Sharon Stephenson discovers how to do more with less when it comes to beauty products.
What does your bathroom cabinet say about you? That you’re a sleek minimalist with impeccably curated tastes and deep pockets? Or that you covered yourself in glue and ran through Sephora?
If you look hard enough, you might find a few discipled souls in the former category. But as the results of a deeply unscientific poll (by me) shows, there are few who can resist the lure of shiny, pretty things to smooth on our faces.
I’m definitely Team More is More, as a Twixtmas (that idle dead zone between Christmas and New Year) declutter of my bathroom proved. I found, count them, 11 serums, six face masks (two unopened), a rancid-smelling SPF and a moisturiser bought when Michael Jackson was still wearing his own nose.
In the makeup drawer, there were lipsticks I have no recollection of ever bringing into the house and old mascaras that violate every law of hygiene.
Because somewhere along the way, I’ve been sucked into the clever marketing about magic new ingredients (activated charcoal, placenta cream, something with far two many syllables), and the belief that slapping on the products = better. I’m not sure it’s something I’d add to the skills section of my CV, but I’m quite good at squeezing another product into my bathroom and onto my face.
Well more fool me because it turns out I’ve actually been doing my skin more harm than good. According to British skin specialist Dr Pamela Benito, buying into a multi-step skincare routine – such as the famous 10-step Korean one – isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “A good skincare routine is about targeted products that really deliver, because not only are you wasting time and money applying layers of products, you could actually be over-stressing the skin and damaging the skin barrier,” says Dr Benito.
Translation: your skin ends up oily and sticky because your skincare is simply sitting on the surface, but overloading your skin can also result in dryness, irritation and redness. And it’s a quick route to breakouts, blocked pores, blackheads and clogged-looking skin.
It’s the result, says Dr Benito, of overloading the skin with too many products and mixing and matching multiple brands that weren’t designed to go together.
So what can you do about it? One extreme solution touted by experts is skin fasting which is like sending your skin to rehab. As the name suggests, it’s about stripping your skin of all beauty products for a period of time and using only the barest of essentials such as a cleanser, SPF and perhaps a moisturiser if you have super dry skin.
The theory goes that by eliminating toners, exfoliants, active treatments and serums, your skin’s natural protective barrier is able to sort itself out.
But if that makes you clutch your Mecca card to your chest in horror, there’s a gentler approach to reducing excessive product use.
Unless you have a skin condition such as acne, eczema or rosacea, Dr Benito suggests streamlining your routine to a few highly effective, multi-tasking products such as a gentle cleanser and a skin-specific serum (preferably with active ingredients such as Vitamin C to brighten your complexion and retinol to rebuild collagen, promote cellular turnover and help make the skin smoother and plumper).
And don’t you dare step outside until you’ve added an SPF, preferably 30+, even in winter.
Once you’ve got that basic routine down, you can add in a hydrating moisturiser that contains ceramides to reinforce the skin barrier, and hyaluronic acid which is magic at holding onto moisture, plumping and sooth tight, tired skin.
So there you have it: just because you’re fluent in beauty products, doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Marie Kondo-ing your skincare routine can save you time, money and possibly your skin. Which isn’t a bad life goal to tick off the list.