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Is Perfectionism Keeping You From Your Skin Care Goals? 4 Tips To Overcome It

Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
April 9, 2021
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology
By Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach who received her clinical psychology doctorate from University College London. She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, Business Insider, and elsewhere.
Image by BRAT CO / Stocksy
April 9, 2021

We all know we should have a skin care routine. No matter what your regimen looks like, it's self-care—and an investment in your future self. But where exactly do we start? The market is ever-expanding, and finding what works for you can be an overwhelming venture. After all, another's holy grail ingredient may not offer you the same dreamy results.

When you're a perfectionist, though, you want to get everything right. So you may devour every bit of information, thinking you need the perfect plan. But at some point, your brain can get exhausted, and you may land in a place of analysis paralysis. Even your budget can be a constraining factor that exacerbates your perfectionism because you start thinking, "If I cannot afford [product/service], then I might as well not start."

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In this case, perfectionism can stop you from seeing the forest for the trees. You may end up with narrow tunnel vision, and because you've replayed this train of logic to yourself over and over again, you may end up completely wedded to it. 

And so you may never start, waiting for that perfect moment. Except that the stars may never align and the ducks may never be in a row. 

If you're a perfectionist who finds yourself still dreaming up the perfect skin care plan, we've got you. As a loud and proud Type A+++, here's how you can leverage your perfectionism to pay dividends for your skin:


Find your base motivation.

Tell a kid that vegetables are good for them, and they'll protest. Tell a kid that a vegetable is fun or delicious, and their curiosity is piqued. They eat it.

Neuroscience suggests that when we see our future selves as distinct from our current selves, we are less likely to do something that's "good for us." And so there are areas in our lives—yes, including skin care—where we don't do the "right thing" even if we know we should.

While noble, the phrase "good for you" can be vague—sometimes you need some specificity to strike a chord. So rather than starting a skin care routine for "better" or "healthier" skin, try narrowing it down to a certain, specific goal. For example, I started using sunblock because I didn't want to see my skin riddled by pigmentation—whatever strikes a chord with you, no matter how small, is enough to get you started.

And then if your perfectionism can get a kick out of seeing visible changes to your skin? This may even spur you on. More importantly, though, the more you engage in a discipline and it becomes muscle memory, the more your motivations will change. Today, I use sunblock because I want to protect my skin.


Start simply.

We don't procrastinate because we are lazy, lack discipline, or have a character defect. We procrastinate because the task at hand may feel emotionally overwhelming. Even if, technically, it doesn't sound that overwhelming. 

One of the most fascinating bits of research I've read and applied with thousands of clients is straight out of Stanford's Behavioral Lab: Do you know the easiest way to get someone to floss their teeth? 

Most people tend to floss their teeth before going to the dentist and then after the dentist. And that's all. What social scientist B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., found, was that to get someone to floss regularly, you simply have to tell someone to floss one tooth. And because it's so easy, they'll typically end up flossing all their teeth. 

You can apply this exercise to everything else in life: That's why I invite my clients to break the first step into something "so stupidly easy you might even laugh at it." If you don't laugh, that means you've got to break it down further. 

So if you're starting a skin care routine, your first Stupidly Easy step might be: "Schedule 30 minutes to plan your skin care." This might mean reading up on your skin type; examining what your skin may need that day; or ordering your favorite cleanser, moisturizer, and sunblock. Or, you know, sauntering to the beauty counter. 

Commit to these basic steps until they become muscle memory. And there you go; you've started. Can't use perfectionism as an excuse any longer. 

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Schedule reviews. 

We make plenty of things emotional. Before doing something, many often fight with themselves, asking, "Should I do [action]?" Or you might second-guess yourself. 

This can be exhausting; you may be hemorrhaging your energy needlessly. It's also the easiest way to give up prematurely. 

Here's what to do instead: Commit to your new skin care steps as rules. When it's a rule, it's an "I will do [action]," not "Should I do [action]?" Then schedule a review a few weeks down the line to see what you need to tweak accordingly. 

What this also means is, between now and said review date, you'll adopt the mindset where everything that happens (or isn't happening quickly enough) is data that you'll take action on, as compared to the mindset, "I should just give up." And knowing you have that review date, your perfectionist brain can feel a lot more reassured as you work on making your new skin care protocol muscle memory. 


Reward yourself. 

Whenever you start a habit or continue that discipline, it isn't simply about commitment. You may find yourself falling off the rails and talking yourself out of it. As in the case of procrastination, this isn't a character deficit; this is human nature. So, prep yourself that you will have to keep committing to recommitting. It's all part of the process. 

And to keep yourself going forward in your new routine, you may have to find ways of rewarding yourself, especially when you're recommitting to committing. All my clients have their personalized Reward Lists, for everything from starting and continuing the tiny habits to hitting a big goal.

This is because rewarding yourself causes dopamine to flood your synapses1, and that sweet sense of satisfaction may make you want to do it over and over again. So, to keep yourself on the ball, keep giving yourself tiny rewards so you'll feel good about your skin care routine. 

And as a perfectionist, you may feel even more proud of yourself for committing to a new habit—which may result in an extra hit of dopamine. 

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The takeaway. 

Skin care is not just about aesthetic results—it's about taking care of yourself. If your perfectionism is keeping you from taking the leap, consider these tips your guide to just getting started. 

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Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy author page.
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology

Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach currently living in Singapore. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from University College London and her master's in philosophy from University of Cambridge. Her first book This Is What Matters was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2022, which guides you to transform crisis to strength, or design an #EverydayAmazing life.

She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, and Business Insider and has previously worked with Olympians, business professionals, and individuals seeking to master their psychological capital. She works globally in English and Mandarin-Chinese via Skype and Facetime, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology, and ancient wisdom.