I've been told a lot of things in my life, and when it comes to skincare, I think I've followed almost all of it - with some pretty disastrous results at times. Let me tell you the worst of it! And why sometimes, it's better to go your own way.
Now I love my skincare, and being a director of a cosmetics retailer feeds my guilty habit (I probably buy way more than I need). I've also struggled with various skin conditions throughout my life - from acne, to eczema, to rosacea, to extremely oily skin and then, incredibly dry skin - you name it! And so, I've tried a wide range of products as well as old wives' remedies, homemade skincare (just....no) and other people's sworn holy grails. Sometimes it's been just what I needed, but other times, it's been bad. Oh so bad. Below is the worst skincare advice I was ever given. Time for a countdown!
10. A niacinamide serum is integral to every skincare routine.
I admit: the way niacinamide was discussed and hyped on beauty channels had me falling for it 100%. I felt like it would make my rosacea disappear, even out my complexion, pay my bills and call me after a night out to make sure I reached home safely. It literally felt like THE super ingredient. And don't get me wrong, niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) is all that. It is highly effective at soothing acne and redness, is a great anti-ageing alternative to retinol, and can counter hyperpigmentation. Hence, you will see it in a LOT of formulas across the spectrum of skin concerns. But with that said, don't do what I did and buy a 10% strength niacinamide serum and whack it on your face. At the end of the day, vitamin B3 is an active ingredient, and deserves a gentler introduction to your skincare routine. Treat it like retinol - it works and obviously at a higher concentration, the effects are amplified, but start with a low concentration and using it every other day. Otherwise, you might end up with irritated skin, particularly if you're using it to try and improve skin sensitivity. Also, some people won't even require a standalone niacinamide serum to enjoy its benefits. You can use a product with as little as a 2% niacinamide for it to make a difference.
9. Laser facials are good! Buy a monthly subscription!
Boy, this was NOT good. I was living in Hong Kong at the time, and laser facials were all the rage. You remember those reels on IG where a charcoal mask is applied and it then gets zapped off, promising smaller pores, less acne and less hyperpigmentation? Well, I had one of those facials, and my skin definitely felt softer and smoother afterwards. Great, right? So, I was easily convinced by the salesperson to buy a fortnightly laser facial subscription. What I didn't realize was that laser treatments can also thin the skin in certain cases. Now, this doesn't always occur, and laser providers are very quick to dismiss it as a 'myth'. But according to my dermatologist, the answer is yes, if you already have sensitive skin, sunburnt skin, use cortisone, or if the laser used isn't suitable for your skin type or tone, then it can indeed have that effect. At the time, my skin could probably handle 1 laser facial every 6 months with visible results. But 12 laser facials in 6 months saw my skin become dry as a prune, as well as very, very sensitized. I ditched it in a hurry and had to look up barrier-repair skincare. When it comes to lasers, it's so important to do your research, go with a trusted provider and check with your doctor or dermatologist FIRST whether the type of laser you're going for is suitable for your skin.
8. Use a glycolic acid serum to prevent ingrown hairs after laser hair removal.
Luckily, this was advice I did not take as I began paying attention to my skin and catering to its quirks. Laser hair removal is a gift for those that have hair in places in which they are not particularly enamoured. If you are one of those people who embrace everything about themselves, I envy you unabashedly. That's the way we all should be! However, I still have my aversity (thanks a lot, useless social conditioning!) to excessive facial hair. When I stepped into a laser hair removal salon in Melbourne, the first thing that occured (before we discussed my skin type and concerns) was the persistent upsell. This always irks me, because this 'one size fits all' approach can lead us to purchase unecessary and sometimes harmful products. "These products will be your best friend," the aesthetician insisted, trying to push an 8% glycolic acid serum into my hand. "It's what we make sure all our customers use a week after hair removal to prevent ingrowns". Can a glycolic acid serum help reduce ingrown hairs? In actual fact, the answer is yes - it can be highly effective. But is it always safe to apply on sensitive skin, rosacea and (in some cases) dark skin? No. I politely declined before exiting to find another, less 'salesy' salon, explaining that I could not use glycolic acid in such a high concentration on my rosacea-prone skin, as it could unwittingly cause an outbreak. Over-use of a high-concentration glycolic acid serum on dark skin can also trigger hyperpigmentation. The lessen here is, don't feel bad about advocating for your skin type, and don't give in to pushy sales tactics if it's not what your skin needs!
7. Let your skin dry completely after applying a BHA exfoliant - it's more effective that way.
Lord almighty, this left my skin dry, peeling and dull. Beauty blog wisdom advises letting your skin dry (for around 20 - 30 minutes) after applying a salicylic acid toner in order for the product to its magic. So, I tried this with a very popular 2% BHA exfoliant toner. Aaaand it gave me flaky skin drier than the outback during a heatwave. Plus if I'm being honest, I couldn't tell the difference in efficacy after using it on dry skin vs damp skin. In fact, I would say that applying my BHA toner after using a low pH cleanser made more of an impact. Your skin's pH level at the time of applying salicylic acid should be relatively low (around 4-5) for optimal absorption. Using a low pH cleanser or alternatively, applying a low pH toner (like this one) before applying your BHA will render it more effective. There is no need to leave your skin to dry for half an hour after applying your BHA, as it can leave your skin feeling tight and dry. In any case, a BHA toner like this one from COSRX gets absorbed in a couple of minutes anyway.
6. Use a pore scraper to remove excess oil from your T-zone.
I was seduced by a vibrating pore scraper. My pores never looked cleaner, and the gunk it squeezed out of my nose was soooo satisfying. Before I knew it, I was pore scraping weekly, because that 'clean' look never lasted long. Here's the thing: that stuff coming out of your pores isn't just excess sebum, it's also the required sebum for your skin to be adequately moisturized and protected from external elements. Scraping it all out can lead to your skin producing even more sebum to compensate for the moisture loss, not to mention it can also stretch out pores, leading to scarring and making them appear larger. Extraction is best left to the professionals.
5. You should nuke that pimple!
I know you see that zit that's not quite 'ready' to be popped, but you have that thing to go to and you think you can convince it to pop by squeezing a bit harder: STOP!! Keep those finger guns back in your pocket - permanent scarring from squeezing zits (particularly cystic pimples) are a thing and it's surprisingly easy to do! If a whitehead or pustule can be popped, that means it's at the stage where even a teeny bit of pressure can break the surface skin. I've had pimples pop on their own after I've showered or very delicately splashed water on my face. In that case, just make sure the area is clean, whack a pimple patch on it and let it do its thing. Do not, I repeat, do not squeeze like you're trying to get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. Not only does it risk pushing the gunk right back in your skin (ever had a pimple 'ripen' twice or three times?), but it can also leave you with scabbed skin, hyperpigmentation and permanant scarring (pockmarks).
4. If your skin is too oily, wash your face more often or use a stronger cleanser.
I had super oily skin - like, people would ask me if I needed the air conditioning turned up because they thought I was sweating - type of oily. Obviously, it's a great gift as you age because yes - oily skin does help delay the formation of fine lines. But when you're young and acne-prone, it's the worst. I used all those harsh cleansers marked towards oily skin back in the peak millennial era. They were all ultra high pH and incredibly stripping (I'm looking at you, Johnson's Clean & Clear!). And all they did was leave me with dehydrated skin...that was somehow even oilier. Using drying skincare can trigger our sebum glands to go into production overdrive to try and compensate for lost moisture. In other words, it can be self-sabotaging. Stick to low pH cleansers, use sebum regulating ingredients (mugwort, BHA, retinol, niacinamide, houttuniya cordata, the list goes on), and try a gel-based moisturizer. The results will speak for themselves, and you won't dehydrate your skin in the process.
3. Acids and scrubs are the only way to exfoliate, pick one.
When I first started compiling a skincare routine, I thought I needed to have it all: a vitamin C serum and a niacinamide serum, a retinol/lactic acid serum in the evening, a 20% AHA/BHA serum twice a week etc. It wasn't long before my sensitive skin revolted. My colleague Kellie gave me some sound advice - she said to use actives like a course of medicine, and pair everything with barrier-repairing ingredients like ceramidies, cica and panthenol. In other words, just use one active ingredient at a time if your skin is reactive. Wait until you finish the bottle/jar before giving your skin a little break and moving to the next. Beauty afficionados later came to term this as 'skin cycling' and let me tell you, it works beautifully for sensitive skin that's still keen on using actives. I started using vitamin C and retinol solely in the summer, without any scrubs or acids. And it was enough to keep my skin smooth and acne at bay. In fact, many skincare ingredients such as retinol and urea also have keratolytic properties. If you're using these active ingredients frequently, you might not need to exfoliate seperately very often (or at all), particularly if you have dry, sensitive or ageing skin.
2. Toners are a waste of time.
I ate my words on this one! Toners are more than just fancy water. They can correct your skin's pH after cleaning, rehydrate and in most cases, help your serums and creams to absorb better. My skin got a massive upgrade when I started using one. You can read about it here.
1. You're brown, you don't need sunscreen!
This is my biggest skincare regret. If I could turn back time, I would buy Bitcoin, give my late grandfather a million hugs (love you Amacha), and WEAR THE DAMN SUNSCREEN! Apart from skin cancers (which is a good enough reason), there's also skin dryness, burns, premature aging and hyperpigmentation caused by UV rays. You're never too young for vigilant sun protection, and SPF should be the most important and critical step in everyone's skincare routine.
What about you? What skincare mistakes have you made that others (me) can learn from?