Identifying Your Skin Concerns

Published on Jan 14, 2020 Last updated on Jan 14, 2019

Knowing and acknowledging your skin concerns is an important part of the process of skincare. It helps you to scope your attention to only things that matter and are important in addressing your skincare concerns, while keeping you free of all the unnecessary distractions that marketers try to attack you with.

Identifying your skin concerns gives you a big picture target to work towards, as well as helping you plot out the steps that you need to take to correct or minimize them. Of course, not all skin concerns can be completely fixed or minimized, and you may even decide to change your concerns as you age, or as your living environment and circumstances change.

We will be walking you through common types of skin concerns, and by the end of the article, you will be able to identify your own skin concerns(s).

Not only that, we'll throw in some tips to help you keep motivated on your journey, so that you don't go astray and forget about why you even started working towards your concerns.

Defining a skin concern

A skin concern is a skin-related issue that you would like to solve through your skincare. These concerns are usually defined in a broad sense, such as “aging”, “dryness” or “scarring”.

General concern, or a specific concern?

You may also choose to define it more specifically and with a narrower scope, such as “reduce wrinkles around eyes”, “seasonal dryness” or “reduce deep-pitted scarring”. As you can see from the examples, these are usually minor skincare issues that can be solved through over-the-counter products and do not need a dermatologist's intervention. Should your skin concern be of greater severity as compared to the types of concerns discussed in this article, please seek your dermatologist's advice, to understand how your skin's medical condition can be improved through medical-grade skincare.

It is actually better to be more specific when defining your concerns, as it allows you to split up a big concern into smaller and achievable goals.

For you productivity nerds out there, this is part of the S.M.A.R.T. goalsetting framework.

This helps you to have a tangible and quantifiable end goal. For example, if your concern is “seasonal dryness, during winter and autumn”, then you know that your concern is satisfied when your skin does not feel overly dry during winter and autumn. You will then be able to cross it off your concerns list and pat yourself on the back.

It also helps you to avoid one of the pitfalls of skincare: constant routine refinements with diminishing resutls each time. Instead of spreading out your focusing to other concerns on your list for quick gains, you end up over focusing on one concern without much progress in the big picture.

Example Concerns

Here are some common types of skin concerns that you can take inspiration from when listing out your own personal concerns that you would like to target. Know that this is not an exhaustive list and that there are also many other different skin conditions and situations out there that are not covered.

Acne

Non-Inflammatory Acne

Non-inflammatory acne encompasses blackheads and whiteheads that are not inflammed (meaning red and angry). This refers to

Blackheads are actually face oil (called sebum) that has dried while being in your pores. Contrary to the popular belief that it is dirt that makes gives blackheads their characteristic colour, they actually appear darkened due to the reaction of sebum with the oxygen in the air1, oxidising the melanin (a naturally produced darkening skin pigment) in the sebum and turning dark in colour. Whiteheads, on the other hand, are pores that are blocked by a mixture of both sebum and dead skin cells, giving it the white appearance and bumpiness1. In medical terms, whiteheads and blackheads are known as Grade 1 type of acne, which is the mildest form 2.

Inflammatory Acne

Blackheads and whiteheads can also become inflammed, usually through bacteria, turning into angry bumps (called papules) that is sensitive to touch. This is known as Grade 2 acne2. If left unchecked, the inflammation can become more and more severe, developing into an even bigger bump with white pus inside that can be seen through a translucent layer of skin. This is known as a pustule in medical terms. Aptly named, I think, since it has pus inside it (get it? pus-tule). This is considered Grade 3 acne. Up until this stage, regular over-the-counter treatments may still be effective.

The forth and most severe type of acne is when the pustules all gang together and form a supersized bump. These are called nodules 2, and may be cystic in nature (meaning that there may be pus in the bump). If you think that your skin is at this level, over-the-counter products will not be able to do much and a visit to the dermatologist for much effective treatments will be necessary.

Even Skin Tone and Texture

Reducing Temporary Post-Acne Scars

Dark-coloured acne scarring occurs from a process called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. When the skin is inflammed, it produces extra melanin (skin pigment that makes things darker) in the surrounding area of the inflammation. Once the skin is damaged, the melanin is released and trapped in the surrounding skin, resulting in darkened skin scars of a grey-purple-brown shade3.

A reduction of temporary post-acne scars would improve the evenness of skin tone, reducing their visual weight and making the scars easier to conceal.

Reducing Persistent Scarring

Another common issue that many face is post-acne scarring. For scars that originate from pustules and nodules, they may take the form of gentle depressions in the skin with sharp edges, called boxcar scars 2. Severe cystic acne that was deep under the skin may leave deep narrow pitted scarring, called ice pick scars2.

There are two other less common types of acne scarring. For completeness sake, they are called rolling scars (gentle depressions in the skin with sloping edges) and atrophic scars (flat, thin, and depressed scars)4.

Reducing persistent scarring would result in smoothening of the skin texture in the long term, making scars less noticable and easier to conceal.

Reducing Persistent Skin Redness

Persistent redness may be attributed to a variety of skin conditions and reasons.

Your skin may have a slight tint of redness, which may not be indicative of any particular skin condition. This may be so when you have thin or slightly translucent skin, and could be completely natural predisposition to red skin.

On the other side of the spectrum, a common skin condition is rosacea, which results in inflammation of the skin. Other characteristics, besides the deep redness, is flushing, pimples and pustules, and widened blood vessels5.

Due to the ease and high rate of error when trying to self-diagnose anything, please visit a dermatologist to confirm that you have any skin condition (seriously, please go) before assuming that you have a particular condition.

When reducing your skin redness, it will even out your facial skin tone with that of your body, reducing the visual weight of the redness on the skin.

Improving Hydration

The level of hydration of your skin usually depends on many factors, such as your skin type (dry or oily) and your environmental factors such as climate.

An improvement of your skin hydration may alleviate skin sensitivity and irritation, reduce oil production, and maintain a healthy skin barrier that is resistant to skin diseases6.

Improve Oil Control

This concern focuses on the reduction of facial oil (sebum) production in the skin. There are a variety of factors that may attribute to higher sebum production, such as seasonality, humidity, race, as well as hormone levels7.

Improving oil control may help reduce the visual shine of oil on the skin, giving off a matte appearance. It may also improve comfort, especially when living in in humid climates.

Aging

Aging is an issue that I am sure has at least crossed the minds of many readers. Though there is no magic pill that will solve and prevent all signs of aging, it is possible to mitigate, slow, and protect against factors that accelerate skin aging.

Choosing your skin concerns

Remember that these are simply examples of certain concerns that a person may have. Other concerns could take the form of “having healthy skin” and/or “improving dull skin”, both not specific to any particular skin condition.

When narrowing down the skin concerns that you are going to tackle, remember that there are physical and physiological limitations to how much a concern can be improved. For example, for the “aging” skin concern, I am sure that many readers may wish to have flawlessly youthful skin all the way until their 70s. However, this is most certainly not realistic, as your skin will age naturally regardless of what any product or cosmetic procedure imaginable thrown at it. Until humankind creates the mythical Fountain of Youth with technology, we won't be able to prevent nature from taking its course, especially when it comes to skincare. So be realistic with your concerns and the level of which you want to improve them to!

Keeping motivated with the Why

Once you've got the list of your skin concerns, what you need to do now, is to go over each one of them and write down why you listed it as a skin concern. This is so that we can get to the bottom of why exactly you have chosen this as a skin concern. Note it down together with the related concern, so that you will always remember the reasons as to why you are embarking on your skincare journey in the first place.

For example, reusing the example of “seasonal dryness”, the “why” could be something like:

I want to correct my seasonal dryness. Why? Because my skin becomes tight and painful during autumn and winter.

Another example, using “avoid premature aging signs” as an example concern:

I want to avoid premature aging signs, so that I can maintain healthy and youthful skin that is appropriate for my age group.

Do note that when we defined the “why” of the skin concern, we avoided using any perceptual reasons related how others may think about our skin. This is because we want the “why” to be a personal and inward-looking, instead of being based on the validation and approval of others. Not only that, but relying on the validation of others is a toxic mindset that can lead to various self-esteem issues and other psychological problems.

What now?

That's a wrap for skin concerns! By now, you should have clearly articulated what you want to achieve and reach throughout your skincare journey. It may not be as precise as you would like (especially if you're a perfectionist), but fret not, you'll be refining this list of concerns as you progress through the guide.


  1. Retrieved from https://dermnetnz.org/topics/comedonal-acne/, under “What are comedones?” ↩︎

  2. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459173/#_article-17101_s6_, under “History and Physical” ↩︎

  3. Retrieved from https://dermnetnz.org/topics/postinflammatory-hyperpigmentation/ ↩︎

  4. Retrieved from https://dermnetnz.org/topics/acne-scarring/, under the “What are the features of persistent scarring?” section. ↩︎

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5134688/?report=classic#sec1-1title ↩︎

  6. Nolan, K., & Marmur, E. (2012). Moisturizers: Reality and the skin benefits. Dermatologic Therapy, 25(3), 229–233 , under the “The skin barrier” section. ↩︎

  7. Dawnielle C. Endly, Richard A. Miller, DO (2017). Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options, under “SEBACEOUS GLAND ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY” ↩︎