'Skinimalism' Is the Simple Approach to Skin Care That Will Give You a Healthy, Glowing Complexion

This refreshing take on beauty might sound trendy, but it's really all about going back to basics.

Closeup of a Young Confident Woman Applying Foundation
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Whether you've been a fan of Marie Kondo for years or recently binged The Home Edit on Netflix, odds are you've done plenty of tidying up over the past several months. But while your kitchen might be spotless and your sock drawer color-coded, there's likely still an overflow of serums, creams, masks, and more piling up in your bathroom vanity. Pare down your collection of skin-care products? Gasp! But, how? You need every. single. one. of those expensive impulse purchases!

Truth be told, less is more when it comes to the best beauty practices. In fact, overdoing it with caked-on makeup or layering on too many skin-care products can worsen existing skin issues or create new problems, says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology. Think: breakouts, irritation, dry skin, redness — the list goes on. And need not forget about maskne and stress-induced breakouts that have become mainstays thanks to the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Point being: Your skin needs a break — which is exactly why skinimalism, aka skin-care minimalism, is the next big thing.

The Rise of Extensive Skin-Care Routines

Ever look at your skin-care stash and wonder how you became the owner of four different gel cleansers? You're in good company. When dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, M.D., asks patients to bring their skin-care essentials to appointments at his Birmingham, Alabama office some of them show off multiple versions of essences, toners, lotions, exfoliants, creams, peels, and more. "I'm often surprised at the number of products and the amount of time that people are committing to skin care," he says. "Look, if skin care is how you relax, then go ahead and do the 12 steps. But I don't want people to feel like that's normal or that they're not successful because they aren't putting in that kind of time and effort. I'm a dermatologist and I don't do all of that."

His patients aren't the only ones who are skin-obsessed. Once considered boring compared to the glamour of makeup and hair, skin care is in the midst of a years-long boom — in part due to most people being stuck at home during the pandemic. Seeing your face during remote meetings may have made you nitpick little facial issues you'd never noticed before, adds Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. "We look at our faces on Zoom and think, 'OMG, I've never seen that wrinkle before,' so we order $700 worth of products online," she says. She's exaggerating, but not by much. According to market-research firm NPD Group, sales of skin care totaled $1.5 billion in just the second quarter of 2021 alone — a 32 percent jump over the previous year.

Another side effect of increased screen time is that we're soaking up skin-care content from highly targeted digital ads and thousands of influencers. "Social media has helped people become more educated on skin care by following professionals," says Breana Wheeler, M.S.N., a board-certified nurse practitioner and founder of Reform Aesthetics in Encino, California. "At the same time, social media can add confusion and create overbuying of products." Indeed, according to NPD Group, 62 percent of Gen Z members say that TikTok has influenced their skin-care shopping choices.

But don't just blindly "add to cart" based on an influencer's rave review, cautions Dr. Hartman. What works for one person may not be appropriate for another, he says — and besides, paid endorsements aren't the most reliable sources of information. "Sometimes the people who are guiding you don't have any more expertise than you do," says Dr. Hartman. "In fact, they have an incentive to get you to purchase without having your best interests at heart." The overwhelmingly consumerist message of online skin-care content is that this holy grail product will give you miraculously glowing skin, so you're primed to keep trying new products. And all of that hope and enthusiasm may inadvertently be making things worse, say experts.

The Problem with Excessive Skin-Care Routines

While taking care of your skin is certainly a positive development, all of this skin-care frenzy is not without its downsides. Dermatologists, aestheticians, and nurses report seeing more patients who are doing the most with their skin-care regimens yet are experiencing new problems such as acne and irritation. "I've had patients come in with red, peeling, flaking skin, and they don't know why," says Dr. Shamban. She looks at their products and teases out whether it's an allergic reaction, irritation from using too-harsh products, at-home tools — or maybe a combination.

Instead of helping troubled skin become healthier, product overload can introduce new issues. "Sometimes people are using three or four products that do the same thing, or they're mixing products that shouldn't be used together," says Dr. Hartman. For instance, consider two potent active ingredients: retinol and glycolic acid. Separately, they can help skin develop a full-on glow, but together they can be too harsh, he says. Similarly, Wheeler often sees patients who have developed acne and perioral dermatitis (that's medical speak for inflamed, angry skin around the mouth) from combining multiple highly active products at once. "If you're breaking out or getting a rash, we have to pare things down to restore the skin barrier," she says.

Taking a skinimalist approach doesn't mean giving up the products you love for good; it can mean allowing your skin the chance to repair itself. "You have to follow an elimination diet for your skin," says Dr. Shamban. That involves going back to basics — a cleanser, a simple moisturizer, and sun protection — to give skin a break from a mix of active ingredients. Patience is necessary, as skin doesn't adjust overnight. "There is a reason why most clinical studies are 24 or 30 weeks; it takes time to really see the results," says Chase Polan, the founder of Kypris, a luxury clean-beauty brand.

Especially for people experiencing skin problems, Dr. Hartman recommends establishing a relationship with a skin expert such as a dermatologist or aesthetician. Some people with acne actually need medication, not topicals, he explains. A trained professional can identify the problems in your skin so you can be more targeted in getting them under control. Look at it this way: The cost of a dermatologist visit may be covered by insurance, and even if it's not, it can ring up for less than a two-ounce jar of high-end face cream.

The Benefits of Skinimalism

Skinimalism is all about, well, minimalism in your beauty and makeup routines,and is built upon a less-is-more ethos that produces results that are just as good as (or even better than) an extensive regimen. Translation: It's officially time to root through that mini beauty fridge for the products you actually use and slash your multi-step skin-care routine.

The result? A simplified version that'll save you time, money, and unnecessary trial and error — all while being more friendly to the planet. Less product, less packaging, less waste. (

What's more, at the heart of skinimalism is an emphasis on banishing beauty ideals and the idea of "covering up" or "fixing flaws." Skinimalism encourages you to go #unfiltered and embrace the real, beautiful you.

After years of double cleansing and seven-step nighttime routines, a year of relatively makeup-free, quarantine living has set you up perfectly for skinimalism. And paring down your skin-care regimen is actually something dermatologists have been encouraging for quite some time. "So many [patients] have spent an incredible amount of money on products, tried so many different skin-care trends, and are completely frustrated and feeling hopeless about the result," says Dr. Levin. The solution is almost always a simplified version of their routine or swapping multiple products for a few multitaskers, she adds.

Plus, the minimalism approach goes beyond your medicine cabinet and into your makeup bag. If you were never one to adopt the contouring trend, rejoice, but the trend isn't just centered around "natural-looking" makeup, but also about showing up as your natural self, according to the folks at Pinterest.

"Skinimalism is a movement toward embracing your real skin — less makeup and fewer beauty products — and allowing your natural glow to shine as opposed to heavy layers of makeup and contouring that often reflect unrealistic beauty standards commonly seen on social media," says Sejal Shah, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. (

How to Practice Skinimalism

After allowing your damaged skin time to repair, slowly introduce products back into your routine, experts advise. Try one new item at a time, and know that you don't need a lot of products to have healthy skin. "I am a huge proponent of a simple skin-care routine that is easy to follow and to maintain," says Blair Murphy-Rose, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. "Five or fewer products for the face is usually plenty."

Translation: You don't have to toss every single beauty buy in your repertoire. Rather than giving up all of your products and makeup, skinimalism is about "focusing on the products that can benefit your skin and not necessarily hiding every imperfection," says Dr. Shah. "...The idea behind minimalism is to use the least number of products to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy."

So what does skin really benefit from? In addition to a cleanser to rid the skin of debris, dirt, and sweat, most dermatologists recommend a prescription retinoid, such as tretinoin, as the cornerstone of a skin-care regimen. "I mean, it's so boring — we've been talking about it for years," says Dr. Shamban. "But tretinoin really is remarkable for all the things that it does." It increases collagen production, evens out the skin's pigment, reverses precancerous changes, reduces acne, and minimizes wrinkles. "If you're not using it, then you're missing out on the most important antiaging and rejuvenation aspect of your skin care," she says.

A skinimalist regimen also requires hydration and protection. Try a simple cream with hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture, while a vitamin C serum will protect cells from environmental stressors. "Vitamin C is one of the most well-studied topical antioxidants in skin-care products," says Dr. Murphy-Rose. "It has been scientifically demonstrated to boost your skin's collagen production and to reverse free radical damage, helping to slow down the aging of the skin."

Sunscreen, of course, remains dermatologists' favorite tool for protecting skin from cancer and signs of aging — it's a non-negotiable necessity. Beyond the essentials, people with specific issues such as sensitive skin or acne may benefit from a targeted treatment, notes Dr. Hartman. "At that point, you need a consultation and the guidance of somebody who knows how to customize a regimen specifically for you," he says.

As for everyone else, the key to making skinimalism work is consistency. "It's almost more important than the ingredients," says Dr. Hartman. He recommends committing to a routine for a few months before deciding whether it's working. "How many times have you thrown away an empty container before you hopped on the bandwagon of something different?" he says. "I think most people never get to an empty bottle. They don't have enough patience or fortitude to stick with something until it runs out." But most products are designed to last three or four months — which is, coincidentally, around the same amount of time needed to produce results.

Skinimalism can save money, save your skin, and save you from being overwhelmed by products. And while its adherents appreciate the benefits of simplicity, doing more with less doesn't mean being an exclusive ascetic; there's always an opportunity to indulge. "Personally, I've had times where I slow down and think of skin care as self-care, and maybe add a few steps to take care of myself," says Wheeler.

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