Interval Training Your Face: Anti-Aging Miracle or Skin Care Disaster?

Some dermatologists advocate for a ‘pulsing method’ of switching back and forth between products to maximize collagen production—but does it actually work? Unsplash/Igor Rand

Everyone’s heard the claim that you have to change your shampoo brand regularly, because your hair “gets used to” whatever you’re using. Whether or not that’s true, it seems to have inspired a similar idea making the rounds lately. Specifically, that using the same skincare on a consistent basis doesn’t produce the best results. 

Last week, a piece in London’s Daily Telegraph asked, “Does your skincare stop working over time?” An Avon executive and a British dermatologist chimed in to say yes, it does, and advocated for a “pulsing method” of switching back and forth between products to maximize collagen production. Considering what we know about skin’s need for consistency, this sounded sketchy to me. So I turned to the best in dermatology, Dr. Dennis Gross, to get his take.

First to tackle is the concept of whether or not skin can hit a “plateau” by using the same routine for months on end. Dr. Gross says no way. 

“Steady treatment with an anti-aging product clearly gives the best long term benefit. There may less of a surge in collagen production after one year than there is after one month, but that’s a classic concept in cell biology,” Dr. Gross says. The largest gains will always be at the outset. “Cells reach a ‘steady steady’—which is an actual pharmacological term—where collagen production levels off after an initial surge. But stopping at any time, as in a pulsing method, would lead to a dramatic drop in collagen production. You can even lose what was previously produced.”

For Dr. Gross, he advises patients that daily treatment is mandatory. “The key point is the overall net amount of collagen in the long run requires daily treatment,” he says. “The aging process dictates a constant daily dose of active ingredients to maintain the stimulation. If you use a start and stop method, the overall collagen production starts and stops. So you end up with lower overall collagen production versus using consistent, daily treatment.”

This is bad news for beauty bloggers and writers like me, who are constantly testing new products. Instead of telling me what I wanted to hear (“Yes, keep it interesting! Try different products every week!”), Dr. Gross was blunt: “Switching frequently reduces the overall benefit because you neither reach nor maintain the maximal response.”

Yet while skin type doesn’t change, skin condition does. Skin can cycle through different results—dehydration, dullness, dryness, oiliness—depending on factors like climate and diet. But that doesn’t mean your usual skincare products aren’t working, says Dr. Gross. In fact, they have a defensive impact you might not appreciate. 

“The ingredients continue to work but may be less appreciated. For example, a product making your skin look radiant may appear not to be working when winter weather dulls the skin. But if you were to stop the product, the skin would look even more dull. Or if you’re on a crash diet or are dehydrated and the skin as a result looks dry, you might think your moisturizer is failing. But if you stopped the moisturizer you’d see even more dryness,” says Dr. Gross.

But what about sensitive skin? If a product that promises spectacular results is causing a reaction, isn’t it best to alternate it with something more soothing? Not at all, according to Dr. Gross. “If irritation occurs, stop for that reason and find a routine you can tolerate and maintain daily. Consistency is key to achieving best results.”

The dermatologist quoted by the Telegraph asserted that “the best times to give your skin a holiday from your anti-aging cream is straight after the summer months when you’ve been exposed to more UV light than usual, or when you’ve just finished a course of retinol treatment.” Again, Dr. Gross says he “vehemently” disagrees. “Skin needs the most help after sun damage and dehydration. Be more aggressive and consistent after summer to revive skin.” 

How long should we give certain products to achieve results? “All of my favorite ingredients should take no more than two weeks for a patient to appreciate the difference.” Dr. Gross’s favorites include hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, retinol, and alpha and beta acids. The exception to this, he says, may be peptides. “They solely build collagen, which takes weeks to see and isn’t immediately noticeable.”  

So by all means, play with different products if you enjoy trying new things. Just know that if your primary concern is fighting the effects of aging, consistent use of a core routine is vital to seeing results. Switch your shampoo all you want, but steady use of skincare is the best way to drive noticeable improvement on your face.

 Jackie Danicki is a marketing and partnerships consultant and a regular contributor to the Observer. Follow her on Instagram at @burnedoutbeauty.

Interval Training Your Face: Anti-Aging Miracle or Skin Care Disaster?