Wondering Why Your Skincare Products Aren't Working For You? An Esthetician Explains

One of the most common things an esthetician hears is "This product didn't work for me."

By Simone Sydel5 min read
Wondering Why Your Skincare Products Aren't Working For You? An Esthetician Explains

There could be many reasons why a product didn't work for you. However, as consumers, the first thing we always think of is that the product is just bad and doesn't do what it claims. Understandably, you’re upset when a product doesn't work because you just paid money for that thing and you need it to do something. But it's not always the product's fault.

And before you throw out the new fancy serum and sit down at your laptop to write an angry review, consider the following reasons why the product (possibly) didn't work for you.

You May Be Using the Wrong Products for Your Concerns

Trying to find a solution for your skin concerns online can often end up badly. This can happen because you don't know what your skin needs, or the person you’re getting product recommendations from doesn't know what your skin needs.

Let's get two things straight. First, your skin type doesn't always correspond to what your skin needs and what your skin concern requires. Second, your skin condition (or your skin's current state) may require something completely different from what you would usually pick for your skin type.

Your skin type doesn't always correspond to what your skin needs and what your skin concern requires.

So, if you’re currently dealing with acne, but your skin is usually normal to dry, you may end up picking a product that could severely dry out your skin because it contains ingredients more suitable for oily skin.

On the other hand, if your skin is usually on the oily side and you pick a product that claims to be hydrating and nourishing, you may end up breaking out because the product is just too rich and heavy for your skin and could cause clogging.

And lastly, try to take online advice with a grain of salt, no matter the qualifications of the person giving the advice. If you’re taking advice from a dermatologist with a YouTube channel that they use to reach a broad audience, don't think that the advice is specifically tailored for you, and their product recommendations would work great for your concerns. Their information could be helpful and can give you a good starting point, but always consult a professional who can see you in person and create a tailored routine specifically for your concerns and needs based on your skin's current condition.

You May Be Using the Products in a Wrong Way

My dentist recently told me that 90% of the patients she sees don't clean their teeth properly because they don't know how to. I was shocked initially, but after a few seconds, I thought of how many people I know who use their skincare products in the wrong way.

The thing is, you may be using your skincare products in the wrong way because of misleading labels or because you’re not trained to recognize the signs of skin damage until it becomes obvious, which is usually too late.

Take the Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliator as an example. This product is a cult favorite. Everyone loves it, it gives an unreal skin glow after the very first use, and whatnot. But in the "How To Use" section of every website that sells it, you will see clear instructions that say this product should be used once or twice daily after cleansing and toning.

Many product labels instruct you to use their products more often so you buy their products more frequently.

And it's no surprise that many estheticians (myself included) have heard from clients saying that after a few weeks of using this product once or twice a day, their skin felt like it was going to fall off.

One of my clients contacted me via email and said he was desperate and didn't know what to do because he used this product on his acne twice a day for two weeks, and his skin healed a little bit but started getting progressively worse by the end of the first week. By the end of the second week, his skin looked red, felt raw, and even plain water in the morning burned to an insufferable point. If my client would've recognized the early signs of damage, he would've stopped using this product every day by the end of the first week, but he thought that's how it should be because that's what the label instructed him to do.

Any esthetician would tell you that using an exfoliating product that contains 2% salicylic acid twice a day is a one-way ticket to irritation city, but so many product labels instruct you to use their products more often so that you buy their products more frequently. This is why you should consider this as a possibility when your products stop doing the wonders they used to and start irritating your skin instead.

You May Be Using Too Much Product

There’s a common confusion that the more product you apply, the more benefits you will get. This sounds logical, but the skin doesn't work that way.

What you should know is that our skin is a semi-permeable organ and can only absorb very little of anything you apply to it. This is why you shouldn't apply more than a nickel-sized amount of anything except sunscreen. A nickel-sized amount of cleanser is enough to cleanse your face and neck thoroughly, a nickel-sized amount of serum is all your skin can absorb, and a nickel-sized amount of moisturizer is enough for the entire face and neck when applied on damp skin.

You shouldn't apply more than a nickel-sized amount of anything except sunscreen.

On the other hand, sunscreen is a product that's not intended to absorb into the skin, and it works best when it sits on the surface and creates a shield to protect you from the UV rays. This is why you should apply more than a nickel-sized amount. An easy way to measure would be to fill half a teaspoon or apply the two fingers rule for your entire face, ears, and neck.

You May Be Using the Products Too Often

This is a common issue when it comes to products that contain high concentrations of a certain active ingredient, and Niacinamide + Zinc by The Ordinary is an excellent example.

This serum contains 10% niacinamide, an excellent ingredient that can strengthen the skin barrier, hydrate, brighten, and balance out excess oil production. Besides that, it also contains 1% zinc, a mineral famous for its anti-inflammatory and soothing benefits. However, studies done on niacinamide have shown that this ingredient is effective at a concentration of only 4%. And while you may automatically think that 10% must be better and the benefits must be even more amplified — unfortunately, this isn't the case.

On the contrary, a higher concentration of something doesn't make it better, but it increases its chance of causing irritation and adverse reactions. Pair this up with the instructions of using this potent serum twice a day, and bam! You have irritated skin that's breaking out.

A higher concentration of something doesn't make it better, but it increases its chance of causing irritation.

Consider that you should use this product no more than once every couple of days to minimize your risk of irritation, or even better, don't use high concentrations of this active ingredient at all.

Niacinamide is a mainstream ingredient found in anything from cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and even sunscreens. The chances are that some of your other products already contain it, which could only be adding to the strength and thus causing irritation.

Your Products May Not Mix Well

This often happens when you use silicone-based products, and they tend to cause one another to pill and ball on the surface of the skin. It can also happen when you mix and match many different products from different brands that don't belong in the same regimen.

The best way to avoid this is to have a simple skincare routine consisting of no more than three leave-on products.

Products Could Interact and Cause Irritation

If your products are burning your skin and causing irritation, you may want to think about how you combine them in the same regimen.

For example, I've noticed that I never experience burning or tingling when I use azelaic acid as the only active in my skincare routine. But, I experience a slight tingling sensation when I use the same product in combination with salicylic acid in the same routine. And I experience an intense burning sensation for a few moments when I layer retinol on top of my azelaic acid in the same routine.

Not every product agrees with others.

These are three different circumstances that are causing three different reactions, which is why you should consider the circumstances under which you’re using your products.

Not every product agrees with others, and using them together could cause unnecessary irritations. Besides that, layering a bunch of actives at one go won't give you all the benefits — it will only increase your skin's sensitivity and could likely lead to a compromised barrier. So make sure the products you’re using together don't contain too many active ingredients, including exfoliating acids, brightening agents, and retinoids.

Your Routine May Be Incomplete

And the last and most important reason your skincare products may not work for you is an incomplete routine.

One way to make sure your skincare routine is complete is to apply sunscreen as the very last step in your morning routine every day. Whatever skin concern or issue you’re trying to get rid of by using products will probably take a very long time to fade unless you become diligent with your sunscreen application.

Apply sunscreen as the very last step in your morning routine every day.

Uneven skin tone or hyperpigmentation is a perfect example because no matter how many brightening products you apply, the issue will be more stubborn because you’re not protecting your skin from the main thing that's causing it — the UV rays. Think of this like applying an ointment to heal a burn in the evening, but then putting your hand over the stove again the next morning. The wound will never heal, much like your products will never work properly without sunscreen in the morning.

Closing Thoughts

These are only a few possible reasons why your skincare products don't work for you. But all this is not to say there aren't some bad products out there that do nothing, because that's also a possibility. However, it would help if you considered these few things before deciding the product didn't work for you and throwing it in the trash.

Additionally, to avoid wasting money on something that possibly won't work for you, you should always get your product recommendations from professionals, avoid mixing and matching many different products, keep your routine simple and focused on your skin's needs, and don't buy into good marketing or insane discounts.

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