Is It Possible to Use Too Many Skin-Care Products? A Dermatologist Explains

Updated: May 05, 2021

Sometimes less is more: Get the most from your skincare by using the right products in the right order.

too-many-skincare-productsgoodluz/ShutterstockWhen it comes to using skincare products to beat wrinkles and combat acne, it seems like if a little is good, more is better. And if you have multiple skin issues, then you probably use many different treatment types. (Have oily skin? Follow this skin-care routine.) But if you’ve tried piling on the products, then you’ve probably run into the problem of pilling, where the products stick to themselves instead of absorbing into your skin and then ball up and peel away. Not a great look—and not great results either. So how can you layer like a boss and end up with a clear wrinkle-free complexion?

The trick to using multiple products is strategic layering. According to Beverly Hills dermatologist Michael Lin, MD, at Dr. Lin Skincare, you want to apply skincare products in order of their viscosity, or thickness, to be sure that they will penetrate. “In general, you apply the products with lower viscosity first, allow to dry, then apply the next layer,” he says. “Applying products in the wrong order may inhibit penetration and absorption. Higher viscosity inhibits penetration of other products.”

Your golden order of application: Serums first, then gels, then lotions, then creams, then ointments. If you’re going to apply toner, do that right after cleansing—actually consider it the last step of washing your face. If you’re into essences (a staple of Korean skincare regimens), apply that next, before your serum. (Find out which beauty products dermatologists want you to stop buying.)

But absorption is not the only potential problem when you’re using a vanity full of products. Applying multiple formulas with different active ingredients can also increase the risk of irritation. “The more products you use, the greater the chance of interactions,” Dr. Lin says. This is especially true when you’re using powerful actives, like alpha and beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid) and retinoids. All those ingredients are incredibly effective and usually gentle on the skin, but mixing and matching them incorrectly can cause major irritation, including burning, redness, and swelling. Always read a product’s label to prevent adverse interactions.

Dr. Lin has a super-easy strategy for getting this right: Use products all from the same reputable line, so you know they’ll be compatible. “A well-designed product line will address different skin needs with each product, and all the products together produce the desired result.”

A sample skin regimen all from one line might look like this: Caudalie VINE[ACTIV] Glow Activating Anti-Wrinkle Serum, followed by Caudalie VINE[ACTIV] Energizing and Soothing Eye Cream, then VINE[ACTIV] 3-In-1 Moisturizer. At night, repeat the same series of products, adding VINE[ACTIV] Overnight Detox Oil before the moisturizer.

To make life easy on yourself, Dr. Lin suggests: “Find a product line and stick with it. Jumping around or combining products from different lines could cause problems.”