6 Skincare Ingredients You Should Avoid Overusing

Too much of these good things are a bad thing.

Skincare regimens are all fun and games...until you overdo it with one of your favorite ingredients. Like most things in life, our approach to skincare requires some moderation.

While there's some room for nuance (not everyone's skin is the same), it's generally important to strike the perfect balance between hydration, moisturization, and exfoliation. With dermatologist insight, we've rounded up a list of the commonly overused skincare ingredients so you can improve your practice.

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Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

The glow you get from an AHA treatment is real. So real, in fact, that it might even tempt you to apply more often than you should. While some products formulated with AHAs—such as glycolic, lactic, and malic acids—are intended for everyday use, not all are created the same.

"The recommended frequency of use depends on the concentration of the acids and how accustomed your skin may be to the acids or to skin exfoliants in general," says Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

Her advice? Take the recommended usage frequency listed on the packaging and start with half that amount for the first two weeks. Then, listen to your skin and adjust as needed. Also, if you're a multi-step skincare person, be aware of the active ingredients in your entire regimen. Ideally, you should only apply one product that contains AHAs per session.

02 of 06

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

As is the case with AHAs, it's important to watch your BHA usage. The primary BHA ingredient you'll find in skincare formulations is salicylic acid, which is used to treat oily and acne-prone skin types.

Too much of this zit-zapping, exfoliating ingredient can backfire on you, so follow the on-label usage instructions to a T. For example, if it's a spot treatment, do not use it all over your face. If it says to let it set for 15 minutes before rinsing, watch the clock. And of course, abide by the frequency recommendation listed on the packaging.

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Let's take a second to give it up for retinoids, the holy grail product beloved by skincare experts and gurus across the world. It's scientifically proven to repair and prevent signs of aging, but at the same time it comes with a minor drawback: retinization. That's the process of peeling, flaking, redness, and sensitivity your skin goes through when it's getting used to retinol.

While mild cases of these symptoms are expected, it's important to build up a tolerance so your skin doesn't freak out too much.

"Retinol is an ingredient that should be eased into. Start with a lower percentage and then increase over time," advises Tina Alster, MD a board-certified dermatologist in Washington DC.

"You may have to make seasonal adjustments, as well," Dr. Murphy-Rose adds. "For example, during drier months, you may tolerate a retinol-containing product less frequently than during a more humid time of year."

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Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA)

TCA peels are a powerful skincare treatment that can help with issues such as fine lines, wrinkles, and discoloration. Remember that scene from Sex and the City where Samantha gets a peel and has an embarrassingly red face? That was likely a TCA peel.

"TCA dissolves the mortar that holds epidermal cells together and helps to shed dead skin cells," explains Dr. Alster. "This chemical exfoliation, if used too often, can cause skin redness and irritation."

While the majority of TCA peels are administered in-office under the care of a professional, over-the-counter TCA peels also exist. These are far less potent, but you still need to use them with care. As always, follow on-label instructions and ease into usage.

05 of 06

Medium to Heavy Oils

Our skin greatly benefits from daily moisturization, but finding the right frequency and formulation is key to a glowing, healthy complexion. Medium to heavy face oils—like avocado, olive, and coconut oils—are moisturizing ingredients that can indeed be overdone—especially if you have oily or acne-prone skin.

"[Too much oil] can clog pores, cause open comedones (blackheads), and lead to sebaceous gland hypertrophy [aka enlarged pores]," explains Stefani Kappel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Corona Del Mar, Calif.

While you don't have to give up oil entirely, do listen to your skin and use your best judgment. And when you can, swap in lighter "dry" oils, such as rosehip and camellia.

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Hydroquinone is heralded for its ability to target discoloration and areas of hyperpigmentation. Think of it as kryptonite to sun spots, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

Praises sung, this ingredient is super potent and should be used sparingly. Also, it's completely off-limits if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

"There is a side effect called 'ochronosis' that can occur with chronic use of hydroquinone," warns Dr. Murphy-Rose. "For those who do choose to use hydroquinone, use maximum twice a day for no more than five months."

If you'd rather use an alternative ingredient, consider vitamin C, niacinamide, kojic acid, and glutathione.

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