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The Long Game in Skin Care: Why You Should Stick to It

I did a double take.

I had just returned from a 16-day trip across Spain and Morocco. And while the history, the culture, and the architecture were simply breathtaking and utterly mind-blowing —the lighting was not. I guess it’s the price you pay for staying in a museum-quality riad that’s over 700 years old.

Needless to say, I hadn’t had a good look at my skin for over two weeks. It was refreshing actually, not obsessing over every little bump and line. Nose a little shiny?Who cares — there’s an overladen donkey coming your way in the narrow medina alley!

So when I finally got home and back to my hyper-lit, super-magnified vanity mirror, I did a double take.

Were those giant sun-splotches on my cheeks — the ones that neither lasers nor retinoids have been able to obliterate — lighter?!?

I checked again. I checked in different lighting. I zoomed in. I zoomed out. Yup. They were definitely lighter.

How could I have spent all that time in cities built in the middle of the Sahara and still come back with my hyperpigmentation lightened? Was it the water? Was it one of the new travel-sized products I stuffed in my rucksack? Was it an act of God? Upon reflection, I decided that it was attributed to the fact that I hadn’t really looked at my face for 16 days. Had I been examining my face twice a day every day for two weeks (like I usually do), most likely, the change would have been so gradual that I wouldn’t have noticed the difference. But because of that gap in time, the difference between my “before” and my “after” was strikingly noticeable. Which confirmed something I had long suspected and now knew: My skin care regimen is working. I’m just too close to it to notice.

It was a reminder yet again that we need to stick to our skin care regimen for the long haul. Here’s why.


1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

I’ve been dedicated to a consistent beauty routine for years now, but only in the last decade have I been really hardcore, never going to sleep with my makeup on and always getting through my nightly routine, no matter how tired, no matter where I am. I’ve been gradually adding steps as I’ve learned more, working up to a bona fide 10-step skin care routine (which is not for everyone, but hey, I’m much older than most of you, so I need it). And while I’ve learned that promises of “invisible pores!” and “instant spot fading!” are hyperbole, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t noticed a significant difference in my skin since dedicating to a serious beauty regimen.

Yes, there is the occasional product that makes an immediate, discernible difference in my skin — a hyaluronic acid serum that alleviates dryness all day, a charcoal mask that sops up oil for 24 hours. But for most of my skin care, I take it on trust that each product and step is doing what it’s supposed to be doing and making my skin better in the long run. That brightening cream I apply in the morning? It doesn’t do a thing for my existing spots, but I believe that it’s prevented new ones from forming. The salicylic acid treatment? Might as well be water on my cystic pimples, but did it prevent smaller ones from forming on my forehead?

I may never know. But what I do know is that with every year that goes by, I’m losing the skin wars to UV damage, free radicals, environmental pollution, hormonal changes, gravity, and plain old stress. So everything and anything I can do to combat those enemies is a step in the right direction.

2. There is no miracle product

When my husband first started using a retinol product to combat his nasolabial lines, he was dismayed that after a week, he could still see them. Seriously? It probably took him 20 years of frowning and unprotected sun exposure to develop those lines, and now he wants them gone in a week?

No, much of our skin care won’t yield results overnight. (That’s called Botox and cosmetic surgery.) Even the hard stuff like prescription retinoic acid (also called tretinoin), the gold standard in anti-aging according to practically every dermatologist, takes at least three months to yield visible results. Barring a bad reaction, you should be giving every and any product at least three months to work before passing judgment. The good news is, if something doesn’t impress you, there are plenty more out there waiting to do so. Isn’t that the fun of beauty?


3. Skin care is a lifestyle

In the same way that health, nutrition, and fitness require daily maintenance, skin care is a constant and consistent and persistent pursuit of healthy, hydrated skin that frankly goes beyond what you put on your face and extends to how you eat, how you live, how you see the world. It’s a perspective, a dedication to healthy living, to decreasing stress, to using the best (and that doesn’t necessarily mean cost-wise). To doing your best to take care of and be good to yourself.

Because the visible, obvious rewards of a consistent, devoted skin care regimen often won’t be reaped until months or even years later. But one day, you’ll look back and suddenly notice that, wow, my pores are less visible or I can’t really see that line anymore. Or a fellow traveler will gawk when you tell her how old you really are. Unless of course, you’ve been living wild in the Sahara all that time. In which case, dim bathroom lighting is probably a good idea.

Anna M. Park is the editor of beauty and travel blog

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