How To Maintain A Regular Skin-Care Routine When You Have ADHD

ILLUSTRATED BY ISABEL CASTILLO.
You know the scene in Up when Dug the dog, deep in conversation with Carl, drops everything at the sight of a squirrel? That's me, every fucking night, trying to finish my skin-care routine. It always starts out with simple enough intentions: Okay, tonight I'll use my new face wash. Then, before I know it, I'm organizing my bin of beauty products, plucking my eyebrows with a tweezer I just found, or just sitting there... staring off into space. For hours.
It's not unusual for people living with attention deficit hyperactive disorder to get distracted by 10 different things before getting to step one. That's been the story of my life ever since I was diagnosed with ADHD at 15, the age when pimples were as much a part of the awkward adolescence experience as colored braces or Hollister jean skirts. But back then, the disorder — fueled by sporadic thoughts and a loss of focus — exacerbated my skin problems: I could barely remember what an isosceles triangle was minutes after the teacher explained it in geometry class, let alone wash my face at night.
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Of course, as I've gotten older, and landed a job in beauty, I've been better at following a skin regimen. But even for me, it's a daily challenge. My head spins at the mere thought of trying the 10-step K-beauty routine. I'm proud of myself any time I remember to reapply SPF at the beach. It's not as simple as "just concentrate on what you need to do." And, by the looks of a recent Reddit thread, I'm not alone in my struggle.
"For someone with ADHD, just getting everyday tasks done in a timely, efficient manner — or at all — is difficult," says Beth Maletz, DNP, a nurse practitioner specializing in psychiatry. "It's easy to get distracted or side-tracked before completing them." Studies also show that the inattentive nature of the disorder might be the reason for its link to acne. "Many of my patients with ADHD have difficulty remembering complex routines," says dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD. "Some studies also suggest that there is an increased risk of psychological conditions in acne patients because of this association."
That doesn't mean you're doomed for a life of clogged pores or lackluster skin, though. Adopting a few of the strategies below, recommended by Dr. Maletz, and Dr. Henry and tested myself, is a good start.
Really Organize Your Skin-Care Arsenal
"Out of sight, out of mind" often refers to romantic relationships, but in this case, it applies to beauty products all the same. If I don't thoughtfully leave out a face mask I want to use that night, for example, I'll forget — a common occurrence for my ADHD cohorts.
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But because visual clutter can be distracting, Dr. Maletz says it's important to keep what's out meticulously organized: "Many people with ADHD find it easier to stay focused and get things done when all the items are neatly stored and on-hand where they use them." That means forcing yourself to put things back in the place you found them after every use, keeping them in one cabinet or on a clean shelf, and leaving out only what you know you want to use every single night and morning.
ILLUSTRATED BY ISABEL CASTILLO.
Streamline Your Products
With ADHD, any extra step feels burdensome and could prevent you from doing the full routine — which is why you should pick items that make the process easier. That's why Dr. Henry strongly recommends multi-taskers. "If you suffer from acne, I love medicated wipes — they are easy to carry with you so you can use them wherever," she says. (She recommends Neutrogena's Rapid Clear Daily Pads and First Aid Beauty's Skin Rescue Blemish Control Pads.) Products that perform more than one function — like the Biologique Recherché Lotion P50, which she says works as a toner, exfoliator, and lotion — are key.
Find "Cues" That Work For You
Learning what triggers you to complete a skin-care step requires some trial and error, but cues make all the difference. "I often tell my patients with ADHD to keep their skin-care products near the things they routinely use, like their toothbrush, comb, or hairspray bottle, to help them remember," Dr. Henry says.
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Skin kits that are labeled by steps (like Clinique's 3-Step System or Beauty Counter's Nourishing collection) can also be tremendously helpful. Or, you can get creative with product packaging. "Some people find bright, high-contrast labels — or perhaps the same label for all their products — helpful in focusing their skin-care routine," Dr. Maletz says. "Other people find calm, soothing colors and minimalist designs less distracting. This is another 'see what works best for you' kind of thing."
Get Backups
"Keeping an extra tube of your favorite concealer in your purse means you don’t have to remember to put the one from your bathroom cabinet in it each morning," Dr. Maletz explains. This can apply to anything you use frequently. For me, I go through tubes of Aquaphor like some people do gum — so I make sure to equip every room, purse, and jacket with one so I never have to worry about misplacing it.
Use Your Phone
Timers, reminders, checklists — these are all tools that can help you get in the habit of maintaining a regular routine. Make an iPhone list of tasks — or write one on your mirror with dry-erase markers — and check them off as you go.
Dr. Maletz also recommends setting a timer in the AM. "A very common concern is that getting ready in the morning takes forever, and people forget things along the way," she says. "They might walk into the bathroom fully intending to wash up, do their makeup, and brush their teeth, but before they know it, 20 minutes have passed, the water’s still running, and they haven’t gotten anything done." (See, I'm not the only one.) Setting reminders holds you accountable.
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Develop A Reward System
Perhaps the most important strategy: Pat yourself on the back when you succeed. Your reward system is triggered by accomplishing goals, which will keep you motivated to stick to the routine. "If you always lose that brand-new product after just a couple of uses, find a way to keep track of it and use the money saved on not having to replace it to buy yourself a new lipstick you've been eyeing," Dr. Maletz says. Oh, look — pretty lip colors!
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