‘People are just putting random things on their face’: the temptation of add-on beauty products

It struck me, while my face was slathered in a bentonite facial that I misted with rosewater, that my skincare routine may have gone a step (or several) too far. Far from the promise of a glowing and rejuvenated complexion, when I rinsed my skin it was radiantly red, and bitter with me for messing with its usual schedule.

My skincare regimen actively suits my needs, so jamming more in there to improve my already consistent skin feels a little superfluous, but it is hard to resist.

Dr Lauren Gurrieri, senior lecturer in marketing at RMIT University, explains that being battered by marketing, which paints self-care as an obligation, could explain this impulse.

“Skincare has become a ‘me-time’ imperative, sold with the message to nourish one’s self,” she says. “These routines have become much more complex, expensive and demanding.

“By persuading women that their bodies are constantly in need of improvement, there is no endpoint for the beauty consumer.”

A study published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal investigated how Covid-19 affected people’s interest in aesthetic interventions. Forty-three percent of participants (women and men) reported that seeing themselves in the mirror more often increased their interest in improving their appearance. More than 40% of participants listed more time spent on social media as a reason for heightened interest in medical-grade skincare.

Call it causation or correlation, but in contrast to makeup and perfumes, interest in skincare is increasing among beauty beginners and enthusiasts alike, particularly men. Beauty companies are certainly beneficiaries, however it’s not a given that your skin is appreciating all of this extra attention.

If, like me, you find satisfaction in having an elaborate skincare schedule, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that most people can create an effective routine with a cleanser, moisturiser and SPF.

“The main sign of skin health is that you’re looking a bit glowy,” says Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan, dermatologist and founder of ODE Dermatology in Melbourne (opening in July 2021). “You’ll find the texture’s good, there’s clarity … and there’s no congestion or tightness. You want to be able to put most products on without it burning or stinging, because your skin barrier is great.”

It’s tempting to believe your skin will reward you abundantly when you go the extra mile. That your dermis will remember the delightful hydrating mask or brightening under-eye patches you pop on now and then while working from home.

Not so, says Gunatheesan. Picking “add-on” products based on what’s trendy or sounds intriguing is like saying yes to extra fries: it might be pleasant, but it’s probably not going to be helpful in the long run.

Randomly adding stuff to your routine could sensitise you
“If you look at one-off or discretionary skincare products, ultimately they’re another delivery system,” Gunatheesan says. “They’ll give you that immediate ‘wow’ factor but if I had to choose, I would be using something more consistent like everyday actives.”

Gunatheesan says consumers should choose skincare products with active ingredients that have well-documented benefits. “Vitamin B3 [niacinamide] and vitamin C are a potent combination of antioxidants: they help with pigment, improve the capacity of your skin to repair DNA damage, and plump up collagen,” she says. “I would also look into a good punch of AHA and BHA [exfoliants].” Her “gold standard” is introducing a retinol. “It plumps up collagen and helps epidermal turnover so the skin’s top layer looks luminous,” she says.

Gunatheesan adds that when you get too adventurous and add more steps to your routine, you’re likely to lose consistency because you tire of it.

“The other con is that randomly adding stuff to your routine could then sensitise you,” Gunatheesan says. “There’s a huge problem where people are just putting random things on their face because they read it in a magazine or they’re watching their favourite Instagrammer do it.”

That doesn’t mean never changing your skincare, Gunatheesan says. For instance, if you’re starting to see diminished results, you might “cycle through little boosters … For example, you might try a different AHA for six months and then move on to another.”

But it is also worth reflecting on what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. “Skin isn’t static,” Gurrieri notes. “It changes depending on the environment we are in and a host of biological factors. However, the beauty industry markets these naturally occurring changes as problems that require solutions – enter skincare products.”