If you’ve ever discovered a holy grail product for your skin, you probably know the euphoric feelings that come next. After finding Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (it’s a mouthful, I know), I’ve been telling everyone I know about how I started using it once a day and my skin has never looked or felt better. I also take notice now when other people talk about how great it is, too. This is also exactly why I noticed a post about it in a skin care Facebook group I’m part of. And then, in the comments, something was said along the lines of, “I’ve heard your skin can get totally addicted to this product.” The gist is when you stop using it, even if for a day or two, your skin will react poorly.
Since beginning to use the liquid exfoliant a couple months ago, I’ve only gone two or three days max without using it and have yet to have any negative side effects, other than my skin having less of a glow than usual. But the comment made me wonder if it’s even possible for your skin to get too used to a product. Even if the answer is yes, I wondered if this meant the product was excellent—or the opposite. Like so much of the conversation around skin care, I also wondered if the statement was altogether bullshit—just another narrative to keep us buying new, different products. It turns out, though, that the commenter actually had a point.
Your skin can get "used to" a product
“Our skin does become acclimated to the products we use,” Dr. Dendy Engelman, a New York-based board-certified and nationally-acclaimed dermatologic surgeon, tells me over email. “For example, it we consistently use skincare products that strip our skin of natural oils, oil production will go into overdrive to compensate for the lack of oils in the skin barrier, and thus after stopping usage of the product skin will be more oily than normal.”
Meet the Expert
Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified and nationally-acclaimed dermatologic surgeon and sees patients at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Engelman is particularly known and celebrated for her expertise in neurotoxins, injectable fillers, and chemical peels. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, and American College of Mohs Surgery.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, Engelman tells me. In fact, she says it can be a positive. “A perfect example of skin getting used to a product is what occurs when a patient starts using vitamin A derivatives like retinol or retinoids,” Engelman says. “They help accelerate cell turn over and can make skin dry, red, or inflamed upon the first 2-3 weeks of usage, then over time, the side effects cease and skin starts to improve skin texture, tone, and luminosity."
Here's how to deal
If you’re curious about which products are OK to take a break from and which you should stick with consistently, Engelman says that issue-targeting products (serums, spot treatments, marks) are fine to set aside for a while. On the flip side, she also says it’s probably not a great idea to stop using something like a moisturizer, which acts like a “shield” for our skin. "You use moisturizers to lock in active ingredients and hydration and block harmful aggressors out. Even if skin does not seem dry, it still needs that layer of protection daily," Engelman explains.
Personally, I don’t plan on putting away my new favorite exfoliant any time soon, but it’s nice to know that if I do my skin probably won’t have a meltdown—and even if it does, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As celebrity master esthetician Sarah Akram tells me, skin care should be a consistent part of your daily wellness routine, just like anything else. "Skin can get accustomed to products, but as long as you’re seeing the results that meet your goals, I say stick to it," Akram says. “Skincare is a lot like brushing your teeth—you have to do it every day or you’ll start seeing a decline in the health of your teeth, or in this case skin."
Meet the Expert
Sarah Akram is a board-licensed esthetician with a roster of loyal A-list clients in both New York City and Washington, D.C. In 2015, she opened her own skincare boutique in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia where she works to deliver an all-natural path to anti-aging skincare.
Next up: We've been using peel-off masks wrong this whole time.