The Ultimate Minimalist Skin-Care Routine Only Requires Four Steps

Photo: Stocksy/Julien L Balmer
The days of the 12-step skin-care routine are officially behind us. In 2020, searches for "skin care that has less steps"surged 107 percent on social media and "minimalist skin care" spiked 31 percent on the same platforms. And while the jam-packed #shelfies of yesteryear may have made for some seriously pretty pictures, according to derms, opting for a less is more approach to skin-care has far better implications for your skin.

Aside from the fact that stocking your routine with dozens of products can cost major money and take up significant space in your bathroom, slathering serum after serum on your skin has the potential to do more harm than good. We're using so many products that none can even work," says April Gargiulo, founder of Vintner's Daughter. "There are so many different layers going on that whatever active ingredients are in them are going to have a hard time doing anything." In other words: There can be too much of a good thing.

And that's where a minimalist beauty routine can come in handy. "It's not about compromising any level of performance, but saving an incredible amount of time and mindshare—not to mention wallet share," says Gargiulo. So instead of loading up on lots of different products, you'll want to stack your routine with fewer, better ones in order to keep your skin healthy.

Ready to Marie Kondo your regimen? Keep reading for all the pro-approved tips you need to do it right.

The benefits of a minimalist skin-care routine

In order to understand why a minimalist skin-care routine might be the best bet for your complexion, it's first important to understand what can happen when overdo it on ingredients. “You can start using so many things that you can dry out your skin. You’re not sure what you’re putting on there, and you really haven’t read the ingredients so you don’t know what’s in there,”  Susan Cox, MD partnering dermatologist to Higher Education Skincare, previously told Well+Good.

If you're using too many aggressive actives at once, you run the risk of causing dryness, irritation, and breakouts—or all three at the same time. “If you’re using vitamin C, vitamin E, glycolic acid, retinoic acid, scrubs, and toners all in the same day, you’re depleting your skin of every shred of lipids, and one of the most essential things for our skin is its natural lipids,” says Ellen Marmur, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. Which means that instead of treating your skin, you're actually causing more issues, which can lead you to add even more products into your routine to try and remedy them. The result is a vicious cycle of unhappy, irritated skin, which is where a minimalist skin-care routine comes in.

How to build a minimalist skin-care routine

Instead of loading up on products, derms suggest crafting a basic routine that's got three steps in the morning and three at night—that's it. Your a.m. routine is meant to be protective, which means it should be stacked with antioxidants and SPF, and your p.m. regimen should include restorative ingredients like retinol and ceramides. While these steps can be tweaked based on your skin type (more on that later), the general rules are as follows:

In the morning

1. Wash your face

In the morning, the main purpose of your cleansing step is to prep your skin for the ingredients that follow. Opt for something gentle, like a micellar water or oil cleanser, which will clean your face without stripping it of its natural oils. If you've got dry skin, you may want to consider skipping this step and simply rinsing your face with tap water to avoid any unnecessary dryness.

2. Apply an antioxidant serum

During the day, our skin is subject to environmental stressors that cause free radical damage, like pollution and UV rays, and that's where your antioxidant serum comes in. These ingredients (the most famous of which is vitamin C) work to gobble up free radicals before they can cause the oxidative stress in your skin that leads to aging. Derms have referred to these types of products as "the little black dress" of skin care, meaning that everyone should have one in their routine.

3. Slather on SPF

No morning skin-care routine is complete without a layer of SPF, which derms say you should be applying 365 days a year, regardless of the weather or how much time you're planning to spend outside. Sunscreen-infused moisturizers are great because they offer protection and hydration at the same time—just be sure you're using something with an SPF of at least 30 (and don't forget to apply it to your neck and the backs of your hands).

At night

1. Wash your face

At night, Gargiulo suggests double cleansing, particularly if you live in a city. "With cleansers, you don't have to be too fancy," she says. "It just has to do its job. You can either use an oil and a regular cleanser or just use a regular cleanser twice." This will help get rid of dirt, oil, and debris, and ensure that your skin is totally clear of any makeup you may have worn during the day.

2. Apply retinol

Retinol is known as the "gold standard" of skin care thanks to the fact that it helps to address multiple issues at the same time. The ingredient works to stimulate cellular turnover, which means that it brings healthy skin cells to the surface to replace any dull, dead ones. It's great for treating acne as well as fine lines and wrinkles, and derms say that it deserves a permanent routine spot for anyone over the age of 30.

3. Slather on moisturizer

The final step in your daily routine is all about rebuilding and nourishing your skin's lipid barrier. Look for a cream or lotion with ingredients like ceramides and glycerin, which will strengthen that barrier and help it to retain moisture.

Whether a minimalist or not, this is what every woman should know about her skin-care routine. And this is the facial treatment you should do once a week, according to the pros

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