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What is Microdosing Skincare & How it Works


With the recent rise in popularity of cosmeceuticals, a lot of attention and value have been placed on highly potent products. As a result, consumers have been encouraged to stock up on these potent (and often pricey) skin care items.However, mixing multiple high percentage active ingredients on the skin may not only be a waste of product, but also work against us by sensitizing the skin barrier and encouraging inflammation and redness. Below, we discuss the concept of microdosing skin care along with common culprits of the potency-focused marketing strategy. 


You’ve likely heard the term microdosing before but when it comes toskin care, itsimply means using less of a product or specific active ingredient. As skin care fads come and go andwith the advancement of product formulation technology, you may notice the same active ingredient(s) in multiple steps of your skin care regimen. For example, Vitamin C in its most common form is water soluble. However, small chemical modifications to the molecule can make it more stable and compatible with oil-based products. The end result: Vitamin C can be found in toners, serums, oils, and moisturizers. While it’s a very safe ingredient, this might just be unnecessary, especially if your skin isn’t flourishing with your current regimen.  


The following active ingredients are prone to overuse due to their ubiquitous presence in multiple types of skin care products: 

(1) Retinol and its derivatives 

(2) Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (e.g. Glycolic, Lactic, Malic, and Citric Acid)

(3) Beta-Hydroxy Acid (i.e. Salicylic Acid)

(4) Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid)

These ingredients are proven to be extremely effective in fighting signs of photo-aging and acne [1,2]. However, too much can actually sensitize skin to further oxidative damage from the sun and air pollutants [3–5]. 


Each of these ingredients possesses a slightly different mechanism for improving skin health via shedding of dead skin cells. Combining all of them in a daily regimen may be overkill— in fact, research has revealed that these ingredients often possess synergy when combined [6,7]. This means that by using less, you can conserve product and minimize unnecessary skin stress.

There arethree ways to begin microdosing these ingredients:

(1) continue using the same products, just use less of each

(2) reevaluate the active ingredients in your products and drop/replace a product that contributes to redundancy

(3) use gentler alternatives like replacing salicylic acid with a modified version called lipohydroxy acid [8]. Our skin’s needs change over time and it’s important to occasionally return back to basics, especially if you find that your regimen may be exacerbating signs of redness and aging.


[1]Szymański Ł, Skopek R, Palusińska M, Schenk T, Stengel S, Lewicki S, Kraj L, Kamiński P, Zelent A (2020) Retinoic Acid and Its Derivatives in Skin.Cells 9, E2660.

[2]Moghimipour E (2012) Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents.Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod 7, 9–10.

[3]Kaidbey K, Sutherland B, Bennett P, Wamer WG, Barton C, Dennis D, Kornhauser A (2003) Topical glycolic acid enhances photodamage by ultraviolet light.Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 19, 21–27.

[4]Tang S-C, Yang J-H (2018) Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin.Molecules 23, 863.

[5]Kornhauser A, Coelho SG, Hearing VJ (2010) Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivity.Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 3, 135–142.

[6]Bhardwaj V, Sharma K, Maksimovic S, Fan A, Adams-Woodford A, Mao J (2021) Professional-Grade TCA-Lactic Acid Chemical Peel: Elucidating Mode of Action to Treat Photoaging and Hyperpigmentation.Front Med (Lausanne) 8, 617068.

[7]Draelos Z, Lewis J, McHugh L, Pellegrino A, Popescu L (2016) Novel retinoid ester in combination with salicylic acid for the treatment of acne.J Cosmet Dermatol 15, 36–42.

[8]Zeichner JA (2016) The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment.J Clin Aesthet Dermatol9, 40–43.