The Biggest Skincare Mistake: 10/12/14 Step Skincare Routines

08 April 2020

The more the merrier- not necessarily true with skincare.


It’s true. Good skin doesn’t happen by accident- but thankfully so. Today, we have growing choices of skincare ingredients  and products that promise to fix just about every single skin related problem you can think about. Dry skin? Hyaluronic acid to the rescue. Blackheads? Exfoliators and BHA. Wrinkles? Vitamin A. The list goes on..

In the last two decades, skincare habits have seen an evolution from a basic three step routine (cleanse, tone, moisturise) to more laborious multistep skincare rituals. These elaborate routines elevate the daily beauty regimen to almost a spiritual art, with layers upon layers of essences, serums and ampoules, all carefully patted down with the art of layering.


“Good skincare habits and using the right active ingredients can protect and correct skin issues.”


3 essential steps to healthy skin

A #throwback blogpost on 3 Essential Skincare Steps for Healthy Skin with my friend Vickii Ma. Can you guess what these steps are? The blogpost will share the answers.


The mention of Korean women conjures up images of naturally flawless skin and a relentless dedication to their beauty routine- and with good reason too. Good skincare habits and using the right active ingredients can protect and correct skin issues. Since these 10/12/14 step Korean/Life Changing/Holy Grail skincare products and routines have served our Korean counterparts well, then surely, they must work for the rest of us too? Let’s talk about the science and logic of multi-step skincare routines in this blogpost.


Related blogpost:

202o Beauty Trends: Skincare and Beauty Treatments from Korea.


The paradox of choice: does having 10/12/14 steps in your skincare routine work?


Granted that women can be emotionally attached to their skincare rituals, it can be hard to pry them apart from their holy grail products. Also, there is also the pleasure factor, where women too regard the process of putting on their skincare as a luxury to be enjoyed. But objectively speaking, do these multi-step skincare habits result in better skin?

“…no scientific evidence to support the assumption that having more steps…will increase the absorption of active ingredients nor improve the quality of the skin.”

Contrary to popular belief held by the beauty industry and ‘beauty experts’, the answer is no. Currently, there is no scientific evidence to support the assumption that having more steps or multiple variations of the same step will increase the absorption of active ingredients nor improve the quality of the skin.



The key to improving your skin is to identify the problems (e.g. pigmentation, pores, wrinkles…etc) and targeting these issues by using the right active ingredients in your skincare. One way to deliver an adequate concentration of active ingredients to your skin, most commonly with a serum- but you do not need a pre-serum (essence) or ampoule (supercharged serum) all together. In fact, the distinction between essence, serum and ampoule is somewhat redundant because all three serve the same purpose of containing a ‘higher’ concentration of active ingredients.

Product overload: Why the 10/12/14 step skincare routine does not work

One of the biggest reasons why these expansive routines do not work at all is due to poor product penetration into the skin. Even with the correct layering technique, most dermatologists will agree that the maximum number of layers of skincare that your skin can benefit from is four. Beyond four layers, absorption and efficacy hits a plateau and you are not likely to see any additional benefit. So, the best way around this problem is to maximise your skincare with the high quality active ingredients.


What else can go wrong with combining too many steps in skincare routines?

1. Comedogenesis



Comedones are blackheads and whiteheads caused by clogged pores are a major bugbear in patients who slap onto excessive layers of skincare When pores become blocked by dead skin cells, oil and skincare, they form raised white bumps or black bumps on the skin. In dermatological terms, they are called closed comedones and open comedones respectively.  Comedones that are left untreated can cause pimples and acne. Comedones can be treated with  chemical peels.


Related blogpost:

The Truth About Chemical Peels


2. Skin irritation

Some skincare ingredients, you should never combine.

Layering active ingredients upon each other often causes skin irritation. A good example is with two anti-aging superstars, vitamin A and acids. When used together, these advanced ingredients are a recipe for increased skin irritation with redness, dryness, peeling and itching as a consequence.

3. Ingredients cancelling each other’s effects

Less disastrous but equally unhelpful is when the ingredients in your repertoire of skincare cancel the effects of each other, rendering whatever you’ve applied to your skin to be useless. Antioxidants like vitamin C and niacinamide are very unstable and a change in the skin’s pH level (acidity level) and reduce the effectiveness and uptake of these products


Ingredients you should not combine:

1) Retinol and Vitamin C

2) Copper Peptide and Vitamin C

3) Benzoyl peroxide and retinol

4) Vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA)

5) Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) and AHA

Murder your darlings: The essentials of skincare

Murder your darlings was a piece of advice that literary critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch gave to writers hesitant to remove cherished but redundant sentences from their manuscript. The same analogy applies to us and our emotional attachment to unnecessary skincare steps that sabotage our skin.


“It’s about achieving efficiency and efficacy without compromising results.”


Having a skincare routine that works for you also does not have to be expensive. Sharing my favourites and misses from The Ordinary, a very affordable beauty brand in this blogpost The Ordinary Skincare Review and Ingredients Decoded.

Getting down to the basics

Creating a skincare habit that works for you does not have to be complex, daunting or excessively time consuming. For the modern woman, life is already busy as it is, so let’s not get overwhelmed by our skincare. The best way to build a skincare routine that works for you within 3 minutes or less is to get smart about it. Begin with a very fundamental routine of cleansing, moisturising and sunblock (in the day)-absolute non- negotiables- and then adding in active ingredients to build your skincare routine.


Related blogpost:

3 Essential Skincare Steps for Healthy Skin

Sunscreen Reviews: The Best, Worst and Unsafe Ones I’ve Tried



Some of the common problems and active ingredients used to target them:

i) Fine lines, wrinkles, textural irregularity- Retinol

ii) Dark spots, dull skin- Vitamin C and Niacinamide

iii) Oily skin and skin congestion- Retinoic acid and salicylic acid

iv) For improved skin hydration- Hyaluronic acid

To learn more about these specific active ingredients, the following blogposts are reviews on the science and tips on how to select and incorporate them in your skincare routine:

Everything You Need to Know About Hyaluronic Acid

All About Topical Vitamin C

Niacinamide: A Versatile Skincare Ingredient Your Skin Will Thank You For

Is Profhilo the future of Injectable Skincare?

Probiotics in Skincare and Supplements: Do They Work?

Ceramides: A Relief for Sensitive & Dry Skin, Eczema and Premature Aging

Is Bakuchiol An Effective Retinol Alternative?


To add these active ingredients into your skincare steps without going on a product overload, here are some of the tips I have. You can achieve efficiency and efficacy without compromising results!


Multitasking skincare: choose products that combine a couple of actives ingredients. You can easily find these in skincare especially hyperpigmentation lightening products. How to Lighten Pigmentation and Dark Spots with Skincare will share some tips on how to choose an effective product for hyerppigmentation.


Skip the non-essentials. One serum/essence/ampoule will suffice, not all of them. Steps like toner and eye-creams are optional in my opinion. Do Eye Creams Work? will look at the science of eye creams.


Multitasking skincare – when saving steps, pick formulations that combine active ingredients so that you can have added benefit. For example, sunblock with antioxidants or pigmentation lightening creams that combine a few ingredients.


Alternate your active ingredients. Retinol and vitamin C make a powerful anti-aging pair, but together, vitamin C becomes inactivated. Use retinol at night when there is no sun exposure and vitamin C in the day to maximise the skin’s defence against UV rays and oxidation


Get your issues addressed with your doctor. The fastest way to see results with issues like pigmentation, wrinkles and pores is to be treated with your doctor and to take the guess work out of choosing the right skincare. Some of the most effective active ingredients can only be prescribed by a doctor and these issues respond faster to medical treatments. Common examples would be injectable moisturisers for dry skin;  tear trough fillers for dark eye circles or Botox for wrinkles. Getting your issues treated and then maintaining the results with appropriate skincare helps nip the issue in the bud.


Related blogposts:

Is Profhilo the future of Injectable Skincare?

Dark Eye Circles: Laying I’m Tired to Rest

How to Get Rid of Eye Bags without Surgery

Is Botox Deadly? 5 Things You Need to Know About Botox Safety




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