Inflammation: Are you wrecking your own skin?

Forget sun and pollution – the new problem facing our skin is ourselves. Too much home peeling, needling, retinol and lasering is leaving our skin irritated, inflamed and aging fast. NEWBY HANDS reveals how to stop your bathroom becoming a battleground


The damage we’re doing

Recently I was discussing all things skin with Dr Erich Schulte, founder of QMS Skincare, when he told me: “I’ve noticed something that I haven’t seen since the sun damage from the 1980s. It’s a terrible micro-scarring that gives skin a leathery texture, and there is no easy way of treating it.” The cause, he says, is mainly self-inflicted inflammation. It’s what New York dermatologist Dr Dendy Engelman calls “women going rogue”. “They buy devices and peels, overuse them and get irritation, sensitivity and breakouts. I see patients all the time with red, flaky inflamed skin,” she says.

When good skincare goes bad

Peels, retinol, micro-needling and radio frequency can all transform the skin, but not when used to excess (usually too often or all together), or to recreate the potent treatments at a doctor’s clinic. “I’m the one who does the controlled ‘damage’ in my clinic; at home, you should care for and nurture your skin,” says Dr Engelman. None of these treatments are bad for the skin in themselves – it is the constant overuse that causes damage. The whole point of most of these treatments is to stimulate an ‘injury’, which the body heals by producing a fresh new skin. But if you are repeatedly causing the injury, you never get to the healing stage. LA dermatologist Dr Karyn Grossman likens it to “creating a garden: once you’ve done the work you leave the flowers to grow. But keep aggravating your skin and it’s like cutting off the buds before they bloom.”

Signs of inflammation

“You should feel a skin tingle at the doctor’s clinic, but never at home,” says Dr Schulte. “Redness is okay if it’s from massage or heat, but pain is different as that is inflammation. You want to stimulate, not irritate, your skin.” In other words, don’t get confused between a glowing skin and a damaged one. “I see this flat, toned shine from damage, and people confuse it with hydrated, healthy skin,” says Dr Barbara Sturm. Flaky skin is also a sign of deep inflammation, as is reactive or sensitive skin. “If you keep destroying the skin’s surface you can become sensitized to a product, even one you’ve used for years. The problem is not always with the product, it’s with your skin,” says Dr Sturm.

Pause and pull back

If any of this resonates with you – if your skin is sore, tight, red or glowing (but not in a good way) – then press pause with your skin regimen. Let your skin calm down and rebuild its weakened protective barrier, which you’ve probably stripped away. “Stop using active products (retinol, peels, needling) and focus on those that nourish, hydrate and repair, as damaged skin is usually very dry,” advises LA aesthetician Shani Darden. Once skin is calm, don’t overuse potent products or use too many together; keep skin peels to twice a week maximum, and if using retinol, layer a nourishing cream over it. “Combining a lot of peels can cause a lot of damage,” says Darden.

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