With so many skincare products you are supposed to include in your daily regimen, it can be confusing to know how much of everything to use — you don’t want to go overboard and slather too much stuff on your face, but want to use enough so you see actual results. Unfortunately, there is no golden rule — how much you should use depends on a myriad of factors starting with the product itself, its ingredient list and your skin needs.
“Especially with potentially irritating ingredients like retinol and hydroxy acids, there definitely can be too much of a good thing, leading to skin irritation, inflammation and disruption of the skin barrier,” warns Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Generally speaking, we recommend green pea-sized amount of actives on the face, including products like serums or facial treatments that contain concentrated ingredients.” Moisturizers can be applied more liberally, and sunscreen even more in order to achieve the SPF benefit.
If you are super on top of your skincare regimen, your routine likely involves more than serum, moisturizer and SPF, so here is a look at how much of everything you should be using on your face each day and night.
There definitely can be too much of a good thing, leading
to skin irritation, inflammation and disruption of the skin barrier.
Finding a gentle face wash for oily and/or acne-prone skin may pose as a challenge for some, but Rina Allawh, M.D., a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, recommends choosing one that is gentle and maintains hydration without being too drying or leaving a greasy residue behind. “There are numerous facial cleansers that claim to be excellent for acne-prone and oily skin; however, consumers may find these products irritating, drying and contain natural botanicals that may trigger a rash (allergic or irritant dermatitis),” she says. “Cleansers that contain zinc pidolate — an ingredient that effectively cleanses debris on the face while maintaining the skin’s natural pH.” Apply a dime-sized amount to create a thin layer of the cleanser on the face. “Leave the cleanser on for 2-5 minutes and gently wash off the face, avoiding scrubbing with towels or cleansing cloths too aggressively,” she adds.
Traditional toners are liquid products that help balance the skin’s pH levels and absorb excess grease, oil and dirt. “The skin naturally has a slightly acidic pH of around 5.5, but this may become disrupted from harsh cleansers or scrubs,” explains Zeichner. That is where toners come in handy. He recommends applying a toner generously to a cotton swab (4-5 drops), making sure that it is fully saturated, and applying day and night.
Most skincare experts agree that skin serum is an essential step that should be followed after applying toner and before applying a moisturizer since they tend to be more lightweight and do not have the thickness or greasiness of a cream or lotion. “Creams or lotions are heavier because they are designed to adhere to the skin to help maintain hydration, while serums usually contain other active ingredients that address a particular concern (discoloration and anti-aging are most common),” explains Erum Ilyas, M.D., a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. “These active ingredients are more concentrated and will, therefore, be a bit more potent.” However, because these ingredients are so concentrated, they can sometimes be more irritating to the skin. Aim for 2-3 drops on the face and neck no matter what the serum contains, as even too much of hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid can potentially clog the pores.
Like serums, daytime moisturizers also vary a lot. “They can be gel moisturizers for patients with acneic skin or a heavier moisturizer for someone with dehydrated skin,” says Tahl N. Humes, M.D., founder of VITAHL Medical Aesthetics in Denver and Chicago. The goal is to restore hydration and maintain the elasticity of the skin. A moisturizer with antioxidants will also help fight free radicals caused by the environment, which can lead to premature aging. “Depending on the skin type a few drops of a gel moisturizer to a pea-sized amount of a heavier moisturizer works well,” adds Humes.
“Skin thinning is most apparent for many around the eyes in this age group where the skin is the thinnest and most fragile,” says Allawh. “Eye creams aid in skin hydration and plump in this delicate area while masking under-eye darkness.” She suggests applying a pea-sized amount of eye cream daily in the morning and evening. “Less is more,” she says.
Whether you are suffering from ongoing breakouts or only the occasional pimple, acne treatments (both over-the-counter and prescription) can be effective at keeping the skin clear. The amount you’ll use depends on the type of product. It is best to speak to your dermatologist to find out exactly how much to use if you are applying a prescription-strength medicine. If it is a spot treatment purchased over the counter, you can use a pea-sized amount on the affected area. “When using any products on acne, it is best to start slow and work up as you see your skin tolerating the products,” says Humes.
Retinoids help promote skin cell turnover, thus evening out skin tone and smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles over time, notes Allawh. There are various types of topical retinoids including prescription-strength tretinoin and tazarotene (Tazorac), as well as over-the-counter adapalene. The general rule of thumb for all of these retinoids is a pea-sized amount for the entire face. “Despite the benefit of retinoids, everyday use is limited by skin irritation, peeling, drying and burning,” she says. “Some tricks of the trade to help with tolerating retinoids include: shorter contact time (applying at dinner and washing off at bedtime), mixing with a nighttime non-comedogenic moisturizer and starting 1-2 nights weekly and increasing to nightly as tolerated.” If you mix your retinol with your moisturizer, you can use a pea-sized amount of retinol with a dime-sized amount of moisturizer.
If there is one skincare product not to be missed in your routine any time of day (or year), it is sunscreen, which protects the skin from harmful UV rays, thus reducing our risk of premature aging and skin cancer. The problem is not only that not enough people use sunscreen on a consistent basis, but they’re also not applying enough. “A shot glass full (about an ounce) is what should be used to cover exposed areas of the skin,” notes Ilyas. “If the sunscreen is a lotion or cream, apply a thin layer and rub into the skin, but if it is a spray, spray the skin to see a thin film over the skin.” When it comes to reapplying, the frequency is based on multiple factors: how long you are spending time outdoors, the potential for our products to be sweat off or washed off with water, and the SPF of the product used. “The SPF value listed on a product is thought to only be valid or effective for 2 hours after application,” says Ilyas. “If outdoors longer, it is important to reapply, and the same goes for if you happen to be sweating.”
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