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How to Create a Minimalist Skincare Routine (That Truly Works)

by Katie Muirhead

Jun 11, 2021

You've heard that less is more, but when it comes to skincare, the sheer variety of products on the market can be both exciting and daunting. With a constant flow of new brands and buzzy ingredients being launched, it is completely understandable if you have collected more skincare products than you could ever want - or know how - to use.

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Or, perhaps the never-ending barage of skincare brand advertisements do the opposite and scare you away from skincare altogether. A lot of brands are becoming more transparent about their active ingredients (which is generally a good thing), but this can be overwhelming to those who just want to keep their skin healthy.

The truth is that for healthy, radiant skin, the adage of less is more is true. In fact, many people are turning away from their complicated, 10-step routines in favor of a pared back, minimalistic approach to skincare. The more products you use, the greater the opportunity for irritation or damaging the skin's moisture barrier, which can create more skin concerns in the long term.

While your impulse when considering a more minimalistic skincare routine may be to turn to the simple, clinical-looking brands at the drug store, the reality is that these are rarely cruelty-free. And even then, minimalistic doesn't have to equate to boring. It is very possible to cut back on skincare, while sticking with the cruelty-free brands you already love or with the products you already own.

Here are our tips for curating a minimalistic, cruelty-free skincare routine that promotes healthy-looking skin:

Assess Your Skin

You may be familiar with the usual "Skin Types" presented by skincare brands, but it is not quite as simple as having oily, dry, or combination skin. While each of us will be more predisposed to different skin states, the condition of our skin is usually a reflection of both lifestyle and health factors.

Variables such as climate, diet, hydration, and even the fabric of your bed linen can affect the state of your skin, leading you to self-assign a certain skin type.

Instead, forget the preconceptions you have about your skin and take a long look at a dry, clean face. Fine lines and rough patches? This could be a sign of dry, dehyrated skin. Parched skin and acne? This could hint that your skin is craving moisture and is compensating by over-producing acne-causing oil. Whatever the day and whatever your skin state, become familiar with analyzing it as it inevitably shifts with the seasons and your lifestyle.

Secure The Basics

When creating a minimalistic skincare routine, the only things you really need are a cleanser, a moisturizer, and a sunscreen. Anything else is a luxury, but the more products you add, the more chance of a reaction.

Here are our recommendations for ultra-basic skincare staples:

Cleansers

Our skin is constantly up against the stressors of modern life, such as pollution, face masks, and even makeup. While the skin generally does a better job of self-regulating than we give it credit for, washing away these pollutants at the end of the day is a crucial step to healthy skin.

And yes, cleansing once a day is enough. Many find that cutting back to one thorough cleanse in the PM leaves their skin more balanced and less irritated. How's that for minimalistic!

Here are our some of our fave cruelty-free cleansers:

When applied to dry skin this silky balm dissolves all remnants of makeup and sunscreen, and easily washes off as a milky cleanser. Sunflower and ginger root oils, and turmeric and moringa extract combine in a pleasant, green apple-scented formula.

The perfect first step in a double-cleanse to remove everything from the day, this luxurious cleanser will make sure your skin is ready for the next step.

This affordable cleansing balm is another great option to remove pollution, makeup and sunscreen at the end of the day. Colloidal oatmeal and oat kernel oil combine in a formula that is suitable for even the most sensitive skin.

Cleansing balms are a great option as they are generally very gentle and don't strip the skin, though sometimes need to be followed with a more lightweight cleanser (don't worry, this can still be considered minimalistic!)

This gentle, soap-free formula effectively cleanses the skin, without stripping the moisture barrier. Suitable for even sensitive or acne-prone skin, this foaming cleanser contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides to promote hydration and avoid irritation during cleansing.

Use on its own on a wet face, or after a cleansing balm as the second step in an evening double-cleanse.

Moisturizers/ Oils

In the quest for glowy, plump skin, hydration is key. While the skin can be surprisingly effective at self-balancing, adding the right moisturizing product can work wonders to help keep that hydration in. You may be only cleansing in the evening, but moisturizer can be applied in the morning, too.

Whether you prefer a lightweight cream or a richer texture, here are some of our favorite cruelty-free moisturizers (and an oil!):

This simple, affordable moisturizer is a great option for all skin types, especially those that are sensitive or acne-prone. The oil-free formula contains amino acids, dermal lipids, and hyaluronic acid to promote natural moisture retention in the skin, without feeling oily.

The perfect option before applying sunscreen or a face oil, this moisturizer is a staple in your minimalistic skincare routine.

For skin that is more dry, dehydrated, or that is showing signs of ageing, this rich cream formula is an excellent option. Omega-fatty acids and hyaluronic acid work to visibly plump fine lines, while ceramides improve the skin's ability to stay moisturized over time.

In time, the skin's moisture barrier will be supported and improved, leaving healthy, glowing skin.

This fast-absorbing oil can be used alone, mixed in with your moisturizer, or used as a final step in an evening skincare routine, but is light enough to use morning or night. Maqui, prickly pear, and açai deliver antioxidants and omega fatty acids to help protect and defend the skin against stressors.

For skin that is dry, dull or with fine lines, this oil will add a dose of moisture and glow to your routine.

Sunscreen

If you don't apply daily SPF, now is the time to start. Not only does sunscreen protect against cancer and the signs of premature ageing, it can also start to immediately prevent inflammation and irritation caused by the sun, such as redness or hyperpigmentation. Apply it each morning after you moisturizer has fully dried (and don't forget to top up throughout the day!)

Whether you prefer a chemical or physical sun protection, here are some top picks for cruelty-free SPF:

This weightless, invisible gel sunscreen is a crowd favorite for a reason. Perfect for under makeup, this scent-free formula uses chemical filters to protect your skin from the sun.

Remember to wait until your moisturizer has dried before applying, and to wait another 20 minutes before going out in the sun!

If you prefer a physical sunscreen, this lightweight formula is perfect for everyday and layering under makeup. While most physical sunscreens require a bit more work to apply, this one is formulated to avoid a white cast when rubbed in properly.

Treat Concerns

One you have the true basics down, you may still have some skin concerns that you'd like to address. As long as you aren't going OTT with the active ingredients, it is still possible to include targetted products in a minimalistic skincare routine.

Whether you are after vit C to even skin tone and brighten, an AHA to gently efoliate and treat dullness, or a retinol to treat fine lines and wrinkles, here are our cruelty-free faves:

This antioxidant-rich serum helps target a range of skin concerns, from dullness, uneven skintone, and wrinkles. Combined with vitamin E and hyaluronic acid, this is a great way to add some extra effectiveness to your minimalistic routine.

Once you have settled into the basic steps of your skin routine, introducing a chemical exfoliant can help boost skin's appearance. This AHA/BHA night serum works to gently lift away dead skin cells to improve texture, fine lines and pores.

It's a good idea to use chemical exfoliants sparingly to avoid irritation or damage to the moisture barrier - once a week is a great place to start.

Retinols are an excellent way to treat wrinkles, fine lines and other signs of ageing, and this oil delivers a retinoid in a gentle nightly formula. Chia and blackberry seed oils work to support the skin and avoid any irritation, promoting smooth, calm, glowing skin.

Take A Holistic Approach

A truly minimalistic approach to skincare is linked to lifestyle. Everyday factors like diet, sleep, and alcohol consumption can have the largest effect on the way the skin looks. There is no miracle cream for glowing skin, rather the skin is a communicator of our overall health and wellbeing.

To enjoy the full effects of your skincare regimen, make sure to eat a nutritious and varied diet, prioritize rest, and strive to manage stressors. By taking a holistic approach to skincare, you will likely feel more tuned in to your body and skin, and feel less drawn to that 10-step skincare routine in the first place.

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Katie Muirhead

Katie is an Australian-born, Brooklyn-based writer with a love for all things beauty. She believes that a holistic approach to health and skincare is the best concealer there is. She preaches that less is more when it comes to skincare and makeup, and that it's crucial to understand the science behind a product.

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