By Jude Chao

So you’ve carefully assembled your very own custom skincare routine and painstakingly added products in one at a time. You’ve stuck with it for weeks or months, kept notes, and seen some results, at least enough to keep going. But now you feel like you’re in a rut. You’re eyeing your lineup and ogling other people’s routines on Instagram, feeling the urge to make a change. Is it time to switch things up?

Maybe. Maybe not. Could be the best thing you do for your skin. Or a Very Regrettable Decision.

Making good choices for your skin means thinking about why you want to do things to it, so let’s do some thinking together.

Why do you want to change your skincare routine?

As with all major life decisions, understanding the real reasons we want to make a change can help us decide whether we should and, if we should, how to do so. Sometimes our reasons make sense. Other times, our reasons should invite some deeper self reflection, because they may be symptoms of other problems that skincare won’t fix.

“I’m not seeing results anymore”

This is arguably the most common reason anyone has for wanting to change up their skincare routine. While there are plenty of non-cosmetic benefits to a regular skincare routine, we don’t spend money on these products just for personal enjoyment. We do want our skincare to improve our skin, whatever that means to us. So when we start to feel like what we’re doing isn’t improving our skin anymore, it’s natural to want to try something different.

The thing we have to consider when we decide we’re “not seeing results anymore” is what results we actually hope to achieve, and whether those results are realistic. If you’re working on getting acne under control and still seeing breakouts, yeah, it may be time to consider trying something new or deciding whether something needs to be cut from your existing routine. If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation or early signs of aging that haven’t succumbed to your skincare yet even though you’ve been consistent with your routine for several months, yes, it might be time to consider a change. Plateaus are definitely a thing that happens and can be addressed.

When trying to get past a plateau, treat it the same way you would any other change to your routine. Don’t throw everything out at once and slap on a whole new routine. You could end up reversing the progress you’ve made. Only add or subtract one product at a time, and give products several weeks at least to show changes, unless a new product causes a reaction and needs to be removed immediately. And take progress pictures! Our brains are marvelously clever at making us think that what we see in the mirror is the same thing we’ve always seen in the mirror. Keeping a log of progress photos taken in similar lighting conditions each time can really help show whether skin is improving.

For some of us, however, what we think is a plateau may actually be our skin at its optimal condition for our age, genetics, and lifestyle. We only think of it as a plateau or a failure to deliver results because we’ve been conditioned to expect that it’s possible for bare skin to be absolutely poreless, smooth, and devoid of any irregularities of tone or texture. That’s because many of the images we see in beauty marketing and on social media are edited to hell and back. There is a small minority of people in a very narrow age range who do currently enjoy skin that looks like a smooth pour of flesh-colored glass, but for the vast majority of us, it simply isn’t possible. Skin has texture. Skin has pores. It’s living skin, not a highly polished inanimate object.

(Also, unless you have vision impairments that make them necessary, please, for the love of all that is holy, stay away from magnifying mirrors. Those things are a portal to a hell dimension. If you happen to catch a glance of your pores and skin texture in one and recoil in horror, remember, people don’t have magnifying eyes. No one sees that stuff. The only reason you did was because you looked in a magnifying mirror and magnifying mirrors are the work of the Devil.)

One of the reasons I don’t review products as much as I used to is because I realized after a certain point that I didn’t know what I could realistically expect to change. After years of tretinoin and sunscreen and snail and sheet masks and extensive routines full of good stuff in all categories, my skin looks better than I could ever have hoped it would at my age. There’s nothing more I ask from it now except to just stay that way. It’s not Photoshop perfect, but for real, living skin, I’m very happy with it. It would be unfair for me to review, say, a firming serum, and conclude that it doesn’t do anything, because I don’t feel there’s much for a product like that to do for me now anyway. That’s also why my routine reverted for most of this year to my old favorites.

The only reason I added the NIOD copper peptide thing was to see if it can help my neck and chest, where I do not use tret.

If you’re dissatisfied with your routine because you’re not seeing results, even though you can’t quite quantify what more you think topical products could do for you, it may be time to take a deep breath and step back from certain media influences. A steady diet of highly FaceTuned faces isn’t good for our expectations. I’ve written before about being too hard on ourselves for the way our skin looks. What I said then still holds true now. Be kind to yourself, and be realistic, too.

“I’m bored of it and I want to try something new”

I totally identify with this. It’s hard not to feel FOMO, especially if you’re actively engaged with the skincare communities on social media. Someone’s always got something unfamiliar and exciting, and considering the power of the entertainment factor in K-beauty specifically, it’s very hard not to crave the shiny newness.

How do we deal with this?

The first step, as always, is considering why exactly we want the specific shiny new thing that we want. Remember, brands make lots and lots of enticing promises that may not pan out in reality. Sometimes they back them up with heavily edited and deceptive before and after footage, or literally slap the word “Miracle” in their product name. Are there truly miracle products that can dramatically improve skin? Sure, I’ve got some holy grails of my own. But is every product with big promises a miracle product? Fuck no.

Honestly, the vast majority of skincare products are pretty mediocre and forgettable. We bloggers spend lots of time (and money) sorting the wheat from the chaff. If a particular product really is calling out to you, give it a shot, but don’t be too eager to throw out what’s already working for you. I’ve said this before but I cannot stress it enough, don’t change everything at once, no matter who’s telling you that you should.

And if it’s not one particular product that’s catching your attention, but just a general ennui and desire to change things up, I absolutely recommend sheet masks. Once you get a good idea of what your skin likes (and what it doesn’t like), you can find a whole world of star ingredients and fun designs to spice up your routine. I don’t use wash-off masks as much due to the extra labor of rinsing them off, but they can also bring some variety into a stale but reliable routine.

“I just don’t feel like doing any of it anymore”
I saved this one for last because for me, it’s the one most likely to be masking something more serious.

Sometimes we just don’t feel like doing a thing anymore. Why? It might be for a practical reason, like the thing isn’t doing the thing we want it to do anymore (in which case, scroll back up to “I’m not seeing results anymore” and proceed from there). But it might also be for less obvious but more worrying reasons.

For me, depression tends to manifest as a sudden total lack of desire to do anything. But because the human brain is terribly good at self-sabotage, my brain doesn’t tell me that. Instead, it comes up with other excuses. “It’s too much work.” “I don’t have time.” “There’s no point to this.” “I don’t really care anymore.” “It’ll be fine to not do it tonight (and then tomorrow, and then the day after, and then on and on).”

Feeling burned out on a routine is fine. Not having time for your routine sometimes is fine. Skipping your routine once in a while or doing a pared-down version is totally fine. Your face will not melt off if you just wash and put on a cream and go to bed without doing any of the regular in-between steps that you’re used to. I do that at least once a week. Just try to keep up with cleansing, moisturizing, and using sunscreen during the day. It’s totally fine.

In fact, skincare burnout in general is a good opportunity to reevaluate your routine and your feelings about it. Maybe you have added too many steps to your routine, and removing some of the more superfluous ones would help make it feel more doable. Much like working out, something is generally better than nothing. Maybe you’re tired of the skincare community and would enjoy a break from the product photos and routine roundups. All of that is natural, and coming back after a break can give you fresh perspective and enthusiasm. And even if you end up deciding that after all, it wasn’t that important and you’d rather go back to a pared-down routine and view less beauty content, that’s totally fine, too. Skincare should not be a burden. If it is, it isn’t worth it. (Besides sunscreen. Sunscreen is always important.)

On the other hand, if skincare isn’t the only area in your life that’s lost its luster, I think I would be irresponsible not to suggest you take a moment to ask yourself whether something else is going on. Losing interest in one thing is a pretty normal part of life and growth. Losing interest in lots of things can be a sign of something bigger. So if skincare isn’t the only thing you don’t care about anymore, please consider whether it’s time to tune up your mental health or lifestyle.

Ultimately, skincare (besides sunscreen) isn’t necessary to life or well-being. This should be something we do because we enjoy it and enjoy the results we get from it. If it’s turned into a chore or a burden, it isn’t good for us anymore. No matter what you do, whether you choose to continue with your routine, add new items to your routine, or scale back or withdraw altogether, make sure that you’re doing it for reasons that are authentic and right for you. Your happiness matters!

 Photo by Askar Ulzhabayev on Unsplash

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