HOT TAKE: You’re Allowed to Take Skincare Breaks

Beautiful girl with a natural face, taking a break from skincare

High-quality, skin-transforming skincare can be difficult to formulate. Our favorite ingredients, retinol and vitamin C, are especially finicky. This means that most products that contain them are either incredibly pricey or largely ineffective. 


It also means that following a consistent skin-renewing routine can get expensive, especially if you start seeing diminishing results.  


But what if we told you that you don’t have to be so consistent? We’d like to introduce you to a new approach to anti-aging skincare: Taking skincare “holidays”


In this post, we’ll explain: 

What's behind skincare plateaus?

We find that most of our clients experience very noticeable and impressive results within just a few months (and often within weeks!), especially if using the full Protocol range.


But then, after a few months, the dramatic improvement in the skin just… stops. This can be pretty disappointing if you are hoping to age backward. 


But your skin can only renew itself so much. At a certain point, even the most effective anti-aging routine will hit its maximum impact. From then on, your products will help you maintain your results, but they can’t change things up much further.


Some experts believe that another reason for the plateauing is a concept called tachyphylaxis. This is the idea that your skin builds up a tolerance to your active ingredients, and it’s well-documented with topical steroids. 


Dermatologists and estheticians are split on whether this issue applies to anti-aging ingredients like retinol and vitamin C, and unfortunately, there’s no great research on the topic. That said, if true, it may explain why some users see an increase in benefits after taking a break from their active skincare following a plateau. 


No matter the underlying reasons, once you hit a plateau, skincare products that seemed miraculous can start feeling overpriced. That’s when you might be tempted to opt for cheaper anti-aging products of dubious quality. But in reality, you’re much better off spending a little more on a stabilized, high-powered serum like our Enzyme-Active Retinol Serum, but less often. 

What are skincare holidays?

The idea behind skincare holidays or courses came from our dermatologist partners. To keep the actives in your skincare routine at maximum efficacy over the long term, you can shift to a simple, affordable routine for 4 months (your holiday), and then ramp it up for 2 months (your active period). Rinse and repeat. 


The logic behind this comes from the skin’s own life cycle. It takes about a month for all of your skin cells to go through one full cycle. This means that your skin today is entirely different than the skin you had last month. 


Using renewing skincare actives like retinol, AHA, and vitamin C through two full cycles allows you to dramatically energize your skin. That 2-month dose will boost your collagen production and help your skin shed rough, aged surface cells. It would be enough (and even more than enough) to keep your skin looking as youthful as possible.  

Let the actives course through you

When you’re working on achieving maximum anti-aging results or trying to maintain what you’ve already achieved, you want to use proven anti-aging skincare products. 


Your ideal course of active, anti-aging skincare should include a potent retinoid and a high-quality sunscreen at the very least. 


Retinoids are a class of ingredients known for their ability to stimulate new collagen production, which is the most effective way to reverse signs of aging. There are a lot of types of retinoids out there, but retinaldehyde is by far the most powerful option available as a gentle cosmetic product.   


The effects of retinoids can be enhanced with ingredients like vitamin C in its ascorbic acid form (a potent antioxidant that further protects from sun and pollution damage), and a non-abrasive chemical exfoliant like alpha hydroxy acid. 


Last, but not least, it’s important to keep your skin moisturized with a lotion or cream that works for your skin. This is when hydrating or barrier-boosting ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide in our Hydration Cream are particularly beneficial. 

Basic “holiday” routine

The rest of the time, your skincare can be ultra-basic (or just somewhat basic). 


Make sure to use sunscreen every morning, a moisturizer at night, and a mild cleanser. We discuss this in detail in our guide to the basic skincare routine steps


Budget-friendly, fragrance-free drugstore products from brands like Vanicream or Cetaphil are perfectly acceptable. They tend to be gentle and nourishing, which your skin needs for baseline health. 


If your skin requires it, you can also keep it looking smooth through exfoliation. We love AHA for most skin types, but if you’re acne-prone or inconsistent with your sunscreen, a BHA like salicylic acid might be a better exfoliant. To save time, it’s best to find your exfoliant in a cleanser rather than as a separate product. 

Let the actives course through you

So to summarize, here’s how to follow our suggested skincare courses: Use your high-powered active skincare for as long as you see a transformation in your skin. 


Once the benefits start to diminish, take a break! Switch to a simple, affordable routine for the next 4 months. From here on out, a “2 months on, 4 months off” routine will keep you looking your best for the years to come. 


We get it - anti-aging skincare is not cheap. We’ve worked hard to make sure that Protocol Skincare is more affordable than our high-end competitors. You won’t find a more stable and potent retinal or ascorbic acid serum for a lower cost. 


That said, we understand these products aren’t necessarily within everyone’s regular budget, which is why we want you to get the best value for money with your skincare routine. 

If you’d like to follow through, we make sticking to your skincare courses easy. Sign up for a 6-month subscription to our complete line of renewing skincare products. This way, your perfect 2-month active course will show up in the mail twice a year, exactly when you need it.


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Is your retinol not yellow?

That's the first...yellow flag that your retinol may not be formulated properly. Real retinol––like it's cousin beta carotene that makes carrots bright orange––should be bright yellow.