One thing at a time

The beauty industry has long been encouraging a more is more approach when it comes to products, however the latest trend is all about scaling back. Katy Young explores the world of skinimalism

s spiritual teacher Vernon Howard once said: ‘You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need’. No wonder the beauty industry is congratulating itself on another successful year, because streamlining your routine to the bare-faced minimum is in – and it’s even got a name, ‘skinamalism’.

The sea change is a slap in the face for yesteryear’s insatiable appetite for skincare, which saw us layering, ‘skincare wardrobing’ and taking ‘shelfies’ featuring every ingredient imaginable.  But it turns out that it was in fact an appetite for destruction, as we stripped away natural oils and loaded on the chemicals, our skin became confused, angry and at worst covered in acne, eczema and psoriasis noted the dermatologists.

What in fact triggered the shift however wasn’t the state of our skin, but the state that the pandemic left us in, both practically and emotionally. As so often happens, this collective cultural shift prompted a fundamental change to the way we consumed products, 2021’s beauty industry witnessing a more conscious, considered and careful shopper. Not just to protect our faces, though more on that later, but also our planet, economy and wellbeing. 

Until now, the average woman had traditionally used 12 products every day, buying even more if the wind or her social media feed took her. Big spenders were coined ‘beauty junkies’, and we believed that more was more. We marvelled at Instagram shelfies bulging with the latest trendy ingredient (which we had to try) and never questioned how one person needed it all. In short, they didn’t; the industry got into a bad habit of leaving 120 billion units of plastic behind each year. 

Fast forward to 2021 and we’re cleaning up our planet in part by cleaning up our beauty act, shopping for fewer products in less packaging. Add to that a global economic crisis that triggered a step change in the way we spend money, that being much, much more carefully – and you have yourself a new generation of beauty shoppers looking for products with minimal impact on the environment, maximum impact on the skin.

As educated ‘skintellectuals’, consumers have also come to learn that the only ingredients truly proven to work are vitamin C, retinol and SPF, so make the magic three the core of your routine and streamline the rest. Anything above and beyond the magic trio is in fact a hope and a prayer in a jar. 

However, we are a hopeful bunch of beauty users by nature, traditionally trying a smorgasbord of ingredients at once to get that elusive glow. But according to dermatologists our efforts have been futile. Skin is a well-programmed ecosystem working as one organ so it is unlikely that a single product can alter one biological mechanism at a time. It’s far more likely that you are just overloading your skin with too many of the same ingredients which all tend to lurk in every bottle. At best this excessive practice is unnecessary or might cause pilling as we load far too much on our faces, and at worst is damaging.  Active ingredients tend to compete, and fail, to work alongside each other leaving your skin overworked, red and irritable. Simply, as you use more chemicals you get decreased efficacy, a bit like a law of diminishing returns. By all means try a single ingredient to treat one skin issue, following your face’s needs rather than the latest trend, but tread carefully and try one at a time, always.

Far better to combine our new cultural shift with this new skin sense and buy one multitasking product that does it all. Taking back control of our spending power we have challenged the beauty industry, once easily able to convince we needed a dozen products.  To stay in touch and sensitive to the new mood brands have responded with creams that do it all, simply so. Where a dozen products went before, one multitasking treatment housed in recycled packaging has taken over, remedying our conscious just as it does our exhausted skin. And exhausted it is.

So thank goodness for the awakening. Now we can do more with less and allow for some mental headspace too. Beauty has become a feelgood industry, finally.