We all have the skincare products we absolutely swear by. For me, it’s Bioderma's Micellar Water. I’ve been using it for nearly a decade now, ever since I read the French have amazing skin because they use it in lieu of cleanser. It changed my skin in real ways that I could see, and it did it quickly; I went from someone with five breakouts on my face at any given time to zero all the time. But, the problem with using a product that does magnificent things to your skin religiously is that when you stop using that product, you can end up with the same skin issues as before. With some, you might even end up causing other issues, like peeling skin or perioral dermatitis. In other words, your skin becomes dependent on your skincare.
“When we regularly use skincare products we are altering the natural behavior of our skin, whether that's skin cell rejuvenation (retinols, AHAs) or sebum production (serums and moisturizers),” Rhonda Klein, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.D., a partner at Modern Dermatology explains. “If you're noticing your skin has built up a tolerance to products and their benefits aren't as apparent then it's time to switch things up.”
Everyone’s skin is different. However, there are some products that people are just more likely to build up a tolerance to if they’re used too much. Below, find out how to avoid that happening.
How to Tell If This Is Happening to You
First things first: What’s the difference between a skincare dependency, and a product just simply doing what it’s supposed to do and working? According to Michele Green, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist based in NYC, if a product is helping your skin, then you’re good to keep using it—as long as you stay consistent.
“If a product works and makes your skin look and feel great that is the best thing you could ask for. With skincare consistency is best since most products take weeks if not months to reach full efficacy and for your skin to start reaping the benefits,” she says. “There are certain ingredients that need consistency to reap the rewards of great skin, such as retinols, which can take up to six weeks before you start seeing results. In addition, you can actually do more harm to your skin by not following a skin care regimen.” For some, this may be using a product every day—for others, it may be using a product only twice a week.
Donna Hart, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology, says using most skincare products over a long period of time won’t do harm—but if they’re more powerful and used incorrectly, your skin could develop a dependency. “For example, using topical steroids on the face is a classic cause for a condition called perioral dermatitis, which leads to dry and bumpy skin primarily around the mouth, nose or eyes,” she says. “People often start using the steroid to calm some dry skin but upon stopping the cream they begin to experience more dryness and bumps. Then they use more steroid cream to again calm the dryness, which inevitably will flare again once stopping.”
In other words, use products as directed, and try to alternate them a bit if you’re worried about your skin relying on them too much.
How to Wean Your Skin Off Them Properly
According to Dr. Klein, if you suspect your skin is dependent on a product, stop using it and employ a few measures to help it reset. "Only use chemical exfoliation once or twice a week,” she says. If you decide to add in a retinol to increase skin cell turnover rate, this could help reset your skin, as well as any issues caused by the products you were using."
She adds that if you’re not seeing the same results from a product as you used to, it can help to vary up your routine a little so you’re not using the same product every day. You’ll still see the longterm benefits of a product over time (even if you only use it few times a week), as long as you stay consistent. “Swapping over to a new product altogether or changing your use of it [can help]. For example, only use a retinol every few nights, or using your antioxidant serum at both morning and night instead of just at morning.”
How to Prevent This From Happening
As long as you’re using your products as directed and not overusing them, you should be fine. “Consistency with your skincare will give your skin the maximum benefit over time with steady cell turnover and collagen production,” Dr. Green says.
If you feel like your products are causing your skin to become dependent on them, however, don’t panic. Just vary up your routine, add in a good exfoliant or a retinol a couple of times a week, and your skin should reset itself in no time.