Forget simply cleansing and moisturising, in 2020 skincare is a lot more complicated. Thanks in part to the influence of the Korean beauty industry and its 10-step routines (or is it 14 now? I’ve lost count), we are constantly encouraged to add more products to our skincare arsenal, and spend even longer in the bathroom. Building the perfect skincare routine for your skin type feels, frankly, daunting. An idea peddled by beauty brands themselves, you need only take a quick scroll through Instagram to see how commonplace it is for skincare fans to line up a morning routine #shelfie consisting of seven products – and that’s before makeup begins. But is it really beneficial to layer up quite so many products, and will it help our skin?
I am as guilty as the next beauty addict in being drawn to newness, and the promise of the next elusive how-did-I-ever-live-without-this product. Consequently, my routine is anything but consistent, and I often get carried away with the number of products I shove on my face. Recently, however, on a week-long holiday in France, I streamlined my skincare in line with Easyjet’s hand luggage policy, and noticed how my skin looked better than ever. With just four simple products in my plastic bag (Bioderma’s micellar water, Avène’s water-based cleanser, Avène’s rich moisturiser and Vichy’s SPF 50), my skin seemed finally to be behaving. While it may have been the sun or lack of stress that boosted my skin (it certainly wasn’t the diet of rosé, camembert and double caramel Magnums), it made me appreciate how sometimes keeping skincare simple can be just as effective as loading up on the latest essences, exfoliants or masks.
When I speak to facialist Vaishaly Patel she waxes lyrical about the benefits of straightforward skincare, especially if you already have sensitive or problem-prone skin. “Imagine how many chemical ingredients are in just one product – the more products you use and layer, the more chemical overload on your skin. This could potentially cause major sensitivity and can also lead to breakouts,” Patel explains. According to Patel’s school of thought, it’s all about choosing fewer products, but ones that are of the highest quality and hardworking. She prescribes a morning routine consisting of cleanser, serum and moisturiser (with SPF), and an evening routine of just cleanser and an oil, plus a moisturiser if you really need it. Her biggest bugbear? Our obsession with daily exfoliating. “Time and time again I see clients that have ‘overdone it’ with an exfoliating scrub. A scrub should only be used ONCE a week! Over-exfoliating will dry and strip the skin on the surface, ultimately causing skin to produce more oil to compensate, and therefore causing one to have more spots,” Patel tells me. Yep, it seems our quest for that squeaky clean feeling could be having a detrimental effect.
Next up I speak to facialist Kate Kerr, who highlights how it is not necessarily that we are using too many products on our skin but often how we are applying them. "Applying products in an order that isn’t conducive to product penetration will absolutely cancel out the efficacy of active ingredients. The biggest mistake I see people make is using a balm or oil cleanser and then applying a water-based serum. Water floats on top of oil! That serum isn’t going anywhere near your skin," Kerr points out. With an overload of both products and information and a complicated and lengthy routine, unsurprisingly, it can be easy to mess it up.
Controversially, Kerr also believes the majority of us are using moisturiser when we don’t need to. She believes that only people with truly dry skin (about 10% of the population) actually need moisturiser. "By using a moisturiser, our skin’s surface sends a signal down to its water reservoir telling it that there is plenty of moisture and to halt production. This makes the skin sluggish and lacking in moisture, so we reach for more moisturiser, thus exacerbating the problem and reaching for a richer moisturiser," Kerr explained. She encourages her clients to break the cycle of always reaching for moisturiser and allow their skin to learn how to moisturise on its own once again. Instead she encourages everyone to invest in a hyaluronic acid serum and combine this with cleansing, a potent serum (either antioxidant-rich or with retinol) and, of course, SPF.
While I don’t know if I could quit the moisturiser for good quite yet, Kerr’s philosophy of scaling back skincare to just the products that really give results certainly rings true, and I have had success doing so. Sticking to my new minimalist approach has not just maximised my time in the morning, it’s kept my skin in check, too. Although I can’t deny the satisfying feeling (or enjoyment) of dedicating a good half an hour to your skin – complete with scrubbing, multi-masking and layers of product – it seems that this might be better left for a once-a-week job, not a daily routine.