Fact or Fiction: Can Your Skin-Care Products Stop Working?

You’ve finally done it. You’ve found a skin-care routine that works, and your complexion is happy, healthy, and thriving. You and your glow feel like a walking Lizzo song and nothing can get you down because life is g-o-o-d. 

But then, one day, you wake up and the glow is — gasp — gone. Your usual lineup of vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and retinol just isn’t delivering the way it used to, and the Lizzo playlist in your head has switched over to a soundtrack of tiny violins. What gives? Why has your skin care suddenly stopped doing its $%#& job?

Before you toss all of those once-beloved products in the trash and hit the Sephora aisle to start from scratch, allow me to calm your fears: Your products haven’t necessarily stopped working, but rather, your skin has simply leveled out on the results it’s able to achieve. “While your skin doesn’t necessarily get used to products, you will see effects initially and then your skin typically adapts to a product so it may feel like results plateau,” says board-certified dermatologist Michele Farber, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. The good news? “Your products are typically still doing their job,” she says. Even if it might not feel like it.

In general, when your skin reaches peak performance — your acne is cleared, your barrier is healthy, your texture is even — your products just don’t have as much work to do, so you likely won’t see the same sort of drastic effects as you did when you first started using them. “This is fine as long as your skin looks glowing and healthy,” says Dr. Farber.

If that’s not the case, though, and you still feel like there’s some work to be done, she suggests making one change at a time to your regimen. “Adding or substituting one product can be a helpful start, as too much too soon can be more irritating than beneficial,” she says. Cycling in a regular, gentle exfoliation can also help, since it will help your other products penetrate more deeply. 

Your products haven’t necessarily stopped working, but rather, your skin has simply leveled out on the results it’s able to achieve.

Another issue that could make you think your skin care isn’t working is the fact that your skin needs change from day to day, depending on a host of different factors — from how much sleep you got to how stressed you are to even how much humidity is in the air. Keep those things in mind and adjust your routine accordingly to help deal with the specific issues you are struggling with at that time.

While most of your serums and moisturizers will stay steadfast for the long-haul, there are a few ingredient exceptions to this rule. With sensitizing actives, like exfoliating acids and retinol, your skin can become tolerant of the concentrations that you’re using. And this can make it seem like you aren’t getting the same results as you once were. “It may be common to feel this way if your skin is not as sensitive as when you initially started using something drying, like glycolic acid or a retinol, but they’re helping your skin even if it feels less obvious,” says Dr. Farber. If you do want to up the intensity, you can slowly increase to a higher active percentage, or begin using the product more frequently. 

And then? You and your thriving complexion will be back to bopping along to “Truth Hurts” in no time. 

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