How many skincare products can you use in your skincare routine before your skin says “enough is enough”?
In the old days, it was just cleanse, tone and moisturise. But in the past couple of years, I’ve seen women’s skincare routines get out of control.
Korean skincare encourages you to use 10+ products morning and night. The Ordinary gives you powerful actives at cheap prices – but only one per bottle. If you want to get them all, you’ll end up slathering 30 serums on your skin.
Why not? Isn’t more the merrier?
Not always. If you’ve got super dry skin, using 3 or 4 moisturising products may help you heal it faster. But using 3 exfoliants in the same skincare routine like I’ve seen women do more and more often? That’s asking for irritation.
But how do you know what the limit is? Here’s how many skincare products it’s safe to use:
How Many Skincare Products Can You Use?
There isn’t a definite number. That’d be too easy, wouldn’t it?
Truth is, it’s not a matter of how many skincare products you can use. It’s how many layers your skin can tolerate.
To function, feel, and look its best, your skin needs more than just one ingredient. It needs:
- Emollients and humectants, like shea butter and hyaluronic acid, to hydrate it and keep it soft and supple.
- Antioxidants, like vitamins A and C, to prevent and treat premature wrinkles.
- Skin-identical ingredients, like ceramides and cholesterol, to keep its protective barrier intact and prevent dryness.
- Exfoliating acids, like glycolic and salicylic, to remove old dead cells and prevent breakouts.
- Sunscreen agents, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to protect against UV damage.
- Skin-lighteners, like niacinamide and hydroquinone, to reduce dark spots and discolourations.
- Soothing ingredients, like allantoin and oats, to reduce inflammation.
Just to be clear, YOUR skin DOESN’T need all of them. Sure, everyone can use emollients, antioxidants and UV filters. But skin-lighteners? They’re only for you if you need to fade dark spots.
I can’t stress this enough: it’s NOT about using every IT product of the moment. It’s about figuring out what YOUR skincare woes are and finding products that can fix them.
If you’re dealing with several problems – let’s say wrinkles and acne – look for multitasking products that can deal with both.
Sure, you could spend hours debating whether you need The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic 3%, The Ordinary EUK 134.1% or The Ordinary Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% and then decide that – what the heck – you’re gonna get them all.
Or just go for a Paula’s Choice antioxidant serum that already has 10+ antioxidants. Your choice.
My point is: listen to your skin, not to marketing hype. Bring in extra products when your skin needs them, not when the same skincare product pops up all over your Instagram feed (if that’s what’s happening, the brand’s paying for those mentions).
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Why Is It Bad To Use Too Many Products?
Having said that, there IS a limit to the amounts of products you can use. But, this limit is not set at a specific number. It’s not like you can use 10 products without problems, but when you add the 11th, all hell breaks loose.
You can use 5 products and have all hell break loose if they all have rich textures. Rich textures are very moisturizing, but, they can also clog pores.
If you have sensitive skin, any extra ingredient (let alone product) you add to your routine increases your chances of getting a negative reaction. The simpler your routine is, the better.
Trust me on this. Three well-formulated products can give you better results than a 10 step regime that features every IT ingredient you’re seeing on IG right now.
P.S. My morning routine is only 3 steps long. I cleanse, apply Vitamin C serum, and follow up with sunscreen. That’s it.
Related: 9 Soothing Tips To Care For Sensitive Skin
How Do You Know When Your Skin Has Reached The Limit Of Skincare Products It Can Tolerate?
If you plan to use a ton of products, they’d better have a lightweight texture. That’s why the Korean skincare routine works so well. Korean women may use 10+ products, but they’re all so lightweight, they can penetrate skin easily without leaving a greasy residue behind.
But, Western products usually have richer and creamier textures. So, how do you know when you’ve reached your limit?
“When one product just doesn’t seem to set”, says Dr Schultz, “or seems to be sliding off your skin, because you have so many others underneath, then you’ve probably reached your limit.”
Until then, you can use as many products as you feel your skin needs.
Related: What’s The Correct Order To Apply Skincare Products?
Warning: Don’t Use Too Many Products With Harsh Actives
Let’s be clear: by harsh actives I mean retinoids and exfoliants.
Gone are the days when you were scrubbing your face with apricot kernels. Now, acids are having a moment. You’ve heard that glycolic acid boosts collagen, salicylic unclog pores and lactic hydrates and thought, “why not use them all and get ALL the benefits?”
Now you’re wondering why your skin’s so dry and flaky. It hurts like hell too.
I can’t stress this enough: you only need ONE exfoliant. And that includes Clarisonic, Foreo Luna, washcloth or whatever you use to exfoliate.
Here’s the deal: those dead cells on the surface of the skin are there for a reason. Their job is to protect the newer cells underneath that aren’t ready to come to the surface yet.
When you use ONE exfoliant, you remove enough dead cells to make your skin smoother and brighter BUT not enough to expose the raw skin underneath.
But when you use more than one exfoliant? That’s when you remove TOO MANY dead cells. That’s not gonna give you the dewy glow and smoother skin you crave. It’s just gonna irritate your skin like hell.
Same deal with retinoids. Retinoids are forms of vitamin A, like retinol, tretinoin and Differin. Using one is gonna help you reduce those pesky wrinkles. Using two or three will just irritate your skin.
The more isn’t always merrier. When it comes to exfoliants and retinoids. Pick your fave and stick to it. And don’t stress about making the wrong choice. If something doesn’t work, you can always switch. That’s nowhere near as harmful as using all the exfoliants together and irritating your skin like hell.
Related: What’s The Best Exfoliator For Your Skin Type?
The Bottom Line
Don’t add new products to your skincare routine just cos. You don’t need every IT ingredient out there. You need to listen to what your skin needs and find products that can address that. When you’ve gone too far, your skin will let you know.
How many skincare products do you use in your skincare routine? Share your thoughts in the comments below.