I spend much of my time consulting patients with good intentions that have used the wrong skincare regime for years, often recommended to them in the luxury beauty halls. Instead of improving skin quality and achieving results, these regimes can actually worsen the skin, even when they have tried to use what appears to be a good system or expensive brand. It is this reason why so many are correctly cynical around skincare products.
“Dry” skin is commonly misdiagnosed in the world of beauty – I find myself biting my lip in frustration whilst browsing at beauty counters as twenty-somethings are told to apply primers and foundations full of chemicals and heavy creams to beautiful, young skin. Even in your thirties with hormonal acne, you can be told you have dry skin and need a thick occlusive “antiageing” cream or oil, only to directly stimulate your already overactive oil glands and make your acne worse. With prolonged use, your normal to oily skin type becomes disordered with dry, sensitive patches and regular breakouts.
The same goes for those suffering from Rosacea, an extremely common condition in the UK that is under-diagnosed, causing inflammation, redness, pustules and acne. I’ll often feel exasperated as I overhear a sales assistant telling a lady of a certain age that she needs more creams and oils to moisturize her aging skin when you only have to glance at her to see the enlarged pores and thread veins – hallmarks of oil gland overactivity and Rosacea.
The majority of the public, in fact, do not have dry skin, but often a weak skin barrier function that has become falsely sensitized over the years from the use of inappropriate moisturizers for their skin type. A thick surface layer of poorly functioning skin cells builds up, preventing any good topical agents to penetrate and causing apparent dry skin. As the skin is over moisturized at the surface layer the cells deep in the skin become sluggish and slow their production of inherent natural moisturizers such as hyaluronic acid. This creates a negative feedback cycle where the skin becomes falsely dry and irritable – a product induced sensitivity, leading to a weakened skin barrier. Skin feels tight and dry after a shower or bath and then patients believe they have a true dry skin type, applying more moisturizers to relieve the tightness. Eventually, heavier moisturizers are used as the skin becomes more confused but there is no discernible improvement in the skin quality.
As the skin barrier gets weaker, it’s function is impaired so the sensitivity perceived by many women is only because their skin cells are no longer healthy and tolerant. Healthy skin can accept a variety of topical products and interventions without reactions and heals quicker. The majority of women do not have delicate, sensitive skin that “easily reacts to everything” as they like to describe. They, in fact, have product-induced sensitivity, which is reversible.
Men are also at risk – they try to take control of their aging process by seeking easily accessible advice at male sections of beauty counters, only to be told they are not moisturizing their skin enough and sold skincare products that doesn’t actually cater for them. The testosterone that men produce throughout their lives directly stimulates oil glands, so when they begin to moisturize more with occlusive creams they start to develop larger pores and red pustules but continue because they have been told it is anti-aging.
So who has true dry or sensitive skin? There are certain medical diagnoses or conditions such as eczema where the protective skin barrier is inherently weak and needs certain topical therapies to control and repair the sensitivity in the long term. Whereas the product induced sensitivity I described can be reversed, by stopping the incorrect skincare and using the right topical agents to heal the barrier. With some patients, we use retinols, which in the short term can produce some redness and irritability as it stimulates cell turnover, but then regulates and settles after the initial period.
First step – invest in the future of your skin and find out your skin type by a medical specialist who can assess and diagnose. In my clinic, we stop this cycle that switches off skin cell function and stimulate cells to heal and protect themselves from further damage. A mixture of topical medical antioxidants, alpha and beta hydroxyl acids and retinols can finally achieve smoother, brighter skin and crucially protect your cells from the constant DNA damage caused by smoking, the sun, sugar and environmental pollutants. This is the secret of true anti-ageing. So please wean yourselves off your beloved brands that aren’t actually producing the results you want and stop wasting all that money on those creams that could be actually making your skin worse.
Jonquille Chantrey is a surgical expert; dubbed the female face of the Cosmetic, Aesthetic & Reconstructive industry.