Help. Why is my skincare routine not working? Don’t worry my friend there could be key reasons why. Reasons which are simple to fix. These 6 are THE most common.

6 Crazy Reasons Why Your Skincare Isn’t Working

In Being Savvy at Skincare by Cheryl Woodman MChemLeave a Comment

It’s been a week, 1 month, 91 days and that skincare you purchased still isn’t working. You’re staring in the mirror and you’re not seeing results. Why is my skincare routine not working? Help.

You thought this new skincare routine was going to be THE one to get you glowing, radiant skin you love.

Instead, if anything you’re feeling like your skin looks worse. How can this be?

If you’re feeling this way now. If you’re stuck in a bad skin rut and are not sure where to turn. Take a deep breath with me.

It’s incredibly likely there are uncommonly known about reasons why your skincare isn’t working.

Fix them and your skincare could start working.

Fix them and you could get glowing, radiant skin you love. Whoopee.

I’m about to show you how.

Help. Why is my skincare routine not working? Don’t worry my friend there could be key reasons why. Reasons which are simple to fix. These 6 are THE most common.

1. You’re Using Gone Off Skincare Actives

This is the hard thing about skincare. It all looks the same. Skincare isn’t like food. It doesn’t usually go-off visually.

It doesn’t usually grow mould, or go soggy, or floppy.

Sometimes the actives go-off quietly.

They sleep.

Never to wake again.

Just last week I was listening to an interview with The Ordinary’s chief scientific officer.

He revealed something I think you’ll find shocking.

The Ordinary’s retinol products have only a 3-month ‘active guaranteed’ lifetime after opening.

And this lifetime is ‘guaranteed’ only if you’re keeping one of their budget-friendly retinol products in the fridge.

Because when you keep actives cool, they stay fresh for longer.

Why is my skincare routine not working? Because you’re using fragile skincare actives which go-off fast. Your skincare products no longer contain active ingredients.

Psst – retinol is a particularly unstable skincare active, so don’t worry – if you’ve been asking yourself why is my skincare routine not working anymore? this rule applies just to a select few skincare actives. And there are much more stable anti-ageing alternatives you can try. Take a peek at my top 5 anti-ageing heroes by grabbing your free copy of my 5 best anti-ageing actives cheatsheet – click here to get yours.

2.The Active Ingredient Has a Very Large Particle Size

This is a huge reason why some skincare does not work. To work, skincare needs to get into your skin. Some skincare actives are just too big to get to where they need to be.

Take for example leave on skincare exfoliants. Active skincare ingredients like glycolic acid, mandelic acid, salicylic acid, polyhydroxy acids.

Each has a reputation for helping to;

  • Even skin tone
  • Make skin glow
  • Bring radiance
  • Help fight off spots and breakouts
  • Minimise pore size
  • Defend against fine lines

And yet some types of leave on exfoliants will do this much, much, much more slowly than others.

It could feel and look like they’re not working.

For an extremely simple reason.

Particle size.

Some of these active ingredients are bulky.

They absorb into your skin incredibly slowly.

They’re squeezing through.

This means only tiny bits of active are getting into deeper layers of your skin. Which means results are not as brilliant.


Take glycolic acid for example, it has a particle size of 76 daltons vs. mandelic acid which has a particle size of 152.1 daltons.

Mandelic acid is squeezing through.

Glycolic acid flys in.

Why is my skincare routine not working? Because the active ingredients you’re using all have a bulky particle size. Which means your skincare is getting stuck in the top layers of your skin. And it’s not getting to where it needs to be to make a visible difference.

Psst – this is a key reason why I will always look to include a mix of small and large particle size actives when helping my SkinCoachees get healthier, happier skin. Particle size matters.

3. No ‘Penetration Enhancers’

But wait there’s more. It’s not all about particle size. Sometimes it’s about ‘penetration enhancers’.

I did just say that 😉

In cosmetic chemistry, a penetration enhancer is an ingredient which helps pull actives like retinol or vitamin C deeper.

Because here’s where you get results.

Without a penetration enhancer, getting your skin to absorb skincare is like trying to eat chocolate cake with your mouth closed.

Fun fact – not all penetration enhancers are complicated or fancy.

For example, water is a well-known penetration enhancer. Leave it on your skin and it will eat away at your skin’s protective oil barrier. This allows other actives to be dragged through quicker.

Ever got dry lips from over licking them? Or powdery feeling dry skin from being in the bath too long?

Then you’ve experienced the penetration enhancing effects of water.

Certain kinds of oils are also well-known penetration enhancers. Oleic acid which is found in olive oil is one. And it’s a suspected reason why applying neat olive oil to your skin actually makes skin drier and rougher.

So don’t do it 😉

Why is my skincare routine not working? Because your skincare product doesn’t have a formula which helps ‘suck actives into deeper layers of skin. #TryingToEatChocolateCakeWithYourMouthClosed

4. You’re Mixing Skincare With Different pH Levels

Super quick recap. pH is a measure of how acid or how alkaline something is. In skincare, it matters because;

  1. Your skin is slightly acidic
  2. When your skin gets less acidic it becomes unhealthy – and you’ll see the results of this visibly
  3. The golden reason – some skincare can’t penetrate your skin unless it has a low (acidic) pH level

Or it penetrates your skin slowly.

And you guessed it my friend, that means it can feel and look like your skincare isn’t working.

Vitamin C as ascorbic acid is an example of one ingredient that needs to be at a low and acidic pH level to work.

Take a peek at this graph I wacked up in excel.

Amount of vitamin C absorbed at different pH levels - if your skincare pH is wrong, your skincare might not be absorbing well. This means you could feel like skincare isn't working.

It shows you visually what this 2008 trial found.

That vitamin C must be formulated at less than pH 3.5 to enter your skin effectively.

Do you see how the amount absorbed on that graph is going down as pH goes up?

That means as pH goes up your skin’s getting fewer benefits.

Psst – this fact can also mean your skincare routine doesn’t work aka isn’t showing you results.

That’s because if you use a low pH level product and then straight away use a high pH level product, that low pH serum is now at a different pH level. This is especially true if your skin’s still wet as you apply another serum or moisturiser.

Why is my skincare routine not working? Because the way you’re layering skincare is stopping the active ingredients from absorbing. If actives can’t absorb you won’t be seeing visible results.

5. You’re Layering Products Which Hate Each Other

Ever rubbed in a serum or moisturiser and had flaky chunks come off your skin? Little balls of what looks like dead skin?

Yikes eh. That can be kind of scary when it looks like a serum’s peeling off your skin.

Let me reassure you right now, this is not your skin.

This is the layers of skincare you’ve just put on.

And some of them are repelling each other.

When they repel each other it’s like 2 magnets pushing apart.

Which means the layer of skincare you just put on, can’t absorb and instead is forming a film on top of your skin.

As you continue to rub in your skincare that film ‘balls-up’.

And you see what looks like dead skin flaking off. It’s called pilling.

Psst – this can happen as you rub in foundation too. I’ve had this happen so many times. Have you?

Why is my skincare routine not working? You’re layering serums and moisturisers which repel each other and this prevents them from absorbing into your skin.

6. Your Skincare’s Working But Your Diet Isn’t

This last crazy reason why your skincare’s not working is hugely overlooked.

And I completely get it. 8 years ago when I struggled with acne I thought skincare would save me. And heck did I try a lot.

Some skincare would work for a while and then it was like my skin would get used to it. The acne would come back. Breakouts would be uncontrollable again.

I was using the skincare which had worked for me and now it had stopped working. I felt desperate.

This is a phenomenon I often talk my SkinCoachees through because the likely story is, your skin will only be healthy and happy when you get started on a diet and skincare routine which works for you.


And p.s. this does not mean simply following a ‘healthy diet’ – some healthy foods can cause bad skin.

Acne, eczema, rosacea, breakouts, spots, pimples, rashes, hives, large pores – all can be caused by food.

Now imagine if you’re using all the right skincare but you’re also eating foods which are causing your skin health to plummet.

It’s like trying to run yourself a candlelit bath with the plug pulled out.

You’re putting good stuff in but that good stuff’s draining straight back out again.

I cannot stress how important this sixth reason why your skincare’s not working is. If the care of your skin was like a cupcake, food would be the cakey bit and a great skincare routine would be the thick frosting on top.

Why is my skincare routine not working? Because your diet contains bad skin triggers which could even be ‘health foods’. Your skincare’s working but your diet’s sucking away all of its benefits.

And that’s a wrap my friend. Which one of these 6 reasons why your skincare’s not working shocked you the most? Will you come tell me in the comments below? And please, please do use that green button below to share on with a friend who’s struggling with her skin right now – one of these 6 could be the super simple reason why.