Why I stopped using moisturiser on my face

One of the biggest personal skin issues that I’ve been on a quest to improve since I was a teenager is skin clarity. I have always been prone to breakouts and I have to work hard to keep my skin clear. 

I’ve learned a lot along the way, but the biggest game-changer for me has been to ditch the moisturiser. I always used to moisturise thinking I had combination skin, fluctuating between dry and oily – then I realised I was actually upsetting the balance by moisturising. As soon as I stopped using products with moisturising ingredients and stuck to hydrators instead (serums containing active ingredients such as glycerine, water, urea and hyaluronic acid), my skin became more radiant, plump and glowing. 

So what’s the problem with moisturisers?

It has been ingrained in us from a young age to cleanse, tone and moisturise. We think all skin types need this, but in fact our skin is capable of maintaining its own hydration levels. You only need to look at a child’s skin to see this in action, they don’t moisturise and their skin is in optimal condition.

By using a moisturiser, our skin’s surface sends a signal down to its water reservoirs telling it that there is plenty of moisture and to halt production.  This makes the skin sluggish and lacking in moisture, so we reach for more moisturiser, thus exacerbating the problem and reaching for a richer moisturiser and often balms and oils.

It is important to wake up your skin’s natural moisturising mechanisms as this will have a knock on effect and stimulate other processes within the skin- balancing oil production, brightening the complexion and slowing the rate of skin ageing. You need to break that perpetual cycle of reaching for a moisturiser when your skin feels tight, often reaching for a richer and richer moisturiser as time goes on. Once you stop moisturising, this cycle is broken and the skin’s ability to moisturise itself increases over a period of 6-12 weeks.  Don’t let that time frame put you off; I normally see client’s skin turn a corner at around 2-3 weeks.

Skipping the moisturiser can also help to support the skin through the natural ageing process as they inhibit the production of Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), one of our skin’s natural moisturisers. GAGs are important for the production of collagen and the cushioning around it, keeping the skin plump and firm.

Moisturising prevents the skin’s natural exfoliation by smoothing the skin cells and stopping them from sloughing off.  So by stopping moisturising, this actually stimulates cell turnover and encourages natural desquamation (that’s the shedding of the outer layers of the skin). This improves skin function and exposes the tightly packed plump fresh cells to effectively reflect light and leave the skin glowing.

Another peril of moisturisers is that when the skin becomes dehydrated, it often over-produces oil. Then, because the skin is sluggish and there is a build up of dead skin cells, it prevents the flow of this increased oil production leading to blackheads, whiteheads and possibly even acne. Waking up the skin’s natural moisturising processes helps to balance oil production, which prevents skin congestion and acne. 

What if your skin really is dry?

Only ‘true dry skin’ is in need of moisture supplementation, which accounts for just 10-15% of the population. This will either be people born with this skin type who are likely to suffer from eczema or dermatitis, or women post-menopause. 

The symptoms for dry and dehydrated skin are very similar; however the cause is different. Dehydrated skin is lacking in water, whilst dry skin is lacking in lipids. While both can result in a feeling of tightness and flaking, those with truly dry skin will have been born with it and will be affected from head to toe. They are unlikely to have ever experienced breakouts, or an oily T-Zone, and tend to have very small, possibly invisible pores. 

Dehydrated skin needs hydration and this shouldn’t be confused with moisturisation. You need to look for products that draw or put water back into the skin, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea or light, water-based products. These formulas will provide the hydration needed without interfering with the skin’s natural moisturising  processes.  

So how do I go about weaning off the moisturiser?

I believe in going cold turkey, but to make the process easier, I encourage the use of specific serums. By going cold turkey, you will get a much quicker result. Your skin will feel a little tight and dry for a couple of weeks, but it will feel the panic and start filling up its water reservoirs and  hydration will continue to improve for up to two skin cycles (12 weeks). After this point, you will see and feel a visible difference. 

If you are unsure if you have a ‘true’ dry skin there is no harm in attempting to wake up the natural moisturising processes by stopping the use of moisturiser. If after 12 weeks your skin is still very dry, then you know you are more likely to have a true dry skin type.

Remember that not using a moisturiser does not mean that you won’t be using any products on your skin; you will be using plenty of active serums that help prevent and correct skin conditions and support the skin through the natural ageing process – look for those that contain ingredients such as urea, low to medium levels of glycerine and hyaluronic acid, along with the targeted active ingredients. . 

A retinol serum is also very important as it helps to stimulate these skin processes to wake up more quickly. Retinol, a Vitamin A derivative, helps to stimulate a large percentage of the different cells within the skin to behave as fresher, healthier and younger versions of themselves. This not only improves collagen and hyaluronic acid production, but also speeds up cell turnover to improve skin function, hydration and to smooth and brighten.

You need to look at all the steps within your skincare and makeup regime and question whether they are providing moisture; stay away from balm and oil cleansers and don’t forget a tinted moisturiser also counts, face masks too although clay masks are ok.

My Skincare Journey: “Through taking care of my skin, I learned to take better care of myself”

The problem with Lila’s skin started during the global pandemic. She was working around the clock and experiencing a lot of stress. One day, she looked at herself in the mirror and thought: ‘Who am I?’

She was experiencing a lot of acne flare ups, dehydration, pigmentation under the eye and cheek area and fine lines, so Kate recommended that she book in for a series of Clinical Brightening facials to give her skin the boost that it needed.  

Lila’s Clinical Brightening facial was tailored to her skin’s unique needs and a key step was applying a peel containing lactic and glycolic acid, which helps to improve cell renewal, purge pigmentation, improve congestion and refine skin texture.

A sheet mask was also applied to control pigmentation, brighten the complexion and increase hydration. Red LED light was also used to increase cellular activity and improve multiple processes within the skin including collagen and elastin production. 

Fast forward a couple of months, and Lila’s skin feels and looks more plump with refined texture. Pigmentation has disappeared and the complexion is glowing. “Hand on my heart, I noticed improvements within the first month,” says Lila. “After having the first facial, we looked in the mirror together and I had tears in my eyes because it was literally a transformation and it felt really good.”

Now, Lila uses her skincare routine as an opportunity to switch off from work and transition into relaxation mode. “Taking care of my skin is very much a priority now. I log off at 6 or 7pm at night and literally wash the day off my face and transition into my kind of chill, relax time. I could kick myself that I hadn’t done this sooner.”

What microneedling actually does to your face

Microneedling is a minimally invasive, non-surgical procedure for skin rejuvenation. A microneedling device (at Kate Kerr London, we use the Dermapen) is used to create controlled micro-injuries to the skin, which helps it to regenerate itself. Microneedling gives you results that are similar to laser resurfacing and deep chemical peels, but at a fraction of the cost and with minimal discomfort and downtime. 

How does it work?

Each fine needle creates a channel, or micro-wound to the dermis. This controlled micro injury triggers the body to stimulate the wound healing response. Fibroblasts (aka the ‘Mother Cells’) and growth factors (substances that are key for cell growth) are then stimulated to fill these micro-wounds with new collagen and elastin. New capillaries are formed leading to greater oxygen and nutrient absorption for a brighter complexion.  

What are the benefits?

Creating micro-channels in the skin helps active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin. This hydrating ingredient can then plump the skin, as well as soften fine lines and wrinkles. 

By stimulating the fibroblasts (those powerful ‘Mother Cells’), we increase the production of collagen and elastin. This effect has been shown to last 12-18 months after treatment. Undergoing micro-needling treatments (a course of 3-6 treatments, 4-6 weeks apart, is recommended) once a year ensures that the fibroblasts are functioning at a greater rate, which helps to counteract the natural breakdown of collagen and slows down the rate of ageing. 

The process also leads to angiogenesis, the production of new blood vessels, and that means more nutrients and oxygen in the skin for optimal function and vitality. 

There are plenty of other benefits too, from improving acne scars and minimising large pores to improving hyperpigmentation and stretch marks; plus, you can undergo a microneedling treatment anywhere on the body.

What are the differences between at-home and salon treatments?

Microneedling performed in-clinic utilises a much longer needle, and although this creates a micro-channel for effective product penetration, the goal is to initiate trauma. This trauma, deep within the skin, kick-starts the wound-healing cascade, leading to stimulation of the fibroblast, which enhances the production of hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin. 

Short needle microneedling for at-home use (think Radara) definitely have their place in creating a healthy, optimally functioning skin that ages more slowly, but it is not a replacement for in-clinic treatments if your goal is to reverse skin ageing or considerably slow the ageing process. Using at-home treatments regularly (we would recommend 2-3 times a week) in conjunction with active skincare and targeted in-clinic skin treatments will ensure the best results for your skin.

What will my skin be like immediately after the treatment?

You will experience some redness for one to two days. You may also have a little puffiness around the eyes in the morning as you have been lying still and will have built up lymph (that’s the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system).

Product-wise, you need to use hydrating products – no vitamin C or retinol. We recommend using Dermol 500 to cleanse and hydrate the skin for a few days post-treatment. This helps to keep the skin clean, protected and fights against bacteria.

Want to find out more about microneedling?

Check out our Microneedling (and with Growth Factors) treatment and book a consultation for a tailored skin care plan.

Spotlight On: Retinol

Retinol is a general term for topical products containing a vitamin A derivative – technically, it’s a type of retinoid and there are several variations of these, which are designed to work at different levels. It’s a superstar when it comes to supporting the skin through the natural ageing process and is still the gold standard. It’s also fantastic when it comes to managing skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation.

How does retinol work exactly?

Retinol is a cell communicator: essentially, it can attach to most skin cells and tell them to behave like younger, healthier versions of themselves. Pretty clever, don’t you think? It’s also an antioxidant, so it helps to prevent free radical attack and oxidation in the skin, which can lead to extrinsic skin ageing (think premature ageing caused by environmental factors). 

Retinol is known for speeding up cell turnover and for helping to thicken the dermis for a plumper, younger looking skin. It also helps to thin the stratum corneum (the layer of skin we see) to expose fresher, healthier, plumper cells that reflect the light, giving a brighter and more glowing complexion.  

Retinol also helps to improve hyperpigmentation, acne, large pores, lines and wrinkles and increases hyaluronic acid production to plump the skin and regulate moisture production. 

So, what are the benefits?

The benefits of using a retinol are endless. Here’s an at-a-glance view of the many ways that retinol can support your skin:

  • Repairs the skin’s all-important protective barrier
  • Regulates cell turnover, which encourages luminosity and improves skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation
  • Improves the functioning of almost all types of skin cells
  • Increases hyaluronic acid production to plump the skin and regulate moisture production; naturally, without the need for conventional moisturisers
  • Controls the melanocytes to prevent irregular hyperpigmentation
  • Activates the fibroblasts to increase collagen and elastin induction 
  • Evens skin colour by ensuring the melanocyte is distributing pigment evenly and by helping slough off irregular pigmented cells
  • Smooths skin texture
  • Increases hydration
  • Supports and slows the ageing process by improving skin texture, discolouration and giving skin back its glow
  • Helps to minimise pore size by increasing collagen, which puts pressure on the outside of the pore

Who might want to use retinol?

If you want to support and slow the ageing process, as well as encourage a healthy glowing skin that’s free of skin conditions, you need to be using a retinol from age 25-28 unless pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant. All skin types and skin tones can use a retinol – at Kate Kerr London, we simply modify the type of retinol with this in mind. If we recommend retinol to a teenager to help with breakouts, we always advise that they come off it once the acne is under control and wait until they turn 25-28 before starting up again to help support the skin through the natural ageing process.

What’s the best way to integrate it into your skincare regime?

With retinol, you can go in hard and fast for quick results, or take it nice and slow to limit irritation. If you’re going the hard and fast route by applying more frequently and pushing through the normal irritant reaction, this will give you much quicker and better results, but this isn’t for the faint-hearted. Your skin will be peeling for up to two skin cycles – that’s 12 weeks. Plus, there will be significant redness and tingling in the initial stages. We recommend doing this under the guidance of a skin professional.  

Starting once per week and increasing slowly to find your skin’s tolerance levels will take longer to see results, but it will be a much more comfortable process. We always remind our clients that one cannot get enough retinol into the skin to counteract the rate at which the collagen and elastin is breaking down, so for best results, build up to using it every night if possible.  

Be careful though – retinol has a two to three day-delayed irritation. We always recommend when beginning to use retinol on day one to hold fire on applying it again until day four. That way, you can see what irritation you may have had on day three and adjust accordingly. A more gentle option is retin aldehyde, which is still very effective, but doesn’t cause irritation quite like retinol. 

Using a retinol at night is key as the skin is more active and in repair mode, making it the prime opportunity to stimulate the skin’s cells. 

That being said, if you follow a strict sun protection regime, using a high SPF 30 or 50 and reapply it consistently whilst also covering up as much as possible, there’s no reason why you can’t apply retinol in the morning, too. However, only people seeking an intensive programme to support the skin through the ageing process need to use retinol twice daily.

What are the side effects of using retinol?

It’s important to use a retinol under the guidance of a skin specialist so that you can fully understand the side effects and be guided on when to push through and when to pull back. 

As your skin adjusts to the reparation process, a few side effects are completely normal and expected – the skin is renewing from the inside out and many cell processes are beginning to awaken.

Redness, peeling and burning is typical in these early stages. Shedding can last up to 12 weeks when using a retinol regularly and this can take longer if you aren’t consistent with your application. Be reassured, though, that shedding isn’t dryness – your skin is actually renewing itself. New cells are emerging and the old skin is being sloughed off to reveal healthy, glowing skin cells.

Breakouts may occur due to the purging of congestion within the pores. Just know that the more inflammation you experience, and the longer it lasts, the more this repair and renewal is needed.

How should I manage the side effects?

The effects of retinol application – typically shedding and irritation – generally occur two to three days post-application. When starting out, don’t be too gung-ho and jump straight into applying it every night for multiple nights in a row as the irritant reaction will be much stronger.  

The sudden increase in cell turnover is what initiates inflammation. Your skin cells are suddenly reaching the surface of the skin more quickly – they haven’t had the time to mature, so when they reach the surface of the skin, they don’t function as they should and this temporarily upsets the skin’s barrier function. Your skin reacts to this change by activating inflammation to repair the ‘so called’ problem. A lot of repair is occurring during this time, so sit tight and don’t panic!

The key is to start slowly. Begin by applying retinol in the evening two nights per week and increase to nightly use by adding one extra day per week. Just know that the longer you take to build up to nightly usage, the longer the side effects last. 

You want to make sure that you prep the skin effectively before applying retinol and really massage it thoroughly into the skin. Otherwise, the retinol pools in the upper layers of the skin, causing the cells to receive a much higher dose, which triggers a stronger reaction.  

To target the layers of the skin responsible for pigmentation, skin firmness, smoothness, hydration and acne, it’s important that the skin is prepped properly beforehand with efficient cleansing and exfoliation. Start your evening routine with a cleanser containing Alpha Hydroxy Acids or Beta Hydroxy Acids to remove dead skin cell build up; this will prepare the skin for effective retinol penetration.

When the skin is peeling, do not moisturise! Remember that your skin shedding is actually a sign of renewal – the dead skin cells should be exfoliated away and a hydrating serum applied, instead.

When using retinol, it’s important to apply at least an SPF30 every day, even in the winter – even if you’re staying inside. Remember, you have baby skin now that needs to be protected! 

The neck and eye area don’t tolerate retinol as well, so go easy on application in these areas. You can feather the tiniest bit of product down onto the neck and around the eye once it has almost been fully massaged into the skin of the face.

Every retinol myth, busted

Retinol thins your skin

Using a retinol actually thickens the dermis for a plumper, younger looking skin – even though the skin is shedding, new healthy cells are moving on through.  

Retinol is an exfoliant

Retinol increases cell turnover, but it is not an exfoliant. A polish is still needed to slough off the dead skin cells once they reach the top to reveal the healthy, plump cells below. 

Retinol dries out your skin

The reparation process causes your skin to shed initially, which is often confused with drying. This is actually your skin renewing itself as new skin cells emerge and the old skin is sloughed away. Dehydration can occur in the initial stages, but this is temporary so try to push through and don’t apply any moisturiser. A hydrating serum can be used as and when needed.

You shouldn’t use retinol around your eyes 

If you’re concerned with skin ageing, then this is one of the areas that needs retinol the most. Just take it slowly and use much less product, or use a specific eye cream containing retinol.

Retinol makes you more sensitive to the sun

Studies have shown that retinoids do not increase the risk of sunburn, however, sun exposure can trigger a retinol reaction. Regardless of whether you are applying a retinol or not, it is incredibly important to use an SPF50 everyday and reapply when in the sun. 

All retinol is the same

There are many different types of retinol. Adapalene – known as Differin –  is a prescription-strength retinol that is generally prescribed for acne. It helps to improve breakout and congestion, but with less inflammation.

Retinoic Acid (Retin A or tretinoin) is also a prescription-strength retinol and is the most effective and fast-working of all retin A products. It can cause significant inflammation and shedding, which you may not acclimatise to. 

Over-the-counter retinol has fewer side effects than prescription-strength retinoic acid. You may experience some irritation, but most people acclimatise and the results are fantastic.

Retinol esters (retinyl palmitate, acetate and linoleate) have the weakest strength in the retinol family. They are a good starting point for anyone who is nervous about using a retinol or who has very sensitive skin.

Stronger is always best

This is one of the biggest retinol myths! Yes, using a high dose every day is going to give a stronger result than a weaker dose, but often clients using higher doses of retinol will only apply it a couple of times a week. We recommend using a lower dose, but applying it every night as a more consistent application yields better results compared to erratic application. 

If you’re peeling or red, you’re having an allergic reaction

Retinol significantly stimulates cell turnover, which upsets the skin’s barrier function temporarily, causing inflammation and for the old skin to shed. This is completely normal and expected when starting to use a retinol. That inflammation and the skin shedding is actually a good sign as a huge amount of repair is going on beneath the skin. Push through this phase and your skin will come out the other side healthier and more resilient. The redness normally lasts for 2-4 weeks and the peeling, although more consistent in the early weeks, peters out as you progress for up to 12 weeks.

Sensitive skin can’t use retinoids

You may need to modify your dose and frequency and build up slowly, but you can get there. Start cautiously on a low dose, applying just one to two times per week, then add one day per week until you’re using it every night. If you’re following a skincare and treatment plan with Kate Kerr London, another tip is to start your retinol a bit later, once your skin’s barrier has repaired and the skin is calm and resilient. This works well because applying retinol to a well-functioning skin leads to less irritation and inflammation compared to applying it to an impaired or compromised skin.

Only prescription-strength retinoids provide results

Many over-the-counter retinoids are very effective. Using prescription-strength retinoids can be very irritating for some and, although the skin looks fabulous, the continual shedding and irritation outweighs the benefits. Often clients using higher doses can only tolerate applying a retinol a couple of times a week. A lower dose that is consistently applied every night will yield much better results than occasional application. At Kate Kerr London, we use over-the-counter retinol with different delivery systems, targeting varying layers of the skin to treat very specific concerns and we achieve exceptional results. We can also offer a referral to a doctor for prescription-strength tretinoin, if necessary.

We strongly recommend using retinol to complement a full skin health regime.  It’s important to look after the skin and all its processes with specific products in a comprehensive regime – whilst retinol is a superstar ingredient, it isn’t the answer to achieving optimum skin health on its own. We always advise using retinol under the guidance of a skin specialist to help coach you through the process and to ensure that you meet all of your skin goals. To find out more, book a consultation for a tailored plan.

Skin School: Every type of skincare acid, explained

Acids are hard-working skincare ingredients that are often used for exfoliation and hydration. They can be categorised into two groups: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Both dissolve the glue-like substance that binds dead skin cells onto the surface of the skin, allowing them to wash away, which leaves you with a smoother, brighter complexion. 

Some exfoliating acids have the ability to clear ‘cellular debris’ within the pore, so they work right into the deepest layers of the skin too and have an anti-bacterial effect, while others are known to increase hydration, collagen production and improve hyper-pigmentation. Here’s a breakdown of the acids you need to know…

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Glycolic

Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is the most well known and widely used alpha hydroxy acid. It is a favourite at Kate Kerr London as it targets both the skin’s texture and tone. The sugar acids dissolve the bonds that hold the dead skin cells onto the surface of the skin revealing younger, plumper cells. Exposing these healthy cells ensures that light is reflected rather than absorbed for a brighter complexion. 

Glycolic acid is also known for helping reverse sun damage and pigmentation and is thought to stimulate the growth of collagen and elastin. The downside of glycolic acid is that it can be particularly irritating so begin with caution and slowly increase your application frequency to find your skin’s tolerance.  

Citric

Citric acid, derived from oranges and lemons, is often used in skincare to help make a product more acidic for optimum function. Citric acid provides a thin film on the surface of the skin, which helps to prevent moisture evaporation, therefore enhancing skin hydration. It’s best to avoid citric acids in high strengths as they can cause undetected, low-grade inflammation in the dermis leading to the breakdown of healthy collagen and premature ageing.

Malic

Derived from apples, malic acid is a gentle alternative to glycolic acid and has multiple benefits. It’s not only beneficial to the skin for its exfoliating and brightening purposes, it’s also an effective antioxidant that fights free radical damage. For those who suffer from hyper-pigmentation, it can be a safer option as it’s less likely to cause inflammation, which can exacerbate the problem by causing post-inflammatory pigmentation.  

Malic acid is also a great acne treatment because it effectively clears out the opening of the pore to encourage the flow of sebum. This prevents the formation of comedones (those small flesh-colored acne papules), which can cause the skin to break out. 

Lactic

Lactic acid, sourced from sour milk, is becoming increasingly popular and is another gentle alternative to glycolic acid. It shares a lot of the same benefits as glycolic acid and has actually been shown to be more effective at treating hyper-pigmentation. It’s much more easily tolerated and can even be used on pregnant women with permission from a doctor.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

Salicylic

Salicylic acid is extremely effective at treating both acne and ageing, whilst providing an anti-inflammatory action. With adult acne becoming more of a problem, having this dual action of targeting both acne and ageing is extremely beneficial. Acne has four contributing factors – an over-production of oil, a build-up of dead skin cells, an invasion of the acne bacteria and inflammation. Salicylic acid targets all of these factors, which is why it is a key component in my anti-acne treatment programmes.  

Not only does salicylic acid exfoliate the surface of the skin, it also has the ability to exfoliate within the pore itself to help prevent comedone formation.  This BHA is also known to stimulate collagen production and improve barrier function, protecting the skin and preventing water loss to help maintain skin hydration. Unfortunately salicylic acid can’t be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding. 

Hyaluronic 

Hyaluronic acid is an absolute must in everyone’s skincare regime.  Holding 1000 times its own weight in water, it’s a natural humectant, meaning it attracts and binds water to provide a hydrating and plumping effect to the skin. The best thing about a hyaluronic acid serum is that it doesn’t upset your skin’s natural moisturising factors and therefore won’t make your skin sluggish and dry like many moisturisers can. It is great for all skin types and doesn’t cause any problems for oily or acne-prone skin.  

At home or professional strength: which is best for you?

Both at-home acid products and professional-strength peels can give great results – as long as you choose the right one for you. The main difference between the two is their level of intensity. At-home peels usually have about 10 percent (or less) AHA or BHA, while professional formulas can contain up to 70 percent.

The higher concentration allows facial clinicians to reverse more significant sun damage and fine lines. The longer the duration that the peel is left on the skin and the stronger the concentration, the deeper the peel penetrates. A series of three or four professional peels can lighten dark spots and soften roughness with minimal downtime. Check out our Advanced Skin Peel treatment to find out more.

Best acid for…

Dry skin? Lactic acid

Acne-prone skin? Salicylic acid

Ageing skin? Lactic acid; Glycolic acid

Dull skin? All

Sensitive skin? Lactic acid; Salicylic acid; Malic acid