Are You Using the Wrong Skin Care Products? Here’s How to Find Out

If it’s happened once, it’s happened a thousand times: You hear all about the next new miracle moisturizer, the one that’s supposed to make your skin glow and pores disappear, effectively turning you into J.Lo. But once you get your hands on it, nothing really happens. So you use it…and use it…and use it. Your skin still looks the same. Is it you? Is it the product? Follow this guide to figure out when and if it’s time to call it quits with your skin care.

Step #1: Eliminate the bad options off the bat.

The sign of a match not made it heaven? It hurts. Sure, there are certain people who think: “Ooh, it’s burning—that must mean it’s working!” (Guilty as charged.) If you’re down with a few seconds of tingling, that’s completely safe. But if the tingling gets more intense and painful—and signs of inflammation, like redness or stinging, start to appear—stop using it immediately. “You should never get worse before you get better,” says NYC-based dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D., host of DermTV and founder of BeautyRx Skincare. While there are a few ingredients that cause a little irritation (like retinol, exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids, and acne-zapping benzoyl peroxide), redness or rashes that last a few days could mean you’re allergic. If that’s the case, bite the bullet and toss the product. Then, “apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment twice daily for a few days,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist in NYC and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology.

Step #2: Check that it’s right for you and your skin type.

Here’s a riddle: You’re using that sheet mask basically every night, but the greasy spot on your forehead is shining as bright as ever. What gives? “One of the most confusing things among my patients is figuring out their skin type,” says Dr. Schultz. “If you use the wrong products for your skin, it might not only fail to get better but it could get worse.” If you’ve been dealing with your skin for 20-something years, you probably have a good idea of your skin type. But it’s not always so straightforward. Since you have both oil and water glands, you can produce a ton of oil but lack hydration, or have zero oil and perfectly healthy hydration. Dr. Schultz recommends asking yourself two questions: Do my forehead and nose get shiny a few hours after washing? Are my cheeks dry and tight? Answering yes to both means you have combination skin; no to both is normal; yes to the first and no to the second is oily; and, finally, no to the first and yes to the second is dry.

Step #3: Give it time to see what happens.

If it takes ten days for a spot treatment to deactivate a monster zit, chances are that it didn’t do squat. More likely, the breakout just went away on its own. Anti-acne formulas are designed to work quickly, since pimples tend to be more of an ASAP situation. As for treating wrinkles or dark spots, time is your friend. “You need a minimum of two weeks—but closer to a month—to see results,” says Dr. Schultz. It varies according to the product. Moisturizer? There should be some immediate effect (ditto for intensive masks). Exfoliating products, like glycolic acid? Give it a week or two. A good rule: The longer the issue tends to last (zits are quick, but wrinkles are forever), the more time a product needs to work its magic.

Step #4: Ask your friends for their opinions.

Ever waste hours in front of the mirror, analyzing that one crow’s foot? Not only is this a really good way to give yourself a migraine, but also the best person to judge the status of your problem spots is anyone other than you. “It’s very hard to be objective for ourselves,” explains Dr. Schultz. He suggests taking a selfie the first time you use a product and comparing your face to track improvements (or the lack thereof). If you’re camera-shy, you can always ask your significant other or a good friend to give you their honest opinion.

If the product in question has reached this point (not irritating, is right for your skin type, has had time to work, and even your friends don’t notice a difference) you can guess what’s coming. We know: Breaking up is hard. It’s tough to toss or give away a product, especially if you dropped a ton of money on it. But sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much something cost, how many people go on and on about how it’s saved their life, or how many nights you’ve religiously slathered in on—something might just not work. And don’t forget: It’s not you! It’s them.

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