Skincare should be effective, not excessive

This is your sign to de-bulk your skincare routine

A photo of four skincare products against a white backdrop from the brand The Ordinary. The products are labeled: high coverage foundation, azelaic acid, hyaluronic acid, and natural moisturizing factors + HA.
PHOTO: Valeriia Miller / Unsplash

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

In my teenage years, the average skincare routine consisted of a cleanser, toner, and moisturizer. Skincare was just beginning to bloom into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. Sometimes it felt difficult to keep up with the most basic of routines back then. Yet these days, the variety of skincare products on the market feels overwhelming: retinoids, serums, vitamin formulas, you name it. And it’s not just the products themselves that are excessive; growing cultural trends and conversations tell us we need every formula under the sun for every possible skin concern, no matter how small. Why should we give predatory skincare companies $50 a month for items we aren’t even certain are effective? And moreover, why are we OK with being told that aging is unattractive or even avoidable?

Despite all those nighttime routine videos you may see while scrolling through your feed, dermatologists tend to agree that “less is more” when it comes to your skin. In fact, overuse of skincare products can cause irritation, breakouts, and dryness. So why the obsession with piling on eight different products twice a day? Don’t get me wrong, we all have different skin concerns and conditions. Some skin types need more intensive routines, and others don’t need much at all. But what we should be wary of are the extensive multi-step routines being sold universally to the average consumer, many of whom already have clear skin without the need for specialized products or treatments. The global skincare industry was worth $146.7 billion in 2021, and it’s only expected to grow. Most of these companies are aware of our insecurities and know they can profit off them. Have you ever wondered why many of them tend to hire models with picture-perfect skin? Do you really think none of their brand photos are filtered and edited? 

Remember that “signs of aging” are visible reminders that you’re alive.

The skincare industry isn’t just bad for our self-esteem, either. Despite the growing number of products made with recyclable packaging, 20–40% of beauty products “end up as waste.” A big part of this boils down to overconsumption. To avoid products you don’t need, it’s important to know your skin type and research the best products that’ll work for you. This prevents you from over-purchasing in hopes that one of many products will do the trick. If you’re not sure which products are helping and which are harming, it’s probably worth de-bulking your routine and starting fresh. According to dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, the first place to start when it comes to simplifying your routine is reducing “active” ingredients. This includes products like “retinoids, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and lactic acid,” which can be harsh on your natural skin barrier. She recommends a “cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen,” which tends to be the consensus among skincare professionals. Another ingredient to avoid is fragrance. If you have specific skincare concerns, it’s worth seeing a dermatologist — but if that’s not possible, researching information from accredited dermatologists and peer-reviewed sources is the next best thing. 

There’s nothing wrong with having a specialized skincare regimen; for many people it’s a satisfying part of their self-care routine. But at the end of the day, you can’t reverse aging and skin isn’t meant to be flawless. And unlike what these massive corporations want you to think, the most proven way to reduce major skin-related changes as you age is still just wearing sunscreen and avoiding excessive sun exposure. Don’t let yourself fall for heavily curated advertisements, paid promotions, or trendy products that use buzzwords like “fine lines,” “pore-shrinking,” or “dark circles.” Pores can’t disappear, dark circles are often genetic, and there is nothing wrong with aging. I gave up on my multi-step skin care routine years ago and I’ve never been happier — not to mention my wallet! And believe it or not, my skin looks exactly the same, if not better. Skincare is about taking care of your skin, not looking perfect. Yes, I still have visible under-eye veins and the beginnings of “crow’s feet” wrinkles, but those were never going anywhere with any amount of pricey products. Remember that “signs of aging” are visible reminders that you’re alive — and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

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