Why Higher Percentages Aren’t Always Better In Skincare

By Minji

  • While ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C or AHAs can be amazing for your skin, you want to use them in moderation
  • If used in high concentrations and piled on together, they can cause more harm than good
  • The key is balance - you want to reap the benefits of potent ingredients but at the same time protect your skin’s barrier and the good microbiome living on it!

When I first started incorporating active ingredients like AHAs, Vitamin C and Retinol into my skincare routine, I took the same over-achieving attitude to my skincare routine that I apply to many other aspects of my life.

Mainly, I wanted to push myself and looked for products with the highest intensity and concentration of each potent ingredient...and just like other aspects of life, what a disaster this resulted in! After a routine of a 10% AHA peel, 20% vitamin C serum and 1% retinol product all slathered on my face during the course of a day for a few days, my face was burning with redness and irritation. 

This was at first surprising as I don’t consider myself to have sensitive skin and I rarely have adverse reactions to skincare products.  After some research and consultation with experts, I realized that this intense approach of prizing higher percentages of active ingredients wasn’t the way to go.

While ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C or AHAs (glycolic or lactic acid) can be amazing for your skin, you want to use them in moderation and at sustainable levels. If used in high concentrations and piled on together, they can damage your skin’s barrier and the microbiome living on it which can cause more harm than good.

There are various reasons why this happens but one is because many of these active ingredients are technically acids that work at lower pH levels than your normal healthy skin. Another reason is that many of them are chemical exfoliants that can do wonders for you skin, but also irritate if overdone.   

So when you’re thinking about incorporating potent ingredients into your daily skincare routine, it’s important to start out with lower concentrations and carefully watch your skin’s reaction.  Personally for me, I have dry to normal combination skin and have found that using a gentle AHA toner with a lower AHA concentration like the SOFFLI gentle AHA toner daily is better, than using a 10-15% AHA peel once or twice a week. 

Also as it relates to Vitamin C, I’ve found that 16% is the sweet spot – it’s high enough to be effective and brightens and firms up my skin visibly, but it also doesn't feel as irritating as that 20% product I’ve tried before. For retinol, I’ve found that the key is to keep it under 1% and be careful not to use it more than 3- 4 times a week.

Many experts will also say if all goes well for a few weeks or so, then you can test a higher strength of each ingredient, but only introducing one new product at a time. 

For me, I’m content with the balance I’ve found with my active ingredients.  Again, like many other aspects of my life, I’ve found that more is not necessarily better.  I've stopped trying to push the percentages up in my skincare routine...and like other areas of my life, this kinder approach to my skin has kept it healthier and happier!