I am a 20 year old girl from Sydney Australia and a dedicated reader of your site.
Recently I was at a Dead Sea Premier counter and the girl told me that using anti aging serums and creams at 20 was counter productive because generally the ingredients destroy the building blocks of my skin and then rebuild them, unintentionally damaging my skin. She also said that after a few weeks my skin becomes intolerant to the active ingredients and begins to reject them as opposed to absorbing and letting the ingredient do its job, thus stronger quantities are needed over time for the same effect. She made me feel like using serums and such as a preventative measure is absolutely useless. I would like to know if there is any scientific truth to these claims.
There are many fallacies out there when it comes to the skin and skin care. Your skin care consultant mentioned just a few of them.
In truth, the skin is a dynamic organ. Dermatologist Dr. Adrienne Denese, M.D. says it best: “The more you wear [the skin] down, the more it thickens and grows.” Now, granted, this doesn’t mean that you should go overboard with exfoliants until you are as red as a lobster. It does, however, support the fact that treatments like glycolic acid peels, retinoids, and gentle exfoliants have been proven in numerous published independent clinical trials to increase collagen production and the overall thickness and appearance of skin over time. So to answer the first part of your question, no, skin care is not “destroying the building blocks of your skin.” Conversely, quality skin care ingredients in sufficient concentrations will actually strengthen your skin and enable the building blocks therein to work even more effectively.
There are certain ingredients your skin can tolerate in higher strengths once you start using them. These include retinoids, glycolic acid, and niacin. At first, many people experience redness and irritation (and sometimes even skin peeling or breakouts) with initial use, and then their skin gradually comes to tolerate higher doses. This is normal and a dermatologist can work with you to ensure the best results from the process.
There are other ingredients that are always just as effective as in the very beginning. These include antioxidants, emollients, and sunscreen. It is true that individuals who have racial or ethnic backgrounds that were exposed to a lot of UV light now have a small amount of natural UV protection (the darkest-skinned Africans, for instance, have a natural SPF of up to 15) (Photochemistry and Photobiology, 2005). However, this is an evolutionary process that occurred over thousands of years, not something that develops in the cells of an individual. For instance, getting a base tan does not protect you from additional UV damage (Photochemistry and Photobiology, 2005). Why the difference? Darker-skinned people have more melanin-producing cells than lighter-skinned people. It is the number of cells, not just the color expressed by the skin, that contributes to the difference. Melanocytes are currently being researched as to their exact role in the prevention of skin cancer.
Some people, like supermodel Gisele, swear by switching up their skin care routine every few months or years. This is really not necessary, but you may wish to do so to target specific problems as you get older, such as hyperpigmentation, acne, fine lines and wrinkles, loss of collagen, and the like. Many who live in climates where there is a change in temperature switch to gel-based moisturizers in the summer and thicker, cream-based moisturizers in the cooler months. I personally am able to stick to the same skin care routine year-round, but others swear by this method.
So the bottom line is that skin care will not destroy the building blocks of your skin. You may find you want to use stronger concentrations of ingredients like retinoids, glycolic acid, and niacin over time as your skin comes to tolerate them. However, other ingredients, like sunscreen, antioxidants, and most emollients, are well-tolerated from the start and there is no established need to increase their dosages with time. You may, however, wish to switch to different formulas based upon your own changing skin care needs, whether due to the climate or natural aging.