I don't want to be a flake!
February 23, 2012 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Is my skin flaking because I am overexfoliating or because it is still adjusting to the chemical exfoliants?

How long should I use a new salicylic acid, AHA, and retinol routine before deciding that the flaking is not my skin adjusting but too much exfoliating for my face? A week, a month, any ideas? I have a bit of flaking around my eyes and on my cheeks and chin and not sure whether I should dial it back or persist for a bit. Second, any general advice to keep (minimal) pimples at bay and keep my skin smooth and looking fresh? I know skin is idiosyncratic but still wondering what worked for you.

Been doing the chemical exfoliant thing for about two weeks.

My evening routine:
* if needed, remove makeup with Target's take on Neutrogena makeup remover clothes
* wash with Cetaphil + clean washcloth
* treat with Neutrogrena 3-in-1 acne wash (2% salicylic acid) [newly added]
* moisturize with Neutrogena night moisturizer (w retinol) [new, used to use moisturizer w/o retinol]
* twice a week I substitute Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir, an AHA treatment, for the salicylic acid [new]

Morning routine:
* wash with Cetaphil
* moisturize with Cetaphil SPF 15 (will use something else when it runs out, it irritates the skin around my eyes. maybe will replace sooner).

I used to use the Garnier Skin Renew Anti-Puff eye roller, just as a more gentle moisturizer for the eye area, but I think I need to replace it, I think I got some AHA or salicylic acid on the roller and now it is irritating. Thinking I could replace or sometimes substitute the 2% salicylic acid with Clinique's mild clarifying lotion (0.5%) but haven't done that.

The motivation for all of this is that I am getting married in early June, so I know I shouldn't fuss too much right now. I have been spending a fair bit of time titrating makeup to figure out what will work, and it occurred to me I should probably pay a little more attention to my skin itself. FWIW, I have combination (I think?) skin which frequently has a pimple or two but nothing severe, and has more blackheads/larger pores than I would prefer but also fine. I am a white female, aged 26. Some fine lines around my eyes but also not severe. I am not looking for a fountain of youth, just looking for nice skin at any age. Thanks!
posted by teragram to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm roughly your age and would describe my skin exactly as you do. I think you may be doing too much too fast?

The Neutrogena 3-in-1 is probably too harsh for the very low-level acne you're dealing with. I would consider removing salicylic acid from your evening routine entirely and just doing it in the morning. I use a Neutrogena scrub (2%) every other day or so in the shower, and a much gentler wash on the off days (Garnier Moisture Rescue Foaming Cleanser). I ran out of the scrub and didn't remember to replace it for a while, and I definitely saw a noticeable increase in blemishes, so I think that the every-other-day application is effective. It's too drying if I do it every day.

For daytime moisturizer I use Clinique Moisture Surge and sometimes the eye gel from the same line (mostly if I haven't slept well or long). Both feel really nice and don't make my somewhat-oily t-zone go crazy.

At night, I just wash off any makeup with the foaming wash and use the same moisturizer or sometimes an Aveeno night cream if I'm feeling really dry.

Bottom line, maybe try scaling back a bit, only using the salicylic acid every other day, and rethink the moisturizer? Also, it's possible that the chemicals in the SPF are bothering you, and you might want to consider a physical block.
posted by charmcityblues at 6:37 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read this recently -
Ask an Esthetician: I typically tell my clients to wait 3 months before giving up on their new routine.

That said, I've given up early on routines that hurt. Having read through the articles on the blog linked above and especially this one on over-cleansing Im currently trying reducing the frequency of use of salicylic acid products from daily to a couple of times a week and whilst things arent under control yet, at least things aren't painful.
posted by Ness at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2012

With prescription retin-a, it takes about 3-4 weeks for me to see the flaking really drop off.
posted by mercredi at 7:13 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the retinol, because I've never used it. But a couple things jumped out at me as possible additional irritants: you're using two different types of cloths when you wash your face at night (make-up remover and washcloth), and using two different types of cleansers (Cetaphil and Neutrogena acne wash), and you're using cleanser on your face again in the morning. Plus, you're trying out new make-up. You could be overwhelming your skin with chemicals and cleansers, and might benefit from simplifying your routine.

I have skin that is similar to yours (i.e. not very problematic), and the less I do the better. What works for me is a gentle cleanser at night after make-up removal, then moisturizer. (I use a washcloth only occasionally when I need a little extra exfoliation.) In the morning I water-wash and then moisturize. Try eliminating a couple things and see if there is any improvement or balancing out.
posted by sundaydriver at 8:21 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the feedback. sundaydriver, your point is well taken and probably right. I should clarify that there aren't two washes at night, I meant to say I used Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control 3-in-1 Hydrating Acne Treatment, my "wash' was a typo.
posted by teragram at 8:25 AM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: Doh, sorry, not intending to thread-sit. sundaydriver and others, what makeup remover do you use? I have serious mascara/shadow racoon eyes if I try to remove makeup with just cleanser. That or I have to scrub within an inch of my life.
posted by teragram at 8:31 AM on February 23, 2012

I feel like I'm turning into an evangelist for it, but the Oil Cleansing Method has worked really well for me.
It can take a bit of experimenting to find the right balance of oils for your skin (mine's really delicate, it turns out, so I use only olive oil) but it clears up my skin issues (dry flaky patches in some places, acne in others) within a few days. It cleans off my makeup, exfoliates gently, and leaves my skin looking bright and clear.
Plus it's super cheap to try it out, so you're not really out anything if you decide you don't care for it.
posted by katemonster at 8:35 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use Neutrogena oil-free make-up remover on a cotton ball, and try not to scrub. Cleanser alone doesn't work for me either.

You may not even need that acne treatment on a daily basis if you only get the occasional pimple and some blackheads. Seconding katemonster's suggestion for the Oil Cleansing Method, which I used to do and really liked, but couldn't get organized enough to stop making a mess with all the mixing and stuff--ymmv.
posted by sundaydriver at 9:12 AM on February 23, 2012

This is exactly the problem with starting 3 (or more) new products all at once: nobody can tell you which one or combination is causing your skin to flake, and if or when it'll go away. You need to be your own skin scientist and test one variable at a time. Stop using two of the products, see if your skin normalizes in 3 weeks or so, and then add them back in, one at a time.
posted by emyd at 10:56 AM on February 23, 2012

Too many cleansers and too much exfoliation, as I understand it, can actually cause your skin to produce more oil to replenish what you're depleting, and can make the problem worse. I have naturally oily/combination skin, and have seen my oiliness drop off a ton with just a gentle Cetaphil cleanser morning and night, Cetaphil cream morning and night, Retin-A and sunscreen (don't forget the sunscreen if you use retinoids--this is so important)!
posted by anonnymoose at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2012

P.S. I I were you, I'd use an SPF of at least 30.
posted by anonnymoose at 1:02 PM on February 23, 2012

Have you tried cold cream as a make-up remover? It's super gentle and moisturizing and means you can still use your face wash of choice post removal.
posted by AmandaA at 2:01 PM on February 23, 2012

I guess I'm left wondering why the need for so much exfoliation. Your skin sounds generally fine, and the routine seems like you're overdoing it with the cleansing and the acids. I think the important thing about skincare is to figure out what you're really trying to achieve, and then use as few products as possible to achieve that. So: 1. makeup removal, 2. pore unblocking/acne/exfoliation, 3. care and feeding, 4. treat any specific issues

I also wash my face with oil, but you could use just jojoba on a cotton ball to remove your eye makeup (#1). Cold cream is also a good suggestion, look for one with as few ingredients as possible. There's nothing special about Cetaphil cleanser- it is just detergents and preservatives, so I would ditch that and use the salicylic acid cleanser only, since it takes care of #2. The Neutrogena moisturizer is generally okay, but you may be having irritation from the retinol (though it is very far down the list of ingredients, some people are extra sensitive). You may also be having irritation from the fragrance, which is something that is good to avoid in skincare products, because there's absolutely no reason for it to be in there and it points to the possibility of other useless ingredients being components. Eliminating these kinds of things can help you simplify what you're putting on your skin and what those things are actually doing for you.

At any rate, when starting out with retinol it's usually advised to begin with every other day for a couple weeks until your skin becomes more accustomed to it. 3.Use a non-retinol moisturizer on those nights. Skip the extra acids unless you find you need them after a few weeks. I would also just wash with warm water and a facecloth in the morning. Replace the Cetaphil if it is irritating your eyes- you may want to look for a mineral sunscreen for your face. Here's some suggestions- I can't vouch for any of them, since I use mineral makeup with zinc oxide I don't need a facial sunscreen besides that.

As far as extra care and feeding goes, I've been really happy with the products from SkinActives, I mention them constanty but the price for what you get, and the difference in my skin from six months ago mean I keep bringing them up. You can buy pretty much any active/treatment ingredient they use and add it to your own favorite lotion, serum, or cream, or buy their ready-made products. If I had to recommend just one thing, it would be their Let's Make Collagen Serum. It's a little sticky all by itself, but under moisturizer it's great. Since i started using it about five months ago, my pores are smaller (still big but they used to be HUGE), my skin is less red around my nose, and I have fewer breakouts (niacinamide is great for this).
posted by oneirodynia at 6:56 PM on February 23, 2012

It definitely sounds like you're exfoliating too much. Scrubbing off dead cells removes the skin's horny layer, leaving the tender stuff underneath vulnerable to infection, sunburn, and irritation.

It also sounds like you're combining too many products. Every acne product I own has some drug warning text on it a la "using other topical acne meds at the same time may cause dryness or irritation, if so discontinue all but one med unless directed by doctor.

Have you consulted a dermatologist? A doctor is more likely to know what will work for your specific skin specifically while minimizing the woo. S/he can also break out the big acne guns if you need them, like oral antibiotics, laser treatments, and injecting pimples with cortisone.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:46 PM on February 23, 2012

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