In Defense of a Simple Skin Care Routine

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From overstocked shelfies to serious Sephora hauls, it’s no secret that having a bunch of beauty products helps you achieve some sort of social media status quo, but what, exactly, is it doing to your complexion? While most experts agree that testing trial-and-error is a necessary step in the quest for healthy skin, what’s the tipping point where mixing it up with TOO much skin care starts to backfire?

“I am a huge fan of a simple skin care routine,” says celebrity aesthetician Nerida Joy, who prescribes what she calls a “back-to-basics regime” for all of her new clients—something she believes has the ability to reset skin dynamics. 

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“It is so easy to overtreat skin with all that is available today, but it can create a sensitive, slippery, bumpy skin texture that heals slowly if prone to pimples. Starting from scratch with a few basic skin care items reboots the skin in a healthy way.”

Joy has three basic items she recommends: a mild, non-foaming cleanser, a healing aloe-based serum and a light skin moisturizer that contains “treatment ingredients to feed the skin nutrients and support its sensitivity,” and likes arnica, mallow and ivy extract, vitamin C and K and shea butter in particular.

“This type of regimen is often enough. You can then start following with an eye cream or gel and, if needed, a mild, absorbing exfoliant once the skin can handle it.”

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Celebrity aesthetician Nichola Joss (Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Gisele Bundchen and Gwyneth Paltrow fill out her facials roster) says a simple skin care routine is not only easy to work into your life but also easier on your skin—although she does have some pretty specific products, treatments and overall timing she likes to recommend.

“Your routine should be locked-in twice a day, every single day. Cleanse, tone, use serums and moisturizers with SPF protection from environmental damage, along with a good facial oil for nightly massage. I also like weekly masks and exfoliation, as well as microneedling, along with a good, clean diet. This mix makes skin stronger, younger and more resilient.”

As for the whole “layering of products” trend? Joss likes it, but thinks most consumers are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of options available, and don’t necessarily pay attention to ingredients that might not play well together. “People think all ingredients and products will ALL be beneficial, but that can cause disruption and breakouts as well as topical skin damage. Mixing too much can cause underlying congestion, breakouts, thinning of skin tissue, stressed-out and exhausted skin tissue. Injecting too much of an ingredient into the upper layers of skin and muscle tissue can cause aging and sluggishness, which will cause the body to hold onto toxins.”

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A "minimal skin care mantra" is also what Delray Beach, FL, dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby follows in her practice, but says consistency and customization are even bigger parts of the equation.

“Compliance is key to having a successful program. Keeping it simple and nonirritating so that compliance can be maintained is crucial. You don’t need a ton—stick to the important products like a gentle cleanser and a good-quality sunscreen. Then, any other products should be more specific to skin conditions.”

Plus, Dr. Allenby says, there’s so much confusion regarding what beauty products promise, as opposed to what they can actually achieve.

“There are over-the-counter products that can traditionally be purchased through the drugstore to high-end department stores to cosmeceuticals that are considered medical-grade products that are purchased through medical practices. I’m not sure if it is clear to the consumers the difference, such as a cosmeceuticals may not have the nice smell or feel of a drugstore product, but it may cause more changes in the skin, which would be considered an enhancement of skin’s health.”

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Cambpell, CA, dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, MD, also pegs confusion as a big problem behind finding what beauty products will work for you.

“I don’t think it is necessarily a question of how MANY skincare and beauty products we use, but more an issue of WHICH. There is a lot of confusing and conflicting evidence out there. Most of these products are not strictly regulated like medications so claims can be ambiguous and unfounded. There are countries in Europe, and particularly East Asia, where skin care routines are far more complicated with many more steps than what is common here in the U.S. and the results are pretty astounding. In my mind, the problem is there is no guidance on what might be right for you and your skin so consumers end up buying blindly and overdrying, overstripping or overoiling their skin.”

For those reasons, Dr. Hausauer recommends building your skin care arsenal around—you guessed it—actual science.

“I think of it like an upside-down pyramid with the critical cornerstones of every good regimen being the items that have more medical evidence and published studies showing benefit. First and foremost, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. If there is only one thing you do for your skin, it is a broad-spectrum sunscreen. I generally recommend zinc- and titanium-based products, because they block both ultraviolet A and B types of light and are less likely to cause allergic reactions or breakouts compared to chemical sunscreens.”

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After that, she says, the next most scientifically proven tenet of all good skin care regimens are retinoids. “The vitamin A–derived medications help with fine lines, irregular pigmentation and acne and they have decades worth of science. Finally, we know that antioxidants help combat the wear and tear of environmental exposures. Vitamin C is the most common in skin care, but there are a whole host of new, exciting and hotly studied options. These products boost the efficacy of your sunscreen, so they are best to use in the morning. After those three items, the rest is gravy. There are great benefits from many different ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, peptides, growth factors and more. Before you get too complicated or spend too much money, it is best to speak to a knowledgeable dermatologist who can help tailor the regimen to your skin.”

“Sometimes more is better, but usually it’s substance and science over the mere number of items.”

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