I’m an Esthetician and Here’s Why I Want You To Skip Single-Ingredient Skin-Care Products

Photo: Getty/Anna Efetova
Lately, search queries for single-ingredient skin-care products—those that contain one concentrated "active ingredient" that's meant to fix one specific skin concern— have skyrocketed. For example, products featuring hero ingredients such as lactic acid, niacinamide, azelaic acid, and retinol have caught the attention of the masses.

As an esthetician, I have to say I’m always on the fence with single-ingredient skin care, as many folks use these types of products incorrectly, overloading skin with layer upon layer of single ingredients that it doesn't really need to function optimally. I am a minimalist and a firm believer that less is best when it comes to skin care.

So it may come as a surprise that I believe most multi-ingredient products—think those with a blend of active ingredients in cosmetically-adjusted concentrations—are a better fit for our skin-care regimens than many single ingredient products that utilize one active ingredient at a higher potency. 

Single-ingredient products are amazing for folks who want to treat an isolated skin-care concern. For example, if you’ve experienced an isolated skin ailment that's been active for a while, such as hyperpigmentation, using a single-ingredient product could be beneficial for you. However, if you suffer from both acne and hyperpigmentation and use a single ingredient product to treat only the hyperpigmentation such as, hydroquinone, it could actually overstimulate sebum (oil) within the skin and cause more blemishes, due to the potency of the ingredient itself and the creamy, thick texture.

Multi-ingredient products, conversely, are formulations that contain two or more actives that target multiple concerns and are great for addressing more than one issue in the skin. The perfect example of two active ingredients that work well when paired together is vitamin C and ferulic acid, as they stabilize one another, making a formula more potent, but less irritating to the skin. Remember, you want the product to work without harming the skin in the process.

Ultimately, I believe the key to having a successful regimen that allows your skin to thrive is by approaching it in two ways. First, understand your skin needs. What mood is your skin in most days? Is it normal and balanced with occasional hormonal acne? Is it ultra-sensitive with mild eczema? It's imperative to take stock of your skin's concerns as these change often. Next, understand the ingredients you’re using in your regimen. In my 14 years of experience treating all types of skin, single-ingredient products tend to be too concentrated for folks, which in turn can manifest more ailments such as dryness, eczema, dermatitis, blemishes, redness, and hypersensitivity.  If you’re unsure of your skin type, seek the help of a board-certified dermatologist and/or a licensed esthetician before going on a skincare shopping spree.

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