Skinimalism, the latest beauty trend, is here to save you time and money when it comes to your skin care routine. You can probably guess by the name — a portmanteau of “skin” and “minimalism” — that the trend is all about simplifying your skin care and building a regimen that helps you achieve healthy, glowing skin with only the necessary amount of products.
The rise of skinimalism comes from the same sentiment that made no-makeup makeup just as popular as full-faced glamor. The no-makeup makeup trend has been going strong since the mid-2010s, offering a fresh-faced and pared-back look that highlights natural beauty. Along with the popularity of the simplified makeup routine, healthy skin became a focal point, with brands like Glossier and Ilia promoting the your-skin-but-better aesthetic. Soon, skin care saw a boom and by the late 2010s everyone was privy to the 10-step skin care routine, beauty “shelfies” took over social media and skinfluencers caused “it” products to go viral, and subsequently sell out.
Having an extensive skin care routine was made desirable not only by beauty brands, but by consumer-driven trends. However, having a whole arsenal of cleansers, toners, exfoliators, serums, moisturizers, face oils and more can overload the skin, causing sensitivity and irritation. In the long term, too many high-strength active ingredients can also damage the skin barrier and make it more difficult to treat concerns like wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and more.
Now, skinimalism is in the spotlight. As we Marie Kondo our vanities, we’re finding that less really can do more.
“The 10-step skin care routine is definitely waning in popularity, and as a dermatologist I’m very pleased about this,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care. “Not only was it time-consuming and potentially quite expensive, it also introduced a lot of irritants and conflicting formulations into people’s skin routines.”
What is skinimalism?
We’ve defined the etymology of skinimalism, but let’s dig a bit deeper into the trend. The term has been around since early 2021, appearing on TikTok and in beauty subreddits, and is now being embraced by the industry at large. Beauty brands are touting minimalist skin care regimens with highly effective, often multitasking, products packed with actives. The goal of skinimalism is to support healthy, balanced skin with an uncomplicated, targeted course of treatment consisting of usually three to five products.
Like any trend, it may not be for everyone. Skin care enthusiasts who relish in slathering on their daily serums, creams and oils may wish to continue doing so — and as long as it’s not irritating or damaging the skin, that works for them. But Ciraldo and celebrity esthetician Joanna Czech have seen firsthand how clients can get overzealous with the products. Especially during the pandemic, people took a more hands-on approach to their skin care.
“I did about 1,600 FaceTime consultations over the last two years, and I think there were two camps,” Czech says. “The first camp was overdoing their at-home skin care because they had more time and they were worried because they couldn’t have their regular treatments. The second camp was doing what they should be doing regarding skin care and sticking to their routines.”
Ciraldo also notes the spectrum of beauty consumers, what she calls “skin care personalities,” and how she saw “an uptick in the number of patients coming to me with facial problems that were caused by excessive use of products.”
Skinimalism offers an alternative that focuses on efficacy, daily care and following protocol. It can even work with what you already have in your vanity. “I believe in many different products, but not all at once,” Czech says. “Simplicity is best.”
Does skinimalism work?
Skinimalism may feel like a big departure from the 10-step skin care routine, but it isn’t that radical to skin care experts. “Skimimalism is what I have always supported,” Czech shares. “It is what I teach my clients, and the majority of them prescribe to it.” The esthetician released her debut skin care line at the end of 2021, offering six daily products plus a sheet mask.
Dermatologists like Ciraldo have also led clients towards a minimalist approach to skin care, although she notes that adopting a pared-back routine may take more effort at the beginning, as you find products that give you results.
“Simple routines really require that you find products that will multitask so you can get enough benefits from less product application,” Ciraldo says. She suggests identifying what skin concerns you want to correct or prevent, and forming a protocol from there. “If you need correction, for example dark marks after acne, be sure to take before selfies so you can assess progress from your regimen,” she says. “Repeat the photos after six weeks, since many issues will take this long to see visible improvement. If you don’t see improvement, consider tweaking your product choices once you finish a particular product.”
For those who aren’t sure where to start or want to tackle more general concerns, Czech says it’s best to speak to a professional and have a plan. “Make sure your skin is balanced and hydrated, and then address one condition at a time,” the esthetician advises.
And just because skinimalism uses fewer products, doesn’t mean you need to splurge. “It’s best never to judge products by their price tags but instead by their results on your own skin,” Ciraldo says. Skinimalism’s main goal is to find effective products that work for you, whether that be drugstore moisturizers or beauty splurges.
Starting your skinimalism skin care routine
“You’ll need to decide how much time and expense you can lay out for a skin care regimen,” Ciraldo says.
As a basic guide, the non-negotiables are using a cleanser, antioxidants (like vitamins C and/or A), moisturizer and SPF for the daytime. A pH balancing toner, eye cream or hydrating serum are also worthy additions to a skinimalist routine, according to the experts we spoke to.
In addition, Czech notes that your nighttime routine should be more comprehensive than your day time lineup. “Evening is the most important routine because products are up to 60% more effective when the body is at rest,” the esthetician says. At bedtime, you can add serums that target specific conditions you want to treat and opt for a heavier moisturizer that seals everything in.
Check out some of our favorite skin care basics for building a skinimalist skin care routine below.
From $22 at Sephora
Ciraldo suggests using a cleanser that is sulfate-free and doesn't have artificial fragrance or color. This gentle formula from Farmacy fits the bill and is made for sensitive skin, so it melts away makeup, SPF and dirt while leaving skin feeling refreshed and balanced.
$22 $18.70 at Paula’s Choice
This toner supports the skin barrier with ceramides, antioxidants and niacinamide to help balance the skin, minimize oil production and keep pores clear.
$90 at BeautyCounter
“Vitamin C boosts our skin's photoprotection as it brightens skin tone, fades dark spots and works to smooth skin by supporting collagen and lessening the appearance of wrinkles,” Ciraldo says. BeautyCounter’s best-selling vitamin C serum includes two forms of the antioxidant to give an overall brighter complexion
$50 at Dr. Loretta
You can streamline your morning skin care routine by “looking for multitaskers like an SPF that moisturizes and has an effective antioxidant,” Ciraldo says. Her Urban Antioxidant Sunscreen contains antioxidant lipochroman that protects against pollution and external factors, while Indian ginseng extract defends the skin against blue light and peptides support the skin’s collagen and hydration.
$18.99 at Ulta
Another multitasking option for day and night, face and body is Cetaphil’s Moisturizing Cream, which is non-comedogenic and safe for sensitive skin. Czech says you can get away with a multiuse product like this because “the face starts at the nipples and ends at the hairline, so you don’t need special neck and décolleté creams. You can use whatever you use on your face on that more delicate area. And any residual product, use on your hands, another fragile area that shows signs of aging faster.”
From $70 at Amazon
Retinaldehyde is among the most potent non-prescription retinoids available, which is why this potent cream is great for targeting deep wrinkles and signs of aging.
$105 at SkinCeuticals
“Since our eyes are the thinnest facial skin they show signs of aging — like crows feet, dark circles, loss of elasticity that gives puffiness and overhang of upper lids — first,” Ciraldo says. A clinically-tested eye cream like this can improve the skin’s elasticity and reduce the look of wrinkles.