We’ve all been there. The absolute joy of finding skincare products and routines that work wonders for your skin, only to be disappointed months later when it stops working as well as it did at the start. Skincare gurus have a name for this phenomenon, and it is...one hard word to say, let alone spell. We present to you tachyphylaxis.
Rumor has it that your skin becomes acclimated to your skincare routine over time, but is this a fact or just mindless hearsay? After much research (and the overall satisfaction of general curiosity), the answer is yes—but not in the way you think.
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Fact or Fiction?
Before you get all paranoid and start throwing your products away as if Marie Kondo herself has you by the throat, take our “yes” with a pinch of salt. If you feel as if the routine you’ve always sworn by isn’t doing the trick for your skin anymore, chances are (and brace yourself for this) your skin has changed.
Your skin is generally unlikely to grow immune to your skincare products and routines because formulations don’t change; your body does. What worked for you back when you first fell in love with your go-to products may not work as well for you now (sad, we know).
The general consensus of not seeing your skin continuously improve is that your skincare routine mustn’t work for you. But in actual fact, all it really means is that your skin has responded well to your regime and is now keeping your skin consistently healthy.
Here’s what might be happening to your skin instead
There are a few exceptions to this, and we call them the big three—tachyphylaxis, the environment, and your ever-changing skin.
Some dermatologists like Marnie Nussbaum M.D. say that concentrated ingredients in skincare like retinol and salicylic acid and topical steroids for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema have the possibility of diminishing over time through tachyphylaxis. But this is not necessarily a bad thing! Think of it as your skin building up a tolerance to the products you’re using and providing everyday upkeep for your skin. If your skin remains calm after use and shows no visible signs of redness or peeling, it probably means that your products are still working.
Next up, we have your environment to consider. Say you’re someone who grew up in a tropical country and recently moved to a colder one such as Scotland. The weather and lifestyle factors in cold, cold Scotland will make your skin react differently. Going from hot to cold will only cause your skin to dry out and potentially crack or increase free radical damage. When it comes to this, your skin is thirsty for stronger and richer skincare to make up for the change in environment. Your old skincare routine may not cut it for you anymore.
Lastly, your skin could be reacting too well (yes, there’s such a thing!) to the products you’re using to treat specific skin concerns. Here’s a scenario: Let’s say you have oily skin and regularly use oil-control products to counteract the overproduction of natural oils on your skin. This could potentially lead to your skin being stripped of said oils and for your oil production to go into overdrive to compensate for your lack of it now. Your new skin concern could become dry skin instead of the oily skin you suffered with before.
Skincare products also tend to work best when you first use them because your skin is not yet used to them and is actively absorbing whatever they’re allowing it to take from their properties. What this also means is that visible results may diminish and be harder to notice over time.
When to change up your routine
The rule of thumb is to listen to what your skin is telling you. Most people simply rely on skincare experts or enthusiasts and their routines (tailored to their skin, mind you) to determine what’s going on with their skin. We recommend focusing on how your own skin is reacting to your products and how well they are working on treating the concerns you bought them for.
For example, if your skin is still glowing (albeit not as much as before) and feels healthy, there’s no need to change up your routine. Instead, you can purchase products that are richer in texture and properties if you want better results. You might also want to do this during the changing seasons (about twice a year) as different weather conditions demand different levels of care. Protect your skin the same way you would protect your body with weather-appropriate clothing on colder or hotter days.
Remember, your skincare products don’t just stop working. If they don’t give you the same results they used to, it’s probably because your skin has changed.
How to see better results from your skincare routine
If you don’t see the need to change up your existing skincare products but still want better results from them, there are several ways you can improve your routine.
One, you can plan and prevent bad product combinations. It is not wise to use more than one concentrated ingredient in your routine at the same time. Instead, you can rotate them in the day and night or use them every alternate day. This is so that your skin can breathe and focus on absorbing one strong, active ingredient at a time. It’s also good to lower the strength of these products if you don’t need them.
Two, you should exfoliate twice a week to rid your skin of dead skin cells and allow for better absorption of active ingredients into your skin. Remember to double cleanse (if you use makeup especially) so that you know for sure your products are targeting your skin and your skin only.
Three, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! It’s perhaps the most essential product your skin requires (besides moisturizer) to slow down cell turnover, combat free radicals, and prevent the rapid aging of your skin by sun damage.
Four, where you store your products, also plays a big part in how long they can remain stable. Every opening and closing of your lids contributes to the destabilization of your skincare and can cause them to work less effectively. Try not to store your products (especially those with vitamin C in them!) in humid bathrooms, and perhaps invest in a skincare fridge or storage area that’s cool and dry and away from the sun.
Finally, layering your products in the right order is very important for your routine to work. Just remember: cleanse, tone, serum(s), eye cream, moisturizer, sunscreen, and you’re done!