Can Your Skin Get "Used To" Products? Here's Why & What To Do About It
There's nothing quite like the bliss of introducing a new ingredient or formula to your routine that does the work—like, Did you just get a facial? sort of work. You gladly restock, tell all your friends about your gold mine find, and wake up each morning to an impossibly lit-from-within glow—until one day, you don't. Over time, that once brilliant glow has dwindled down to a flicker; your skin isn't worse, per se, but it's not as lustrous as your initial memory serves.
Why the plateau? Did your skin simply get tired of the holy grail product? Immune to the ingredients? We asked derms about this less-than-stellar situation.
Can your skin get "used to" skin care products?
In short? Sort of. Tachyphylaxis—where your body desensitizes to a certain drug, rendering it ineffective—can technically happen, but it's pretty unlikely with general skin care (it typically occurs with topical medications or steroids).
With OTC skin care, however, there are a few reasons you may notice some diminishing returns:
1. You visually get used to how your skin looks.
"When you first start using a product and you're improving your skin to where it should be, that's where you see the most amount of benefit," London-based doctor and cosmetic formulator Vanita Rattan, MBBS, says in a recent TikTok video. "After that, improvement is going to be less dramatic." Think about a time when you introduced a brightener (like vitamin C or niacinamide) into your routine—glowy skin ensued, no? Over time, that initial wow-factor may wane just a bit, but it doesn't mean your product itself has stopped working.
"Reaction and being active are not necessarily the same," adds board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D., founder of SKINFIVE. "You do not need to see a reaction to have a metabolic or cellular skin benefit." (Read: Just because your skin doesn't tingle doesn't mean a product isn't doing its job!) So trust that those actives—the vitamin C, the niacinamide, what have you—are still doing the work, even if your skin doesn't provide an immediate response.
2. Your skin changes over time.
That's not to say your skin care collection never needs an upgrade. "Environment and weather conditions can change how our skin interacts with specific products and ingredients," says Shamban, which is why derms often recommend switching up your skin care with the seasons. For example, dry, dehydrated winter skin may not have the same reaction to certain ingredients (since dead skin cells and debris can keep said ingredients from penetrating properly). Your skin also changes with age and hormone fluctuations, which may require different approaches with time.
Board-certified dermatologist Flora Kim, M.D., FAAD, compares it to working out: "If you don't incorporate variety and change into your exercise routine, and instead you default to the same regimen each day, your muscles will no longer be challenged, and your workout just won't be as effective over time." Your skin is your largest organ: You can't expect to treat it the same forever.
3. Your products are expired or inactive.
While your skin can respond differently to certain ingredients, according to Shamban, it's important to take a closer look at the products you're using. Ineffective skin care "may be a result of the product, not the epidermis," she says. In other words: It's not you—it's your product. Make sure you aren't using expired skin care or accidentally rendering your products ineffective (don't worry; we'll explain more below).
What to do if your skin care products aren't "working."
Here's a game plan:
- Check the shelf-life: Skin care past its prime just won't work (and can even cause irritation for some). Check the expiration date on the bottle, and look out for signs of rancidity—like changes in texture, color, or smell.
- Make sure you aren't canceling products out: Certain products can inactivate each other, like antioxidants with acids or acne treatments (like benzoyl peroxide). If you notice your skin pilling, that could be a sign your products aren't getting properly absorbed. Either skip a step or "wait a period of time before adding or layering other ingredients—up to five minutes," says Shamban.
- Apply products on clean, bare skin: "Impurities on the skin can prevent active ingredients from penetrating," board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann, M.D., once shared with mbg. That said, a clean canvas is essential: Make sure to properly cleanse and remove makeup before patting in products. And if your skin is prone to clogged pores and buildup, a regular exfoliating regimen can help your skin reap more benefits. "[With] dead skin cells, debris, bacteria, and sebum, for example, the actives may not penetrate properly to the epidermis," says Shamban.
- Reset your routine with a derm: If you're doing all the right things and still notice lackluster results, you may need to switch things up. If you'd like to change up your routine, you can always consult a derm about products and strategies that are right for you.
There are a host of reasons why an ingredient has lost its wow-factor over time. Sometimes it's the product at fault—say, if you leave it unopened in the sun for too long and it becomes rancid. In other instances, you might need to stimulate your skin with new actives. It may take some detective work, but chances are, you'll get the glow back.
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