The Most Googled Skincare Questions, Answered By a Dermatologist

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Like most people, my evening routine consists of filling up my water bottle, putting on a little face mask, taking my CBD drops, and laying in bed for two hours googling every potential ailment that may or may not be plaguing me at that time. 

I definitely wouldn’t say I have health anxiety by any means; I definitely don’t think I’m going to die when I get a tiny rash or that a stomach ache is cancer. But I’m simply infatuated with the inundation of information that Google can provide me. It’s like my own personal assistant. “How long can I leave my air fryer plugged in?” “How many candles can I have lit at one time?” “What types of rashes can I get on my neck?” “How often should I be cleaning out my shower drain?” Every night is another question, and I know I’m not alone. Google is used for questions every single day, especially in the skincare space. It’s no surprise; skincare is science, filled with words and concoctions and rules that the average person likely wouldn’t understand. So, we curated the top most googled skincare questions and asked a dermatologist once and for all what the verdict is. 


1. What is the correct order to do your skincare routine?

“In general, products are best applied in increasing order of thickness,” said Rachel Maiman, MD, board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist. “If you’re just starting out in the skincare game, keep it simple by using a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen in the morning and a cleanser and moisturizer at night. For dry skin types, a face oil or hydrating serum can be included. For acne-prone skin, a retinoid or topical acne medication is a reasonable addition.” Dr. Maiman warned people of using too many products that might cause irritation. 


2. What are the best skincare products of 2020?

Skincare is much too personal for a skincare product to truly be “the best” overall and work for everyone. What works for dry skin won’t work for oily skin which might not work for mature skin which might not work for acne-prone skin… the list goes on. If you don’t know where to start, opt for a gentle cleanser and moisturizer. Skincare often takes a little bit of trial and error because everyone’s skin reacts to products differently, but starting with something gentle and basic can help you figure out what exactly your skin needs. 


3. What skincare is safe for pregnancy?

There is a lot of information out there about what is safe and what isn’t for pregnant and nursing people, but the simple answer is that retinol/retinoids, hydroquinone, and chemical sunscreens (avobenzone, oxybenzone, PABA, etc.) are the ingredients you should absolutely avoid. Dr. Maiman said these ingredients are safe: 

“azelaic acid, glycolic acid in low concentrations (5-10 percent), benzoyl peroxide (technically pregnancy category C, but agreed to be safe among most derms when used in a limited concentration, like 2.5-5 percent), salicylic acid (also technically pregnancy category C, but most agree is safe in low concentrations of 2 percent, as is often found in cleansers), sulfur, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, mineral sunscreens (zinc oxide/titanium dioxide).”

Make sure to always talk to your doctor about which ingredients you should avoid.


4. What is an example of a nighttime skincare routine?

First off, your nighttime skincare routine doesn’t need 10 steps to be effective. A strong nighttime skincare routine will include a good cleanser, a treatment 1-2 times a week, a serum, and a moisturizer. 


5. Should you wash your face before or after a shower?

Could washing your face in the shower be causing dry skin? Dr. Maiman recommended cleansing after a shower: “the steam from warm water allows pores to enlarge, which means they’re better prepped for receiving the skincare you’re about to apply.”



6. Can you use AHA and retinol together?

Short answer: Yes, when used at different times.

Long answer: Dr. Maiman explained you can use AHA and retinol together, and that they actually complement each other well when done correctly. For starters, don’t use them at the same time in the day. You wouldn’t use an AHA peel at night and follow it with a retinol serum. Instead, use the retinol serum at night and an AHA product in the morning. Dr. Maiman recommended starting with one product (AHA or a retinol product), and once your skin is stable, adding in the other. “With respect to retinol, ensure you are using a pea-sized amount for use on the entire face,” Dr. Maiman said. “Start using 2-3 non-consecutive nights per week only, and gradually increase as tolerated. If you’re tolerating three nights per week, don’t get hasty and jump to 7. I usually tell my patients to increase by one night every 2 weeks, as a general guideline.” To make sure your skin stays supple and moisturized, follow with a moisturizer. Dr. Maiman also suggested those with sensitive skin can combine the product with moisturizer to reduce irritation.

“For AHA products, I suggest starting at a frequency of only 1-2x per week maximum,” Dr. Maiman said. “For dry and/or sensitive skin, maintaining this frequency is your best bet. Combination skin may be able to tolerate 3-4x per week, depending on the product and concentration. For instance, an at-home glycolic peel of 25 percent should be limited to 1-2x per week always, whereas AHA-containing cleansers, toners, and creams containing a lower concentration can be used with greater frequency.” If you have oily skin, you might be able to tolerate these products daily.

Regardless, if you’re using AHA or retinol, always make sure to use sunscreen every single day, as these products can cause sun sensitivity.


7. What is the difference between AHA and BHA?

Short answer: BHA exfoliates layers of the skin from the top down, making it good for unclogging pores and reducing acne. AHAs, however, only exfoliate the top layer of skin, but this gives them benefits from anti-aging to reducing hyperpigmentation to smoother skin surface.

Long answer: If you’re new to acids, BHA (there is really only one in skincare: salicylic acid) is typically better tolerated. “Salicylic acid works as a keratolytic that helps exfoliate dead skin cells layer by layer [from the] top down,” Dr. Maiman said. “This prevents pores from getting clogged with these cells and their debris and thus are excellent for patients prone to comedonal acne, the type of acne characterized by blackheads and whiteheads.”

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AHAs, however, are a little harsher but have a wider array of benefits. Some AHAs—like mandelic, malic, and citric acids—come from fruit acids and are referred to as such, but others, like the popular glycolic and lactic acid, are not. “AHAs reduce how well dead skin cells stick together, leaving skin smoother, less mottled, and more glowing,” Dr. Maiman said. She also said AHAs, like gycolic acid which penetrates the deepest, “increase skin thickness by stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin.”

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8. Can you use AHA and BHA together?

Can you use them together? Yes. Because they do different things in the skin and have different benefits, you can use them simultaneously. “In essence, BHAs disrupt the connections between dead cells whilst AHAs cause dead cells to detach and slough away,” Dr. Maimain said. She explained that AHA and BHA work well together and recommended using BHA in the morning and AHA at night. If you want to apply them at the same time, make sure to put BHA in areas like the T-zone and AHA everywhere else to reduce dryness and irritation.

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9. Can you mix retinol with vitamin C?

Short answer: Yes when used at different times of day

Long answer:  “Vitamin C can be irritating, just like retinol can, so I recommend limiting vitamin C-containing serums and other products to the mornings, and retinol, of course, is restricted to nighttime application,” Dr. Maiman said. She also explained that because vitamin C is an antioxidant, it’s best used in the morning.

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10. How do you prevent mask acne?

We’ve been wearing masks for over a year now, but getting ahold of maskne is still a challenge. Dr. Maiman recommended using a washable, cloth mask that you can clean frequently. She suggested switching to a silk mask because they cause less friction and fit loosely on the face.

As far as skincare goes, Dr. Maiman said cleansing your skin before and after wearing the mask with a mild, fragrance-free cleanser. “Anti-inflammatory and gentle keratolytic ingredients which help break up dead skin cells that clog pores are a great addition to a maskne regimen,” Dr. Maiman said. She recommended 2 percent salicylic acid in a cleanser or toner to keep pores unclogged, or sulfur, which is an anti-inflammatory ingredient that tends to be non-irritating. To prevent clogged pores, you can also add a chemical exfoliant, like glycolic acid, 1-2 times per week. Then, Dr. Maiman said to end your routine with a light, non-comedogenic moisturizer, especially before wearing the mask.


11. What does toner do?

The ways toners have been used in the past are not necessarily the way we see them on the market now. You’ll likely remember products like Sea Breeze or astringents you swiped across your skin as a teenager. They were used to remove excess oil from the skin, sometimes using drying ingredients like alcohol. But toners have gotten a makeover as of late and can contain a variety of ingredients to moisture, soothe, brighten, and more. 

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