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  3. > Ask an expert: Can the overuse of skincare products affect your skin?

Ask an expert: Can the overuse of skincare products affect your skin?

Avoid overusing products with ingredients like AHAs and BHAs.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 06, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 06, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

We’ve all heard the saying, "too much of a good thing can be a bad thing"—and that goes for skincare products. Caring for your skin and using the right products to nourish and protect it is important, but the overuse of skincare products or certain ingredients can actually harm it

Here, our experts explore the potential downsides of overusing skincare products, discuss some ingredients you should be cautious of overusing, and provide some tips for applying your products in the correct order to maximize their benefits.

Sometimes, simple is better 

When it comes to caring for your skin, Curology believes in the power of simplicity. With so many skincare facial products, techniques, and trends flooding the market, it's easy to get caught up in the hype and want to try everything. But the truth is, using too many products or overusing a single product can negatively affect your skin. If you ask us, less is more! A good skincare regimen only really needs to involve cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting with SPF in the morning and treating in the evening. By keeping things simple, you're less likely to overwhelm your skin and risk irritation or other side effects like dryness. Plus, with a streamlined routine, tracking what's working for your skin and what's not is all the easier.

Potential signs you're overdoing it 

Wondering if you’re using too many skincare products? If so, it can lead to some not-so-fun symptoms. Here are a few potential signs that you may be overdoing it:

  • Itchy, red, flaky skin: If your skin is feeling excessively dry, itchy, or red, it could be a sign that you're using too many products or ingredients that are too harsh for your skin.

  • Shiny skin: If you're using exfoliants or other products that slough off dead skin cells, your skin may look shiny at first. However, if it remains shiny but isn't oily, it could be a sign that you're over-exfoliating and stripping your skin.

  • Tight skin: If your skin feels tight or dry after applying your products, it could be a sign that they're too drying for your skin type.

Skincare products for acne or anti-aging, such as those containing benzoyl peroxide or retinoids, are among the most likely to cause these symptoms. On the other hand, skincare products for dry skin, like moisturizers, are unlikely to cause side effects even when used frequently. It's also worth noting that excessive use of facial cleansers and masks may be correlated with the development of rosacea

If you find yourself with any of these symptoms, it's probably a good idea to take a step back and reassess your skincare routine. It may also help to speak with a licensed dermatology professional. 

5 skincare ingredients you shouldn't overuse

In the skincare world, it's worth repeating that less is often more. While certain ingredients can benefit your skin, overusing them may lead to unwanted side effects. Here are a few common ingredients you should generally avoid overusing:

AHAs and BHAs

AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) like glycolic acid and lactic acid are exfoliants that may help improve the skin's texture, treat acne, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. However, overusing AHAs can lead to swelling, burning, and itching.²

BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) like salicylic acid is another type of exfoliant that may help to unclog pores and treat acne.³ However, overusing BHAs can lead to side effects like irritation, dryness, stinging, peeling, and redness.⁴ 

Retinoids

Retinoids (such as tretinoin) are vitamin A derivatives that help repair skin photodamage and stimulate the growth of new skin cells, which in turn may help improve the texture of your skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.⁵ This is one of the most potent anti-aging ingredients on the market and overusing it may lead to irritation, dryness, peeling, and redness.⁶

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an acne treatment common in many over-the-counter products that can help to kill bacteria and unclog pores. However, higher strengths of benzoyl peroxide can lead to dryness, scaling, and redness.⁷ 

Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening ingredient that may help reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. However, overusing hydroquinone can lead to irritation and, in rare cases, ochronosis (a gradual blue-black or gray-blue darkening of the skin).⁸

It's important to remember that everyone's skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. If you're unsure whether a specific ingredient is right for you, it's always a good idea to speak with your dermatology provider.

face body cream gel

What's the correct order to apply skincare products?

Wondering about the right way to apply your skincare products? Here's a breakdown of the steps you should generally follow:

  1. Cleanser: This is the first and most important step in any skincare routine. Cleansers help to remove dirt, oil, and makeup from the surface of your skin, leaving it clean and refreshed. Use cleanser once or twice daily. 

  2. Toner: Toner is a product that helps balance your skin's pH and prepare it for the next steps in your routine. While it is not necessary to use, it can be a great way to give your skin a quick boost after cleansing. Use toner once or twice daily. 

  3. Water-based serum or treatment: If you're using a water-based serum or treatment, this should be the next step in your routine. Water-based serums are lightweight and easily absorbed, so applying them after toner will help them penetrate deeper into your skin. 

  4. Moisturizer: Moisturizers help hydrate and nourish the skin, leaving it feeling soft and smooth. 

  5. Oil-based serum: If you're using an oil-based serum, apply it after your water-based serum and moisturizer. Oils can help to lock in moisture and provide an extra layer of hydration for the skin. 

  6. Sunscreen: Sunscreen is an essential daily step, as it helps protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Be sure to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect against UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen as the last step in your morning routine—even on days when you’re indoors. 

Applying your skin care products in the correct order helps ensure your skin adequately absorbs each one, allowing them to work to their full potential. If you're using active ingredients like tretinoin, AHAs, or BHAs, always follow your medical or dermatology provider’s instructions or, if it’s an over-the-counter product, those on the packaging. 

Let Curology guide your skincare journey

Three Curology Bottles

Founded in 2014 by board-certified dermatologists, Curology helps take the guesswork out of your skincare routine. Licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options for acne, signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea.

Getting started is easy. Simply answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin. If Curology is right for you, we pair you with an in-house licensed dermatology provider. They'll prescribe you a personalized formula that may contain active ingredients like tretinoin and niacinamide, and they’ll be there to answer any skincare questions you may have along the way.

FAQs

What's the correct order to apply skincare products?

Wondering about the right way to apply your skincare products? Here's a breakdown of the steps you should generally follow:

  1. Cleanser: This is the first and most important step in any skincare routine.

  2. Toner: Toner is a product that helps balance your skin's pH and prepare it for the next steps in your routine.

  3. Water-based serum or treatment: If you're using a water-based serum or treatment, this should be the next step in your routine.

  4. Moisturizer: Moisturizers help hydrate and nourish the skin, leaving it feeling soft and smooth. 

  5. Oil-based serum: If you're using an oil-based serum, apply it after your water-based serum and moisturizer.

  6. Sunscreen: Sunscreen is an essential daily step, as it helps protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun.

Which skincare ingredients you shouldn't overuse?

While certain ingredients can benefit your skin, overusing them may lead to unwanted side effects. Here are a few common ingredients you should generally avoid overusing:

  • AHAs and BHAs: AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) like glycolic acid and lactic acid are exfoliants that may help improve the skin's texture, treat acne, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Retinoids: Retinoids (such as tretinoin) are vitamin A derivatives that help repair skin photodamage and stimulate the growth of new skin cells, which in turn may help improve the texture of your skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is an acne treatment common in many over-the-counter products that can help to kill bacteria and unclog pores.

  • Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening ingredient that may help reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Huang, Y.X., et al. Effects of skin care habits on the development of rosacea: A multi-center retrospective case-control survey in Chinese population. PLoS One. (2020).

  2. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. (2018).

  3. Zaenglein, A., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016).

  4. Salicylic Acid (Topical Route): Side Effects. Mayo Clinic. (2022).

  5. Mukherjee1, Siddharth, et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety.Clinical Interventions in Aging. (2006).

  6. Baldwin, H.E., et al. 40 Years of topical tretinoin use in review.Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (2013).

  7. Matin, T., Goodman, MB. Benzoyl Peroxide. StatPearls. (2022).

  8. Bhattar, P.A., et al. Exogenous Ochronosis. Indian J Dermatol. (2015).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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