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Donna Trope
Photography Donna Trope

Is 2020 the year we embrace having no beauty routine?

At a time where the industry encourages excess, we investigate the physical and psychological impacts of not buying into skincare, haircare, and more

At the age of 25, I’ve had the same skincare routine for almost a decade. It began with exfoliator – embarrassingly purchased after an endorsement by High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens – then expanded to include a mud mask, and finally a Clinique moisturiser. It’s incredibly simple, and to this day I have no idea if it’s actually beneficial to my skin.

While I have a routine – moisturise daily, exfoliate every other day, weekly face mask – I’ve never been especially interested in skincare, haircare, or beauty, lack knowledge on the subject, and generally don’t divert from the same few products. I wear little make-up – mainly because I don’t know how to do anything fancy – and have unruly curly hair, so try to limit the amount of haircare I do (absolutely no blow-drying and brushing). But I do feel a need to do these things, even though they’re limited.

According to retail analytics firm EDITED, the beauty industry is currently worth $532 billion (£399 billion), and – with endorsements from social media influencers and brand ambassadors – is continuing to grow. As celebrities like Rihanna and Kylie Jenner, and beauty vloggers like Jeffree Star and James Charles launch their own brands, big corporations are losing their grip on the industry, with young people in particular buying into personalities as opposed to brand reputation.

Publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and – of course – Dazed Beauty have begun to curate tutorial videos, offering viewers an insight into the routines of their favourite celebrities, while many (guilty!) fall asleep watching ASMR stars do their own make-up. While these formats are relatively new to the decade, developing with the rise of social media, women have always been targeted with ads selling the miracle of beauty products: younger-looking, spot-free skin that will also make you thinner, more appealing to men, and – therefore – fulfilled. Whereas men have stereotypically (and wrongly) been presented with the idea that skincare is for women. “Consumers are not educated properly,” clinical aesthetician Pam Marshall explains. “There is so much false information out there that people find it overwhelming.” 

While the ubiquity of the industry is certainly strengthening its grip when it comes to monetary worth, it may also be the reason many people are turning away from it, instead opting for no beauty routine at all. Film director and score composer Nicole Russin-McFarland, 32, believes this is especially true for many western women, who “have an attitude that if you don’t use thousands of products, you’re going to be like the witch from the Wizard of Oz – melting if water gets thrown at you”. Only washing with a bar of soap – “my skin either breaks out, peels, or gets rashes from any skin products,” she explains – and regularly using suncream, Nicole has never followed a routine, and asserts that she doesn’t have “a single wrinkle”. 

“The human body knows what to do on its own,” she continues. “We have cells that exist to fight bacteria, and your beauty is the same thing. Your body does whatever it needs to do – you don’t need to help move it along.” Skin specialist Dr Rekha Tailor disagrees. “It’s important to maintain a consistent beauty regime,” she explains, “because taking care of your skin on a daily basis will result in healthier skin long-term.” Tailor says that people without a routine allow their skin to “absorb pollutants, such as dirt and toxins”, leading skin to look “dull, wrinkled, and lacking radiance”, as well as showing the effects of age faster.

This threat hasn’t deterred Alex, 27, who’s never had a beauty routine due to the fact that he doesn’t consider one a necessity for his lifestyle. “I think my skin and hair are normal,” he says, “whatever that means, so I’m not sure I know the detriment of not having a routine. Previously, I’ve used moisturiser on my face or body, but I just think it’s a waste of money, produces plastic, and I’ve never noticed any real benefit from it.”

“I think my skin and hair are normal, whatever that means, so I’m not sure I know the detriment of not having a routine. Previously, I’ve used moisturiser on my face or body, but I just think it’s a waste of money, produces plastic, and I’ve never noticed any real benefit from it” – Alex 

Not observing a change when attempting to begin a routine has also discouraged Joe, 24, from investing in skincare in particular. Having dipped in and out of attempting to follow a routine for several years, Joe says he hasn’t had a beauty structure since around 2017. “I’ve bought a few different products in the past that are supposedly good for my skin,” he reveals. “Every time I buy one I get excited and use it every day for a week or two, but then fall out of the habit soon after. I’m definitely drawn in by the product’s promises, but have never noticed a significant difference.”

Though Joe’s quick dismissal may be the reason he’s not reaping the benefits. “Continuity is everything,” Marshall declares. “There’s no way to tell if a routine is going to work unless you give it time. We all want that miracle in a bottle – they do exist, but they take time. Jumping all over the place with products and routine just wreaks havoc on the skin.” 

At a time when social media has prioritised immediate gratification, laziness undoubtedly has an influence on people’s beauty preferences. Plus, when 10-step skincare routines seem to be all the rage, it’s no wonder people are fatigued. “I’m lazy and impatient,” Daisy, 22, confirms. Although she moisturisers most mornings to make her feel “awake”, she explains that she “can barely stand the two minutes brushing my teeth day and night, let alone any three-step skincare routine”. Daisy adds that she’s had short hair that doesn’t need much styling for five years, and believes a haircare routine – outside of washing it “if it starts to feel heavy or itchy” – wouldn’t offer many benefits.

Lucy, 30, agrees: “I can’t really be bothered (with a beauty routine). It seems like a lot of effort for little reward.” Lucy showers and washes her hair every day, and very occasionally uses moisturiser, but says she’s never adopted a routine. Acknowledging the fact that many people are time-poor, Marshall asserts that a coherent routine only needs “four to five products for both morning and night”.

She continues: “Brands will have you believe that you need to have lots of different products in your routine – but that’s wasteful of time and money.” As the internet diminishes the distance between brands and their customers – blame sentient Twitter accounts IMO – people seem to forget that companies are still ultimately trying to sell them something, including imperfection (@ Dove). 

Given we’re in the midst of a climate emergency, consumption of beauty brands which typically use a lot of palm oil – largely responsible for deforestation – microbeads, and plastic packaging, is arguably the last thing we need. Except, sadly, the ecological crisis has actually made us need the beauty industry more. “We live in a very different world than we first did as humans,” Marshall says. “We are assaulted with environmental issues like pollution, bad water, stress, and ever-changing food industry, and UV exposure. Our body is excellent at adapting, but it’s not a miracle worker – because of these issues, we need skincare.” Sustainable skincare though, please.

While the experts may agree that a skincare routine is vital, for those who don’t see the benefit with high-street products, the process of developing a beauty habit may be especially costly, as well as psychologically stressful. “Dermatologists frighten me,” Nicole tells us. “I was 15-years-old the first time a female dermatologist tried to sell me anti-ageing products.”

“We live in an image-conscious culture,” psychodermatologist Dr Alia Ahmed explains, “which for some vulnerable people can result in appearance-related concerns that promote anxiety, low mood, poor body image, and embarrassment. Individuals are more likely to be judged on appearance, so if a person does not comply with the ‘norm’, they may be subject to negativity from their peers or loved ones.” 

For Daisy, this concern stems primarily from feeling “left out” of social situations, as opposed to feeling stigmatised. “Beauty and skincare culture is so massive,” she says. “All my friends are involved and I just can’t contribute anything. There’s something so beautiful and intimate about two girls doing each other’s make-up, which I miss out on I suppose.”

However, her and Lucy both affirm that, rather than stigmatising them, their friends express envy at their lack of a routine. “People might occasionally comment on the fact I don’t wear make-up,” Lucy says, “but usually in a complementary way. Most people say they wish they had the confidence to do so.”

“I don’t feel judged that I don’t have much of a routine, but I know that’s definitely because I’m male and I’m not expected to look after my appearance to the same extent that society expects women to. There’s a subconscious arrogance that the patriarchy has instilled into men like myself that make us think we don’t really need to try too hard to look OK” – Joe

When asked about the stigma of shying away from a personal care routine, all the men I spoke to said they had never felt any pressure to adopt one. In fact, Alex believes he’d be stigmatised if he did have a “complicated and extensive” routine. “My friends would be surprised,” he reveals, “and my dad would certainly be confused. I assumed it wasn’t typical for a guy to invest great lengths of time into different beauty products.” But, according to Allied Market Research, the men’s personal care industry is growing rapidly and is predicted to hit $166 billion by 2020, with men’s skincare products seeing more than a seven per cent jump in sales last year alone.

While these figures suggest archaic ideas of masculinity are on the decrease, there’s no denying that the beauty pressures on women are still more severe than for men. “I don’t feel judged that I don’t have much of a routine, but I know that’s definitely because I’m male and I’m not expected to look after my appearance to the same extent that society expects women to,” says Joe. “There’s a subconscious arrogance that the patriarchy has instilled into men like myself that make us think we don’t really need to try too hard to look OK.” 

The beauty industry and its influencers’ pressure is – ironically – felt physically as well as psychologically. “Where there are zero beauty routines on one end of the spectrum,” Ahmed discloses, “on the other end is the ’Insta-flawless’ generation who are in danger of over-using skincare products and cosmetics. Excessive washing or cleansing can strip natural oils, creating dry skin and inflammation.”

So, how do you find a balance between a stringent routine and no routine? And if your skin isn’t suffering, then why do the experts keep saying you need a rigid skincare structure? Bijoux Media-Spa’s clinic lead Dr Elisabeth Dancey explains that the effects of not having a routine may not be immediately obvious. “A gradual build-up of dead skin cells and sebum on the surface of the skin may mean that the skin becomes irritable, sensitive, and prone to acne,” she declares, adding that “UV effects on unprotected skin are well-known”.

The appeal of a zero beauty routine is obvious: to save time, money, and not risk using products that may actually harm your skin. While the experts may not see this allure – instead warning that no routine has detrimental long-term effects – Nicole is steadfast in her view: “Beauty routines are irritating and restrictive. What (works for) one person is not a one size fits all. Our society is so messed up about beauty.”