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Why skinimalism, skincare’s fave new trend, is anti-capitalism repackaged

TextLaura Pitcher

The less is more approach for your face should be more than just a passing trend, embracing natural skin and buying less

For as long as skincare has been around, we’ve been bombarded with the fact that you need a lot of it. From the five-step routine to the 10-step one, the beauty industry has many of us completely convinced that if we don’t tone or use a special serum at night, our skin won’t glow or we won’t age well. Enter ‘skinimalism.’ 

The trend, coined by the beauty experts at Pinterest, is encouraging people to ditch the expensive multiproduct routine to keep only the bare minimum. Walking hand-in-hand with the clean beauty movement, it’s Marie Kondo but for your face. It’s a growing hashtag on TikTok and has been listed as a major trend for this year, according to Pinterest’s 2021 Trend Predictions Report

Aside from saving money, many skincare enthusiasts trying skinimalism do so for the apparent “glow up.” Luwa Adebanjo, based in Nottingham, UK, tells Dazed Beauty that, since using fewer products, her skin has been softer and has a healthier look. Adebanjo jumped on the trend out of need but was surprised to see the results. “Lockdown meant that it was harder to get the usual products I used, and it became more important for me to budget,” she says. “I realised I couldn’t keep buying all these expensive products for years.” Adebanjo says she used to chemically and physically exfoliate every day but now uses just the Fenty Beauty cleanser followed by fat toner and moisturiser and the Fenty night cream in the evening. 

Danielle Combs, based in New York, has had a similar experience, as a self-confessed skin minimalist for the past year. “I’ve always been really into skincare so I was using a lot of products: double cleansing, using a toner, two serums, a moisturizer, oils, and sunscreen. I would also do a mask every day and exfoliating treatments,” she tells Dazed Beauty. Now, Combs washes her face, uses jojoba oil, a light moisturiser, and sunscreen.  

Combs says she went from being a person with 50 different products to realising that her skin doesn’t need most of them. “Most of the products probably aren’t even helping you. They’re made with artificial ingredients that make your skin look good, but it’s not actually good for your skin,” she says. “I’ve always had pretty good skin, luckily, but with this, I don’t even have to wear any make-up and like my skin looks healthy, rosy, and moisturised. I’ve just noticed a huge improvement.”

“Lockdown meant that it was harder to get the usual products I used, and it became more important for me to budget. “I realised I couldn’t keep buying all these expensive products for years” – Luwa Adebanjo

Robert Finney, MD FAAD board-certified Dermatologist at Entière Dermatology, says skinimalism is not something he’s seen many of his patients catching onto yet, usually coming in with overly complicated regimens. This can be potentially problematic to the skin. “Sometimes products don’t work well together,” he says. “If a patient is experiencing an allergy or irritation, it is a lot more difficult to pinpoint the culprit if you are using 15 different things than if you are using several.” 

He says that, while every skin type can definitely do skinimalism, recommending a gentle cleanser twice daily and applying two products in the morning (vitamin C serum and sunscreen) and two in the evening (anti-ageing ingredient and a moisturiser), there’s also nothing wrong with “maxing out” on an anti-ageing routine. “That may include an eye cream, a retinoid, peptides, and other things on top of their sunscreen, vitamin C serum, and moisturiser,” he says. “I’m a big fan of skinimalism as it lowers the barrier for people to get into skincare but, like everything, it won’t be for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with more steps if done appropriately and your skin is tolerating it.” 

Joshua Zeichner, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, also says he’s a “big fan” of the movement. “In my opinion, it’s a backlash against the over-filtered images we’re seeing on social media and brings reality back to skincare and provides realistic images to people who previously set unattainable goals for themselves,” he says. “Multi-step routines are not necessarily any better than a simple routine. In fact, multi-step routines are potentially problematic for the skin.” He usually recommends no more than three steps while you’re at the sink. 

While skinimalism is being posed as a new way to achieve desirable skin, it also is unintentionally addressing many issues of the current maximal skincare industry, making it more than a passing trend. For this reason, skincare expert and writer Jessica DeFino is personally not a fan of the phrase. “It’s such a trendy, cutesy-sounding term, which makes it feel temporary and time-stamped. It should just be the truth,” she tells Dazed Beauty. 

Aside from addressing issues of skin damage, DeFino says it’s revolting against environmental and consumerist issues in the industry, despite the fact that the trend currently isn’t positioning itself as an anti-capitalist movement. “Over the years, ‘shelfies’ basically became baby billboards for consumerism,” DeFino explains. “As anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideology becomes more mainstream, it’s harder for consumers to justify buying so much unnecessary stuff, and harder for brands to get away with using shelfie imagery to promote their products without seeming out-of-touch and insensitive.”

“As anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideology becomes more mainstream, it’s harder for consumers to justify buying so much unnecessary stuff, and harder for brands to get away with using shelfie imagery to promote their products without seeming out-of-touch and insensitive” – Jessica DeFino, skincare expert

Whether you’re looking for skin benefits, an anti-capitalist environmentalist trying to stick it to the beauty industry, or in financial trouble, it seems skinimalism is not a new trend but a new, repacked phrase for buying less and not giving large beauty brands all of your money. For Chi Ilochi, a fashion stylist based in Pittsburgh, US, it’s also a way to embrace her natural beauty as a Black woman. “Nowadays, with all the things our society says, it isn’t easy to look at yourself in the mirror and love your skin,” she says. “Since learning about skinimalism, I’ve begun to embrace myself and my skin a bit more each day.”  

A truly inclusive movement that everyone can get involved in, skinimalism is the change the beauty industry needs, empowering consumers to opt-out of unrealistic beauty standards. However it’s packaged, it’s more than a trend but a movement that will hopefully reach far beyond 2021, making room for discussions about the health and environmental benefits of buying less. 

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