Skinimalism? Why a Less-Is-More Routine Is the Secret To a Healthier Complexion

A not-so-funny thing happened the other day. Blotches of red developed on one of my cheeks, closely followed by dryness, and suddenly nothing I put on my skin seemed to make it better— worryingly, it just made it worse. An occupational hazard, I’m used to the occasional blip as a result of testing new beauty products on an almost daily basis, yet this still seemed unfair. After all, despite my maximalist job, I am a minimalist at heart. I grew up with that shampoo ad on TV, “Take two bottles into the shower? Not me. I just want to wash my hair and go,” and applied it to pretty much everything in life, including skincare. Could even my minimalist routine be too much?

“I’m seeing a lot of this now,” says facialist Tarryn Warren, peering at my skin under a bright light, after I beg her for an investigatory facial at short notice. Her advice is to immediately cut out everything, bar a gentle cleanser, until the red blotchiness calms down and then reintroduce products back in, one by one, until I find the guilty culprit. For my own simplistic “cleanse and moisturize and that’s it” routine, this shouldn’t be too daunting, but for a maximalist, like some of Warren’s clients, whose daily rituals can top 10 products, it can prove to be a little more challenging. “Particularly after lockdown, there has been more overtreated skin, and when I ask for a list of all the products my clients are using, it’s way too many actives and concoctions.”

We all love to try new things, but the results Warren and others of her ilk are seeing would indicate that the more fussy, full and fickle the routine, the more haphazard the results. “We’re being sold to left, right and center,” she says, “but the advice just isn’t there. For instance, there’s so much on social media about retinol, but if you go in the sun your skin becomes photosensitized, so it has to be used carefully. It’s fun buying new skincare, but I’ll get clients asking me, ‘Is there anything new?’ and I always say, ‘Why do you feel you need something new?’”

Warren became even more convinced of the merits of a minimalist approach following a stint as a facialist at Vivamayr Altaussee, the spa in Austria renowned for its active detox and immune-boosting programs. She noticed how her clients’s skin improved radically after coming off foods they were intolerant to, while taking in the clean air and sleeping well. They had left their skincare behind. “Back in London, they’d be following a daily ritual that took in toners, cleansers, eye creams, acids, sunscreens… It’s a lot for just one organ.”