How Scandinavia Has Mastered Minimalist Skin Care

With trends like "skip care" and "skin fasting" gaining more and more traction, it seems the exhaustive 11-step skin-care routine is on its way out. Layers of facial mists, essences, serums, masks, and ampoules are slowly but surely being challenged by a Scandinavian beauty philosophy, not unlike the interior-decorating trend that's swept the globe. It's minimalist, it's uncomplicated, but it delivers real results — and dermatologists advocate for a return to simplicity, too.
"Scandinavian skin care is the complete opposite to the Korean skin-care routine, where you are encouraged to layer more than 10 products a day," says Lars Fredriksson, founder of Swedish skin-care 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."
Meder Beauty Science founder Dr. Tiina Meder explains that the end goal of a multilayering routine is occlusion, which means trapping moisture into the skin — and, with it, the potential for clogged pores and breakouts. "A minimum of effective, scientifically proven ingredients provide an opportunity to obtain good results and a low risk of side effects," she says. "So I recommend stripping your skin care back to the basics."
But what should you be looking out for to make sure you've covered all your bases, no matter how many (or how few) products you use? If you don't have any major skin concerns, such as sensitivity, dermatitis, eczema, or very dry skin, alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, antioxidants, retinol, and sunscreen are the key ingredients. In terms of routine, consultant dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto advises, "A good place to start would be an AHA- or BHA-based cleanser morning and evening. In the morning you cleanse, use your antioxidant serum, and then use your SPF."
But be wary of moisturizers with sunscreen "built in." "SPF in moisturizer is not enough — you need to use a separate broad-spectrum SPF," Dr. Mahto says, which means it protects from both UVA and UVB rays. "As a general rule of thumb, opting for a product of at least an SPF 30 is useful for nearly all skin types. A lot of sunscreens come in a moisturizing base, so if you have normal, combination, or oily skin, you don't need to moisturize and use a sunscreen." Your nighttime routine should be just as straightforward. "Simply make sure you have cleansed properly using your acid-based cleanser, and apply your chosen retinol afterwards."
Fredriksson stresses the importance of a retinol in your skin-care regimen, even if you don't have any outstanding skin concerns. "Vitamin A is excellent if you're experiencing acne, but it's still a good product to use even if you aren't, because the skin cells' own production of hyaluronic acid and collagen depletes in your 20s and 30s. Retinol helps with that, and even though you may not see fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation, retinol has to some extent a preventative effect," he explains.
When it comes to acids, Fredriksson's go-to is salicylic. "Salicylic acid gets rid of dead skin cells and sebum and allows penetration of other skin-care products," he says. Fredriksson 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."
Finland-born drugstore stalwart Lumene is also in favor of paring things back; its signature range centers around Arctic cloudberry, which provides a high dose of does-it-all ingredient vitamin C. "An antioxidant such as vitamin C protects skin against free radicals, which can cause inflammation and pollution damage," says Kate Bancroft, founder of Face The Future. That damage can manifest in dullness and fine lines and wrinkles.
The way you apply the products matters, too, especially when you're using acids and retinol together. "I wouldn’t immediately follow with a retinol after using acids," Fredriksson says. "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." And there you have it: a skin routine like a Scandi... to match your all-Ikea-everything home vibe.
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