You can carefully craft the perfect skincare routine, but if you're making one of these five mistakes, all your efforts might be in vain.

By Claudia Fisher
Updated December 13, 2019
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If you’re a skincare buff, chances are you have at least two daily routines—one for morning, one for night—that involve deliberate product combinations for the ideal multi-step equation. All those products can run up quite a tab (#worthit). We might have Rouge status at Sephora, know the nuanced differences between lactic, glycolic, and malic acids, or which retinoid is the current big-hitter, but even we still make skincare mistakes.

We spoke to celebrity facialist and director of studio services for luxury skincare brand Intraceuticals Lord Gavin McLeod-Valentine, who’s worked with leading ladies like Kristen Stewart, Laura Linney, Gwyneth Paltrow, and recently, Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter to prep their skin for the latest season of The Crown.

With his help, we broke down some of the most common beauty mistakes that ruin skincare routines. Here’s what you should know:

1

You think you’re taking off your makeup, but are you really?

“I truly believe that it is essential to double-cleanse one’s skin at night,” Lord Gavin tells Real Simple. “It’s vital to remove makeup thoroughly in order to remove the barrier, to really deeply cleanse the skin and purify the pore. This prevents our makeup—regardless of how non-comedogenic they claim to be—and the grime and pollution of the day from blocking our pores, resulting in break-outs and congestion. A double-cleanse further provides greater access for our skincare to penetrate more effectively. My advice is to use cream or balm cleanser to remove makeup and a gel next for extra purification.”

With a two-step cleanse, the first step is usually a balm, oil, or micellar water, which breaks down and removes makeup, SPF, sweat, bacteria, old skin cells, and whatever other build-up is sitting on your skin from a normal day (which can be a lot, especially if you live in a polluted city). With all that wiped away, the second cleanser is actually able to deeply cleanse.

2

With “it” anti-aging ingredients and formulas rolling out every few months, it’s become increasingly difficult to remember the correct way to layer your products, especially if you don’t really know the difference between that essence, this retinoid, and those oils and serums.

Lord Gavin has a simple trick for how you can remember what goes when. “The easiest way is to layer products from lightest, or most potent, to thickest,” he explains.

“Once we’ve cleansed our skin, and now have a clean slate to start with, we can then apply our toner or essence. This step usually has a water-like consistency,” he continues. “Next would be our serum — lighter in texture than a cream and quickly absorbed. These travel deeper within the skin and are designed to repair and improve skin at the reparative level. Equally, if we are using a prescription-strength retinoid, like Retin-A, we would apply this first and then the serum after. After this, we would then use our moisturizing cream, which helps to improve surface skin-texture by softening, smoothing and blurring imperfections visible to the naked eye.

3

Inconsistency may be one of the toughest errors to avoid making in the current skincare climate. With new products every month coupled with our antsy pursuit of immediate results, it can be hard to resist changing up our regimens or trying out the latest facials and other more intense professional treatments.

“Lack of consistency is something I deal with on a very regular basis with my clients. I cannot tell you how many times I have put them on a skincare regime, only to find that a stylist, make-up artist, or friend has told them to try their favorite product or latest buzz cream, which often puts them back to square one,” Lord Gavin says. “Consistency is key.”

Even if you don’t experience break-outs or undesired effects from varying up your skincare practices often, a lack of consistency also prevents you from reaping the full benefits of any products.

“While some products really do give an immediate improvement, all products, regardless if they give an instant wow, need at least four weeks to actually make a sizable difference in skin quality and improvement,” Lord Gavin points out.

The American Association of Dermatology (AAD), a network of over 20,500 board-certified dermatologists, also advises staying the course to maximize results, explaining on its site: “A moisturizer can plump up fine lines in a few days, but most products take at least six weeks to work. Sometimes it can take up to three months. Be patient and give the product time to work.”

4

“With the increasing trend toward using stronger ingredients, one has to be careful about how these are used and pay attention to how one’s individual skin responds to them,” Lord Gavin says. “Generally speaking, products have become more sophisticated so do not have the sensitizing side-effects that they once did.”

The AAD also stresses the importance of knowing your skin on its site. Dermatologists shared the tips they not only share with patients but use themselves. The first? Figuring out your skin type. “Understanding your skin type will help you learn how to take care of your skin and select skin care products that are right for you,” says Dr. Ivy Lee.

The AAD uses these guidelines to help you determine your skin type:

  • Sensitive skin may sting or burn after product use
  • Normal skin is clear and not sensitive
  • Dry skin is flaky, itchy or rough
  • Oily skin is shiny and greasy
  • Combination skin is dry in some areas and oily in others

Beyond learning about your skin-type in a broad sense, it will also take some trial and error to determine the nuances and individual qualities of your particular skin. A lot of acne and anti-aging treatments call for potent ingredients, but layering certain products on top of each other can wreak havoc on your skin if not done correctly.

“Personally, I use tretinoin and an acid toner in conjunction every night, but I built up my skin’s tolerance by gently starting once or twice a week, until I could use them nightly without irritation,” Lord Gavin says. “This is key. Also spacing out application of products is necessary. I like to use vitamin C products during the daytime and Vitamin A (retinols) at night. I also wait 10 minutes between using my retinol and applying my chemical exfoliant. As these stronger ingredients (proven to actually improve the skin) can be extremely drying to the skin at first, by using a hyaluronic product in conjunction, the deep hydration can also help mitigate any sensitivity.”

As for to exfoliate or not to exfoliate—or even how to exfoliate—Lord Gavin says, “again this is really down to what time of exfoliant we are using and how are individual skin responds. I’m a big believer that we should exfoliate every day. In this instance, I advise my clients to start with a chemical exfoliant twice a week and a mechanical exfoliant (granular bead) once a week. Once skin has become compliant, I like to encourage the use of a chemical exfoliant every night and a mechanical exfoliant twice a week. Again, if there are signs of overt sensitivity, reduce the frequency of application until you can increase more.”

5

You need to accept that no matter how much “healthier” you think you look with a tan, the sun can be extremely harmful to your skin.

Speaking to the AAD, Dr. Lee says, “Sun protection—including seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and applying sunscreen—is non-negotiable for me and one of the most important things you can do for your skin, since ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging, such as wrinkles and age spots. This is important year-round, not just during the summer, and even on cloudy days.”

Sun protection with an SPF of at least 30 is especially important if you’re using certain topical ingredients that increase your skin’s susceptibility to burns, like chemical exfoliants and retinol.

You could also throw on a wide-brimmed hat and oversized sunglasses when you’re outside for further protection, dermatologists recommend. Hey, if not for fashion, do it for your complexion.