On Impulse Control: Or, Why Do I Buy So Much Skincare?

New year, new blog post! I know it’s been awhile, and I can’t say that I’ll be posting with more regularity this year. Instagram is much easier to post on (I do pretty much daily), so this blog has been neglected. Sorry about that, but life has been too busy for both. So what brought me back?

With the new year and seemingly every skincare enthusiast on IG taking stock (literally) of their skincare stashes, and me not wanting to face the enormity of my own, I decided to finally write up some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for quite awhile about why it is that I (we) buy so damn much skincare. I’m trying to make an effort to reign it in, but in order to do that, I need to understand why I do what I do. So, heads up: this is more of a think piece on why we buy skincare than a post on skincare products.

This is an absurd amount of skincare–and this was everything I had open earlier in the year. (*some products in this photo were gifted by brands/stores*)

Now, I realize this topic has been covered quite a bit already, and I think there is a lot of evidence that social media plays a role in influencing purchases. How could it not? Seeing the same product over and over creates serious FOMO, which marketers know and thus send bloggers and Instagrammers PR packages to build the excitement and FOMO in others. (Full disclosure: I have been accepting PR packages with products that look interesting, and I want to try. I realize I am a part of that.) Furthermore, research shows that a declining economy influences women to splurge on small beauty items like lipstick because it’s a cheaper, yet noticeable way to treat themselves.

I think all of these things have no doubt contributed to my stockpile of toners, creams, serums, and lipsticks, but I think there’s another layer to all of this, a phenomenon that comes straight out of a psychology textbook: intermittent reinforcement.

Intermittent reinforcement–a term that comes from B.F. Skinner’s theories on Operant Conditioning and Behaviorism–is when someone is given their desired “response” from something only part of the time. As it turns out, being rewarded randomly and intermittently is the best way to get someone to keep repeating that action.

I’m sure I learned about this in my Psych 101 class decades ago, but it showed up most recently for me as I was I researching cell phone addiction and how cell phones are “retraining” our brains. We hop from app to app, hoping to get a notification of a like, a message, a text, a DM, etc., which sets off a dopamine reaction in the brain. We don’t always get what we seek when opening an app, which is why we keep closing them only to open it or another immediately after. Not always getting what we want triggers us to keep trying until we do.

So, what does this have to do with over-purchasing skincare?

Well, if you’ve made it this far, I’m going to assume you like skincare. If you’re like me, there was a time when you hated your skin or how it felt. For example, if you read one of my first posts (and here it is if you haven’t), you’ll know that my skin was so dry it was painful and flaking before I started using Asian skincare. UGH. I shudder just thinking about it.

Now, take a second and think back to the moment you first tried a skincare product that worked for you: how the product felt on your skin, how you felt about your skin after.

ILY, Illiyoon

For me, it was oil cleansing. I still love the application of my favorite oil cleanser, Illiyoon Total Aging Care Cleansing Oil, as it melts away any tightness or itching from my dry skin. It is the perfect consistency–not too thick, not too thin–and has a lovely herbal scent that relaxes me as I massage the oil on my skin. I didn’t know cleansing my skin could feel that nice.

At this point, I’m certain I’ve tried over a hundred different kinds of skincare products, and the majority of them were fine. Some were awful and I would never repurchase, but most have been, at the very least, adequate. I didn’t find joy in them for one reason or another, but they did their intended job well.


But amidst those mediocre products, I found ones that I adore. There’s a certain happiness in finding a product that brightened my skin like no other had or had a certain consistency that just felt amazing to apply or that plumped and provided hydration in the winter, etc., etc.

So, if I found these products that I love, why do I buy others?


I think that’s where the intermittent reinforcement comes in: because not every product has been amazing, I keep wanting to try more products in the hopes that there’s something else out there that will give me that same excitement, the same relief…that same…dare I say rush?… as I got when I first used the products I love. (Chasing such feelings seems different from FOMO because they stem from internal desires for a feeling rather than fear of being left out of trying a specific product.)

Plus, as my skin’s needs change over time, I look for new types of products. And, of course, with the innovation continually happening in the Asian skincare markets, there are always new products with exciting ingredients to try AND WHAT IF THEY ARE AMAZING FOR MY SKIN OF COURSE I NEED TO TRY ALL OF THEM TO SEE.

Ahem. And here we are.

So, that’s my two cents about why I have trouble controlling my impulse to purchase skincare. I’m hoping that thinking through this will help me curb the impulse spending so I can work through the stash I have and get things under control. (Don’t worry, I have no doubt I’ll still buy lots of crap and review it for you.)

What do you think? What drives you to buy more [skincare/clothes/makeup/shoes] than you should?




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