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Is Your Skin Experiencing Tachyphylaxis?

As Dr. Jessie Cheung, Chicago-based, board-certified dermatologist, explains, “The cellular signaling pathways [in your skin] can develop a resistance so that the product no longer delivers the desired effect as efficiently. You may need a larger dose or stronger concentration to produce the same effect.” She cites active ingredients such as retinol and salicylic acid as common culprits in the skin-care world and advises her patients to ensure that their products play well together (if you’re using them at the same time). “Certain chemicals will deactivate others,” says Dr. Cheung. “For example, niacinamide will neutralize vitamin C.”

Of course, in order to notice any changes in your skin in the first place, you first must give a new product time to do its thing. Says Dr. Cheung, “Skin cycles about every six weeks on the face, so you want to give a product at least six weeks to see something begin to happen, and even six months to see cumulative changes.” She explains that there is no “official” window of time that you can expect to see a product stop working (or at least deliver lesser results), as your skin will adapt to environmental changes throughout the year. That is, however, a good reason why you should switch up your products with the seasons, in order to “re-sensitize the receptors on your skin cells,” she says.

On the other hand, celebrity aesthetician Georgia Louise believes that using products long-term isn’t necessarily a bad thing for your skin. “Yes, skin can get used to products, and that’s the whole idea—skin adjusts and gets comfortable,” she says. “We get stability and happy skin that’s less reactive, particularly with actives such as vitamins.” She advises her clients to wait a minimum of two weeks for their skin to adjust and acclimate to a new product, but to avoid doubling up on any active ingredient (like using a strong retinoid and an AHA at the same time). “Take a break before loading up on a new brand, and let your skin detox before it explodes.”

Both Dr. Cheung and Louise also recommend adjusting your products if you’re experiencing hormonal breakouts. “I have some patients switch up their chemical exfoliants throughout the month, based on their menstrual cycle, to help prevent acne flaring with their period,” says Dr. Cheung. If your skin is looking relatively clear, however, there’s no need to keep using stronger actives—revert back to your regular routine to avoid any irritation or developing a tolerance to those ingredients.


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