Stripping back your skincare routine

Although it seems to be very trendy at the moment, I am very much against overloading healthy skin with rich moisturisers, facial oils or layer upon layer of different skincare products, as this will slow down natural cell turnover and exfoliation, ultimately making your skin look dull and lifeless. In addition, it also clogs up your pores and causes breakouts in susceptible individuals. We see the ‘victims’ of this trend at Eudelo every day.

Over-moisturising (which includes too heavy products as well as too many layers of different products) is not good for your skin, unless you have a genetically impaired barrier function such as the case in eczema or psoriasis. My advice is to give your skin more credit and help it to help itself, rather than suffocating it. In healthy skin, using too rich creams, oils or too many layers does our skin no good, because you keep sticking down and compressing the dead horn cells (corneocytes) of the stratum corneum (the outer layer of our skin) and preventing them from naturally shedding off.

These corneocytes really want to come off (it’s healthy epidermal exfoliation), but by applying too rich skincare, you keep forcing them back down, preventing them to come off naturally. Initially, the skin surface will appear less ‘dry’ and flaky as you stick down the skin flakes. But in effect, you are actually making things worse, as the dead skin layer will only thicken and thicken, and as soon as the skincare product has sunk in, the flaky appearance will (of course…) re-appear, as you haven’t allowed the dead skin to come off.

This gets you into a vicious circle, as when the dead cell layer thickens instead of naturally shedding off, people will need to apply even more moisturisers or oils, to keep the problem at bay. Instead, what we should do is encourage the dead skin cell layers to gently shed off, rather than accumulating more and more dead skin on the skin surface, which is what rich moisturisers, oils and multi-layer routines do.

But there is another issue!

Suppressing healthy epidermal exfoliation at the top also signals the deeper epidermal cells, that there is no need to produce nice new cells, as the old ones on top are still there! So, by over-moisturising your skin, you are also stifling epidermal cell renewal, essentially making the skin ‘lazy’ (in lack of a better word), which leads to dull and life-less appearing skin over time. We have seen it countless times in clinic and with the current trend of facial oils and multi-layer routines, it’s getting more and more common.

I have read quotes that more than 50% of UK women suffer with “dry skin”. That is utter nonsense in my opinion. Women (but also a huge number of so-called skin specialists) hugely over-diagnose ‘dry’ and ‘dehydrated’ skin, which then leads to an over-use of heavy moisturisers, facial oils and co, causing all sorts of problems.

It is important to realise that there is a difference between truly dry skin with impaired epidermal barrier function (which only a small percentage of the population has!) and the appearance of dead skin flakes that simply want to come off.

There is of course a small number of people with genetic impairment of skin barrier function, for example individuals with eczema and psoriasis, who will benefit from lipid-rich moisturisers, but that’s a minority and not accounting for the current explosion of heavy skincare and facials oils.

And as I have said before, what feels like “dry” or “dehydrated” skin, may even be something completely different, as a dry, tight feeling can also be a sign of micro-inflammation, as we see in rosacea skin. In these cases, slathering on rich moisturisers and oils is even more contraindicated, as they will flare-up inflammatory rosacea. The solution is treating the micro-inflammation (which a dermatologist can do with prescription creams), not ‘numbing’ the sensation with heavy skincare. The same is true for seborrheic dermatitis, another skin conditions that appears with flaky skin, but is actually not dry, but inflamed.

Overly rich skincare will also clog up pores and therefore aggravate acne breakouts, so should be strictly avoided in individuals with any tendency for breakouts, even if the skin feels ‘dry’ / ‘dehydrated’. There are other ways we can deal with the feeling of dry skin in breakout prone individuals, without having to aggravate their breakouts by applying too rich or oily skincare.

That also includes tee tree oil for that matter. You may have heard that tee tree oil is good for breakouts, as it has anti-bacterial effects. However, the disadvantages of using oils in breakout prone skin greatly outweigh their (mild) antibacterial benefits, so they should still be avoided.

But let’s come back to healthy skin. Well-regulated skin actually doesn’t need that much support with hydration under normal circumstances. In the majority of cases, it can maintain its moisture levels itself, if we let it, so let’s not nanny-state it unnecessarily. Having said that, if you got your skin into a ‘habit’ by overusing moisturisers, and it is now ‘addicted’ to these, it will likely take about 3 epidermal cycles (i.e. 3 months) to normalise itself, once you come of the greasy products. During this time your skin may temporarily feel drier and look flakier. But that’s only because all those dead horn cells have to come off now and your skin has to learn to self-regulate once again.

However, your skin will come out healthier and happier on the other side – once it has overcome the ‘withdrawal’ symptoms.

I have taken a huge number of patients off their heavy skincare ‘habit’ over the years. When I see them back for review after 3 months, they overwhelmingly report “I can’t believe that I am using less oils and moisturisers now, yet my skin feels less dry!”


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