off getting your eyes checked.

FYI, you can also prevent signs of aging from forming on your neck. Neck lines and wrinkles, which are called “tech neck,” are caused by the constant position of looking down at phones and computers. Read more about “tech neck” and how to prevent it.

4. Try Microcurrent Treatments

Gravity causes the muscles of the face to sag—especially those that are rarely used. Skin experts used to think this was unavoidable, but now we understand that exercising the muscles is possible and can help the face appear tighter and firmer. (Fun fact: We have 53 muscles in our face, and 32 of them are accessible for exercise.)

So, how do we exercise the muscles of our face? We can use professional microcurrent treatments. These are machines that use low-level electrical currents to simulate the currents that naturally run through your body. The waves it gives off are able to penetrate through your skin and into your muscles. Because microcurrent works to strengthen muscles, it’s often described as a “workout for your face.”

For home use, I like using a microcurrent device from a brand called NuFace. Learn more about microcurrent and how it works.

5. Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

This is an important key to healthy aging. Just like sunscreen, sun-protective clothing can prevent UV light from accelerating the aging process. (One more thing—stop wearing this piece of clothing if you want to save your skin—and chest!)

6. Avoid Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke

This should come as no surprise. Smoking (and inhaling second-hand smoke) are dangerous to the body. When it comes to the skin, specifically, it starves cells of oxygen, making it look dull and tired. Also, collagen-destroying enzymes (MMPs) ramp up when the skin is exposed to tobacco smoke. This dramatically increases how quickly the skin ages. Read more about how smoking affects the skin.

7. Limit Alcohol and Drug Use

Every drug will affect the body differently, but generally speaking, drugs can stress the nervous system. This, in turn, elevates hormones (adrenals) that contribute to the wear and tear of connective tissue, resulting in loose, sagging skin.

As for alcohol, it’s not doing your skin any favors either. Overconsumption of alcohol causes chronic inflammation and harmful free radical activity which is the underlying cause of skin aging. Learn more about how drinking alcohol affects the skin.

8. Lead a Healthy Lifestyle

When it comes to healthy aging, don’t overlook your lifestyle as a whole. This includes everything from eating a nutritious diet to getting enough quality sleep, exercising, and focusing on living your best, happiest life that’s filled with love and laughter. As for laughter, did you know that doctors and health professionals are prescribing laughter to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and increase disease-fighting cells? Laughter is free and fun and everyone can do it. It’s no wonder you always hear, “Laughter is the best medicine.

When Should I Start Using Preventative Aging Products?

Answer: six months old (well, for sunscreen, that is).

Since the sun is the primary cause of premature aging, this makes sunscreen the most biologically active ingredient available. Sunscreen, more so than any other over-the-counter skincare product, has the greatest ability to prevent wrinkles and premature skin aging. Sunscreen can be applied to children as young as six months of age. (Of course, consult your doctor as to the best one to use for an infant.) This essentially means that the concept of healthy aging begins at less than one year of age. It’s never too early to start, right? Again, Weightless Protection SPF 30 is the one I recommend for everyday use under makeup.

As for other skincare products, a serum can be a game-changer. They’re designed to create positive change in the behavior of your skin. However, depending on the ingredients (such as retinol, certain vitamin combinations, and peptides), it may not be appropriate for those in their 20s and younger. This is because many serums are formulated to increase the metabolism of the cells. This action is needed for skin that is showing a lot of signs of aging but may be too active for younger skin and those prone to breakouts since this type of skin already has an active metabolism.

If you need help choosing the right serum for your skin type, take the Skin Type Quiz. At the end of it, you’ll get personalized recommendations.

What Skincare Ingredients Should I Use for Healthy Aging?

Aside from sunscreen, there are two skincare ingredients/products I recommend using to encourage healthy aging.

1. Retinol or Retinoids

We can now safely speed up the skin renewal process with products that contain retinol. I, for one, use the Advanced Resurfacing Serum three nights per week to encourage smooth, even-toned skin without wrinkles. Make sure you look for these four things when choosing a retinol product. Then, read my beginner’s guide to retinol before adding it to your routine.

2. Vitamin C

This is one of the most extensively researched antioxidants in skincare. It’s found to be extremely effective in interfering with aging free radicals that are found in the environment, such as those that come from sunlight, stress, and pollutants. (Learn more about free radicals and how they can accelerate the aging process.)

Not only does vitamin C give your skin a daily dose of antioxidants, but it’s also helpful in reducing discoloration and brown spots. I use the Vitamin C&E Treatment every single day (I apply it in the morning before my sunscreen). It contains both lipid and water-soluble forms of stable vitamin C to work deep within the epidermal layers.

Will Anti-Aging Products Make My Skin Worse If I’m Prone to Breakouts?

It’s important to always choose products that are appropriate for your skin type — even when it comes to products that slow down signs of visible aging. Many cosmetic companies assume those who want anti-aging care must have dry skin but this is not always the case. For those who produce oil and are prone to breakouts (like Skin Types 1, 2, 3, and 4), using products for dry skin can be problematic. It is possible for all skin types to preserve their youthful appearance and achieve their skincare goals with the right balance of products. Take my Skin Type Quiz to learn about which products are best suited for your skin’s unique needs.

In summary, it’s all about prevention. How you take care of your skin, body, and mind now will pave the road for how you will look and feel in the future. Make caring for your skin a priority and you will get the reward of beautiful, healthy skin for a lifetime.

Next, check out the 10 best ways to prevent wrinkles from forming!

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Could a Skincare Detox Benefit Your Skin? The Answer Might Surprise You

Updated 02/01/22. Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the concept of a “skincare detox.” I’ve also heard it referred to as a “skincare cleanse” and a “skin fast.” Whatever you call it, this trend involves stopping the use of all skincare products in order to “reset” the skin. The idea is that without products getting in the way, your skin can balance itself so that any conditions you’re struggling with—whether dryness, oiliness, breakouts, or sensitivity—will be resolved.

It makes sense that the trend would pivot from one extreme to another. It used to be all about an elaborate 13-step skincare routine. Now, it’s all about no routine at all. The question is, though, is this actually beneficial? Are we, in fact, using too many skincare products, and is a “skincare detox” the solution? Keep reading to learn my thoughts.

Will a Skincare Detox Really Work?

To answer this question, I want to start by talking about what the word “detox” really means. Medically speaking, detoxification refers to the removal of toxic substances from the body. When it comes to beauty, the word “detox” is unregulated. Its meaning is vague at best, which is why I like to think of it as a “reset.” In other words, your skin is acting up, so you strip everything down to bare bones. It’s kind of like cleaning up your diet after the holidays. You stop eating rich foods and go back to basics to feel more balanced.

In the case of skincare, I do think this can be beneficial, but I don’t think anyone should just stop using skincare products altogether. Instead, I suggest paring back your routine, so you can tell what your skin likes and (just as importantly) doesn’t like. In this way, a back-to-basics “detox” could really work. However, if you’re thinking that detoxing means removing toxins via a charcoal or clay mask, then the answer is no. Essentially, it comes down to how you define the term, “skincare detox.”

On that note, some people think if they start using “clean” skincare products, their skin will purge all the toxins from their old products. They go through extensive breakout periods, and they’re okay with it because they think their skin needs to break out to re-balance itself. This simply isn’t the case. The breakouts are likely due to two things. The first is internal/lifestyle factors. The second is using a product that’s not compatible with their skin type. And the word “clean” itself is just as vague and unregulated as “skincare detox.” In fact, there’s no legal definition. (Learn more about skincare marketing terms and what they really mean.)

Should I Try a Skincare Detox?

Before committing to a skincare detox, ask yourself, “what problem am I trying to solve?” If you can’t clearly answer this question, then a skincare detox might not be for you. That said, there are some issues that can be improved by a skincare detox:

Red, Irritated, and Reactive Skin

If your skin is frequently red and hot and/or it stings when you perform your skincare routine, chances are you have a damaged moisture barrier. There are a lot of different things that can cause this, but what I see most, is that people are overusing active ingredients and using products that are too harsh for their skin.

Doing a skincare detox, and by that, I mean paring down your routine, can help you identify which products are the root of the problem. From there, you can curate a skincare routine based on your specific skin type that agrees with your skin.

Eczema, Perioral Dermatitis, Rosacea, or Other Inflammatory Conditions

It’s not always possible to identify the triggers for these conditions. However, using the wrong products is, once again, a common cause for flare-ups. This tends to be more common in women since they often experiment with skincare more regularly.

Even if you’re experiencing a flare-up caused by environmental factors like allergies or weather changes, it can still be beneficial to strip everything back. This will make sure your products aren’t further aggravating your skin and making matters worse. Of course, if these types of issues persist, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist who can assess your individual needs. Conditions like eczema, rosacea and perioral dermatitis sometimes require a prescription, especially if you’ve simplified your routine and you’re not seeing improvement.

Should I Try a Skincare Detox If I Have Breakouts?

In my opinion, people who are struggling with breakouts probably won’t benefit from a skincare detox. Most acne, and especially adult acne, is caused by hormonal factors. Skincare products are simply used to help manage the situation.

That said, if you have breakouts, using harsh or overly drying products can actually exacerbate the situation. Breakouts happen when oil gets trapped inside pores by dead skin. This creates an environment where bacteria can thrive. If you’re using harsh or overly drying products, you could actually be making the situation worse by causing more dry, dead skin cell build-up. Not to mention, you could be causing excess irritation (irritated skin is more likely to break out than balanced skin). So, in this way, removing irritating products from your routine can create an environment where breakouts are less likely to occur.

What’s the Best Way to Go About a Skincare Detox?

Take it back to basics. Only use “boring” skincare products that are gentle, soothing, and free of irritants such as fragrance, artificial dyes, drying alcohols, and harsh sulfates. Like I said before, I don’t think it would be beneficial for someone to stop using skincare products altogether. Instead, look for products that include barrier-supporting ingredients.

While you’re getting your skin back on track, I suggest sticking to just three products:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Moisturizer
  3. Sunscreen

I’ve heard people say they skip moisturizers to let their skin “breathe.” I don’t suggest this, especially if you’re struggling with conditions like eczema or perioral dermatitis. First of all, skin doesn’t respire, so the idea of skin breathing is a myth. Second, moisturizer protects the skin and prevents water loss, which can lead to even more moisture barrier damage (always remember that skin cells are like fish—they need water to live).

If you go back to basics for a while and your skin improves, this means you’ve been using the wrong products for your skin type.

Once your skin has been in a good place for two weeks, you can slowly start to introduce other products back into your routine. The key is to introduce them one at a time so you can tell if something irritates your skin. You should also consider performing a patch test for each new product. (Read all about how to avoid a negative reaction to skincare products!)

How Many Skincare Products Is Too Many?

There is no exact number of skincare products everyone should use, but I have a general philosophy. I think everyone should use a gentle cleanser, an alcohol-free toner, a hydrating serum, and a moisturizer (which should include SPF in the daytime). Something to keep in mind is that our skin is like a sponge and can only absorb so much. At a certain point, things just accumulate on the surface of the skin.

I understand why people want to layer on all sorts of products. There are so many amazing ingredients available, and we all want to reap the benefits. While I do believe it’s good to use a variety of ingredients to give your skin a full spectrum of benefits, my philosophy is that it’s best to cycle through them, focusing on just one active a night, so it can do its job. Using too many actives at the same time risks irritation, which brings us back to the original problem that a “skincare detox” is meant to solve.

As an example, you might use a retinol serum three nights a week, followed by three nights of an exfoliating acid serum and one night of a hydrating serum with peptides and antioxidants. The exact products you use will depend on your skin’s specific needs. (If you want to find out which products are best for your specific skin concerns, take the Skin Type Quiz!)

The Bottom Line

While there may be a few people out there who are lucky enough to have skin that’s so well-balanced they don’t need to use products, most of us are constantly exposed to things that disrupt our skin’s barrier. Using the right products is one of the best ways to protect our barriers, so I never recommend forgoing products altogether. That said, if your skin is acting up, a “skincare detox” (AKA going back to basics) is a good way to identify whether your products are doing more harm than good.

Next, learn how to prevent your protective face mask from causing breakouts and irritation.

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