Despite the rise of skip-care and skin fasting, the 7+ step routine of layering mists, essences, serums and more is still popular among skincare obsessives. But according to the experts, piling on so many different products at once might not be doing your skin much good. We're talking clogged pores and eventually spots, irritation and a host of other skin bugbears.
But it seems complex, Korean-inspired skincare routines like these might be on their way out. In fact, they're slowly being usurped by Scandi skincare. A bit like the interiors trend currently sweeping the globe, this routine is minimal and uncomplicated, but it delivers brilliant results. And this refreshing skincare minimalism is something dermatologists advocate, too.
"Scandinavian skincare is the complete opposite to the Korean skincare routine, where you are encouraged to layer more than 10 products a day," explains Lars Fredriksson, skin expert and founder of Swedish skincare brand Verso. "The key to good skin lies in simplicity. Most Scandinavians layer a couple of products and that’s it. In my opinion, it's better to use one or two products in the morning and one or two products in the evening to suit your skin. We really don’t have to layer so much."
Dr Tiina Meder, founder of Meder Beauty Science, elaborates. "The multilayering end goal is essentially occlusion," which basically means clogged pores and eventually breakouts. "A minimum of effective, scientifically proven ingredients provide an opportunity to obtain good results and a low risk of side effects. So I recommend stripping your skincare back to the basics."
But what should we be looking out for? If you don't have any major skin concerns, such as sensitivity, dermatitis, eczema or very dry skin (and if you do, it pays to visit your GP or a qualified dermatologist), acids (like AHAs and BHAs), antioxidants (such as vitamin C), retinol and sunscreen are the star ingredients. At Refinery29's recent Skin Deep event, consultant dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide To Great Skin, Dr Anjali Mahto advised: "A good place to start would be an AHA, BHA-based cleanser morning and evening. In the morning you cleanse, use your antioxidant serum (vitamin C) and then use your SPF and you can apply your makeup on top if you want."
But steer clear of moisturiser with an inbuilt sunscreen. "SPF in moisturiser is not enough and you need to use a separate broad spectrum SPF," Dr Mahto continued, which means it protects from UVA and UVB. "As a general rule of thumb, opting for a product of at least an SPF 30 is useful for nearly all skin types," Dr Mahto continues. "A lot of sunscreens come in a moisturising base, so if you have normal, combination or oily skin, you don't need to moisturise and use a sunscreen; you can get away without that moisturising step." And your nighttime routine should be just as simple. "Simply make sure you have cleansed properly, using your acid based cleanser, and apply your chosen retinol afterwards."
And according to Lars, it really pays to incorporate a retinol product (or vitamin A, which is what retinol is derived from) into your skincare routine, regardless of whether you have any skin concerns or not. Try the Night Cream with Retinol 8. "If you’re experiencing acne, for example, vitamin A is excellent. It's why most skin experts prescribe it. If you are in your 20s or 30s and aren’t experiencing acne, it’s still a good product to use, because the skin cells’ own production of hyaluronic acid and collagen deplete at this time, and retinol helps. And even though you may not see fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation, retinol has to some extent a preventative effect."
In terms of acids, Lars' go-to is salicylic. "Salicylic acid gets rid of dead skin cells and sebum and allows penetration of other skincare products," which means they work better. Lars suggests looking for a cleanser with 1% salicylic acid. "It’s not super aggressive, but it delivers. It’s important not to go overboard when it comes to acids."
Scandi skincare brand Lumene advocates paring things back, too, and its vitamin C range is the star in the collection. Pros argue that serums are best when it comes to delivering antioxidants like vitamin C into the skin as they typically feature a much higher concentration of brightening, protecting ingredients. "An antioxidant such as vitamin C protects skin against free radicals, which can cause inflammation and pollution damage," says Kate Bancroft, skin expert and founder of skincare website, Face The Future. Said damage can manifest in dullness and fine lines and wrinkles.
R29 rates Lumene's Glow Boost Essence, £29.90, Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C Serum 23% with Ferulic Acid, £10, or La Roche-Posay's Pure Vitamin C10 Serum, £38, available on 1st April.
So you've got your routine sorted, but the way you apply these products matters, too, especially when you are using acids and retinol together. "I wouldn’t immediately follow with a retinol after using acids," explains Lars, "because acids take the top layer of skin off, which means you open up the pathway a little bit. A break in between is important. Clean your face, brush your teeth, do some life admin, then continue with the rest of your products."
Dr Mahto adds: "Obviously common sense is required and if the skin becomes dry or irritated you back off treatment. I usually build my patients up to eventually tolerate an AHA cleanser plus retinol or retinoid for anti-ageing and acne purposes. It requires time and guidance under an experienced dermatologist for best results."