The downside to skincare’s explosion in popularity over the past decade is skin inflammation from too many products containing too high a concentration of active ingredients. When we know some actives are extremely effective in treating uneven pigmentation, sun damage and wrinkles, there’s a temptation to crank them up to 11 to maximise results. But too much of a good thing can cause irritation, and long-term inflammation causes dullness, sensitivity and, perversely, premature ageing. At least three-quarters of those who approach me with skin problems are unwittingly at war with their faces, metaphorically throwing petrol on a once extinguishable bonfire.
That’s why I’m excited and relieved to witness a new, more responsible approach to actives by brands: microdosing. Yes, like a Silicon Valley exec sucking on a calming pipette of psychedelics, beauty experts are applying minuscule but precise quantities of retinoids, vitamin C and other actives for a gentler, steadier approach that delivers results over time – minus the dramatic flare-ups involving extreme dryness, flaking, scaling, reddening and burning. I’ve been microdosing for well over a year, using Skin + Me, an online dermatology service, for £19.95 a month. The effects have been great, but one needn’t take this prescription route now that over-the-counter microdosing is gathering pace.
Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum (£62) is a textbook example of the little-and-often approach. Its lower, everyday dose of retinol is cushioned by lipids to keep even the driest skins comfortable without being greasy, and allows users to swerve the traditional “stage-gating” approach, where retinol is introduced slowly and intermittently in order to build tolerance. Consumer trials yielded good results with few of the side-effects common with traditional retinoids.
Clinique’s new flagship Smart Clinical Repair serum, out 10 September (£55, discounted to £40 for the first fortnight), contains a controlled dose of retinol that stays effective against uneven texture, lines and wrinkles even when worn in the daytime (provided you wear adequate sun protection on top). This is the Gary Cooper of face serums – gentle and quiet, but still packing a punch. The tightly regulated before-and-after photography showed a realistic but unmistakable improvement in texture, lines and the general appearance of skin health. What is key is user compliance: use every day without fail. Microdosing is skincare as a gentle marathon, never a gruelling sprint.