Whether you dread change or embrace the excitement that comes with new experiences, we can all agree on one thing: Skin care routines are not meant to last forever. While we understand that it can be hard to give up the products you have grown to love over the years, there comes a time when you need to shake up your daily regimen to address your skin’s changing needs. And now that we have officially welcomed another year, it’s the best time to take stock of what works (and what doesn’t) for your skin and find out if your regimen is due for a well-deserved fresh start.
Why Your Skin Care Routine Needs a Makeover
While the thought of parting with your go-to moisturizer may be enough to give you nightmares, it’s important to understand that some of your favorite products may no longer be giving your skin the nourishment it needs. Especially when you consider how your skin is affected by the natural aging process and by changes in your habits and lifestyle.
“The different stages in a person’s life will determine what products should be used. Teens will more likely use acne products to fight breakouts. For those in their 30s, the focus should shift to aging prevention,” says educator and licensed esthetician Annastazia Unce. “Major life events like pregnancy and menopause can affect hormones and send skin into a whirlwind of changes. Dryness, hyperpigmentation and hormonal breakouts concentrated in the jawline will become more frequent,” she notes.
Medical esthetician Erin Murphy echoes this, adding that the amount of humidity in the air, changes in your diet and the stress hormone cortisol “are things that can cause your beloved skin care products to not work as well as they once did.”
How to Tell If You Need a New Skin Care Routine
Your skin concerns can be linked to a number of factors, but sometimes, adding or switching out a product or two is all it takes to keep your skin in fighting form. Below, we list down some of the most common signs your skin is a prime candidate for a much-needed transition.
1. Your breakouts worsen after treatment.
If you’ve recently started a topical treatment and your skin actually gets worse, you’ll want to take note of the active ingredient in your product. “If skin is irritated after a new topical treatment, I first examine the treatment. A topical vitamin-A product commonly produces some redness/irritation as part of its process—and this does not indicate an allergy or problem,” explains facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon Inessa Fishman, MD. But if your skin is truly irritated, Dr. Fishman recommends using the product every second or third night instead and switching to a gentle cleanser and moisturizer to ease dryness.
To soothe irritation, licensed esthetician Patty Bell says, “You cannot go wrong with natural products like aloe vera to heal burning skin, organic honey to help fight infection and coconut or almond oil to nourish and hydrate skin.”
2. Your skin is excessively dry.
“Dry skin can be genetic, a by-product of excessive cleansing and oil-stripping, dry environment and incorrect diet, among other factors,” explains Dr. Fishman. To prevent excessive dryness, she suggests replacing your alcohol- and acid-based products with ones that contain moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, particularly in the drier winter months.
Over-exfoliation is also another major contributor to dry skin, says Unce, adding that, “Stripping the skin’s natural ‘acid mantle’ leads to sensitivity, dryness and dark spots.” If your complexion is becoming noticeably drier, she suggests refraining from using salt, sugar and other harsh scrubs that can strip skin of its natural moisture and cause micro-scarring. Instead, switch to exfoliating polishes with finer granules that are gentler on the skin and reach for hydrating toners and moisturizers with water as one of the first ingredients.
3. Your skin is off-balance.
While having dry or oily skin is determined by genetics, using the wrong products can over-dry your skin and interfere with your skin’s sebum production, causing it to produce more oil than necessary. “If you spend every day trying to remove every ounce of oil off your skin, it will actually try to produce more. The key is to keep oil production in check and to not over-treat your skin,” explains Murphy.
Salicylic acid and clay are two of the best ingredients to look for if you’re dealing with excess grease as these can absorb oil without being too harsh on your skin, says Unce. To prevent drying out your skin, swap out your alcohol-based toner for hydrating floral water and opt for gentle cleansers (instead of bar soaps) with natural pH-balancing ingredients like honey, apple cider vinegar and nourishing oils like jojoba, olive and argan oils.
4. You have new “freckles.”
According to Murphy, up to 80 percent of visible skin aging is caused by sun damage, making UVA and UVB rays the top culprits when dealing with hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone and texture along with wrinkles. Switch to a broad spectrum formula that defends skin from both types of rays, or increase the SPF (at least an SPF 35 for everyday use, says Murphy) if the product you’re using now already protects against both.
But it doesn’t end there. Those “freckles” and dark spots that seem to sprout out of nowhere can also be the result of post-acne scarring, hormones (from pregnancy) and over-exfoliation, says Unce. And while hydroquinone is the quickest and most effective way to brighten discoloration, natural ingredients like vitamin C, arbutin (that prevents the formation of melanin) and gentle exfoliators like kojic, azelaic and mandelic acids are also “very effective in lightening dark spots and are great alternatives to hydroquinone,” adds Unce.
5. Your skin is super red.
While a natural rosy flush is a sure indicator of healthy skin, redness (and other signs of inflammation) usually means “the skin is protecting itself,” explains Unce. “Some people that are genetically predisposed to having sensitive skin experience redness from merely washing their face. On the other hand, sensitivity can also be a sign of over-exfoliation, which impairs the skin barrier and makes it highly reactive,” she adds. In the case of the latter, Unce suggests focusing on hydrating and repairing your skin, which can be achieved by “using ingredients like hyaluronic acid, oats, cucumber, aloe vera, sea algae and lipid oils.”
Additionally, skin that suddenly turns an angry shade of red is “often an indication that something in your product’s ingredient list may be too harsh for your skin,” says licensed esthetician Nancy Reagan, founder of Bella Reina Spa. Sulfates and benzoyl peroxide are common offenders, so make sure to switch to one that is free of both.
6. Your skin stings or itches.
Hives (which can be caused by stress), sensitivities from food or skin care products and sunburn, windburn or frostbite can all result in skin that suddenly stings and itches, says Dr. Fishman, so it’s best to keep track of new foods you’ve introduced to your diet and do a patch test of your moisturizers or serums before deciding to make them staples in your AM or PM routines. It’s especially important to check your skin care products for potential allergens or ingredients that could react to the sun or a medication you’re taking, adds Murphy.
Another major reason your skin itches, stings and appears blotchy? Over-exfoliation. “Over-exfoliating and using retinoids or heavy acids will almost always cause some discomfort, but if you take a couple of days off and use a gentle moisturizer for a couple of days, your skin will restore itself,” says Murphy. “If you’re new to exfoliating with a scrub or mask, it’s best to start off with twice a week and see how your skin tolerates it,” she adds.
7. Your skin has tiny bumps.
Small, raised bumps on the surface of your skin may be due to a histamine reaction, especially when they’re accompanied by redness and itching, says Unce. To soothe your skin, apply calming ingredients such as aloe or honey and switch to gentler products that don’t contain known skin irritants like synthetic fragrances, parabens, phthalates and sulfates.
A skin condition called milia can also result in hard, white bumps, which are mostly concentrated around the eyes or forehead but can also be found anywhere on the face. “They develop when skin flakes or oil become trapped in little pockets near the surface of the skin. They are common around the eyes and forehead as eye cream tends to be a little heavier and can clog the skin if not applied lightly,” explains Murphy. Switching to more lightweight products may prevent the condition from worsening, says Murphy, adding that, “Milia can be extracted, but it’s best done by a professional to be sure it’s done in a clean environment with no chance of infection.”