Scrolling through the #shelfie hashtag on Instagram will give you over 2.5 million photos of beautifully lit medicine cabinets practically bursting with painstakingly color-coordinated skincare products.
Exfoliating toners, face oils, serums, masks, eye creams, cleansers, and moisturizers: every category is present and accounted for, plus bonus clout for currently trending beauty brands. An extensive skincare routine including "it" products has become a status symbol in recent years, with one viral "must-have" after another dominating the online skincare chat.
What you don't always see on social media are the potential side effects of misusing some of these viral products, like the common misstep of overloading on powerful active ingredients.
But the tell-tale red, flaky, and sensitive skin is familiar to too many beauty enthusiasts, and it's given rise to a whole new status-skincare trend: "skinimalism."
Less Is More Is the Way
According to Pinterest's Pinterest Predicts 2021 report, skinimalism is "the end of the caked-on makeup look." In addition to embracing "slow" beauty and "letting your natural skincare texture shine through," the social media platform says this new routine emphasizes simplicity. In other words, a skinimalist routine consists of just the essential products.
Although having an aesthetically curated product lineup is a growing trend right now, "less is more" has always been the better approach for your actual skin. Just ask any dermatologist. "This is normal to us," says Ranella Hirsch, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Atolla, a custom skincare brand. The risks of having an overstuffed medicine cabinet or vanity are a no-brainer to those in the field. "This is why you don't use 75 products at once or why dermatologists tell you to only try one new product at a time."
Shereene Idriss, MD, an NYC-based board-certified cosmetic dermatologist explains what could go wrong when you don't follow this advice. "The biggest risk is developing an irritation, which can evolve into residual post-inflammatory erythema and hyperpigmentation," she says. "This outcome can take months to resolve leaving you with a bigger problem than you had in the first place."
And bigger skin problems are the absolute last thing anyone needs in 2021.
Skinimalism comes after a year that found U.S. women using more skincare products than ever before. According to The NPD Group's 2020 Women's Facial Skincare Consumer Report, 40% of facial skincare users reported using their products more often last year. Cleansers, moisturizers, exfoliators/scrubs, and masks were the categories that saw the biggest increase as we all explored more (and more) self-care at home.
Behind hand soap, skincare was the second best-selling health and beauty care product category in 2020 — a demand we see firsthand at InStyle, with our readers' almost insatiable appetite for discovering hero products that deliver results, from anti-aging moisturizers to brightening vitamin C serums.
So why is Pinterest predicting we'll all be going back to basics in 2021?
The number of new skincare brands that enter the market with a single hero product rather than a complicated slate of 12 is one sign the popularity of the shelfie is waning. Summer Fridays is one example. In 2018, the brand launched with the Jet Set Mask, a multipurpose hydrating mask, which routinely flew off of shelves. Augustinus Bader is another brand that has become famous for a single product. The Cream has a dedicated following of celebrities —including Victoria Beckham, January Jones, and Alexa Chung — and beauty editors alike because the "miracle" cream is designed to replace all of the other products in your routine.
The affordable, dermatologist-recommended brand CerAve is also having a moment. Recently, the Hydrating Facial Cleanser went viral on TikTok because its gentle formula boasts tried-and-true ingredients (ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin) and stands up to prestige products, at a very accessible price.
And when shoppers can get solid recommendations straight from a reputable source without all the trial-and-error, that cuts down on purchasing unnecessary products, too. This is one result of a recent rise in educational skincare influencers, such as Hyram Yarbro on TikTok and dermatologists including Drs. Hirsch and Idriss who share their medical knowledge for free on Instagram. Overwhelmingly, their lessons have something to do with telling us all to calm down with the product layering.
"I think, like everything in life, once the pendulum swings one way it will swing back the other," says Dr. Idriss. "Over the past few years, people have adopted a more-is-more mentality, and they needed to realize that it wasn't doing more for their skin. I am relieved to see that people are finally focusing their skincare on the actual skin problems they have."
Reality Check: “Perfect Skin” Is a Lie
Consumers are also growing tired of the unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated by filters, photo-editing apps, and airbrushed beauty brand campaigns. In early February, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the U.K. ruled that influencers must state when they use a filter on any posts promoting skincare or cosmetics. The hope is this will help keep false promises and unrealistic expectations in check.
"Women who are 25 now have literally grown up with the expectation that when you leave the house, it will be documented at some point," says Dr. Hirsch. " There's just no escape from this constant sense of looking your best at all times, and I think there's this natural tendency to just say, 'enough is enough.'"
Just because you can use a primer, serum, face mask, and exfoliating toner on your face daily in an effort to achieve a poreless appearance, doesn't mean you have to. And anyway, "Healthy skin has pores, spots, and scars," she adds.
The rising acceptance of natural skin texture doesn't stop new skincare products from launching at a dizzying pace, though. And that can make building a skinimalist routine overwhelming — before you commit to using less than a handful of tubes, you want to know that you're holding onto the right ones.
VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot
When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot
And make sure it's at least SPF 30
Building Your Minimalist Skincare Routine
Consulting a board-certified dermatologist is a foolproof way to find the right skincare products for you, whether you want to go HAM at Sephora or keep it simple, but Drs. Hirsch and Idriss have some helpful tips for building your pared-down routine.
Dr. Hirsch says to think of your face like a car, which won't run without gas and oil. When it comes to skincare, cleansing your face and applying sunscreen are your fuel. Once you have those two steps down, you can incorporate add-ons based on your specific skincare concerns. "You add in thing by thing, but the core of a regimen is so much simpler than what people think," she says.
Dr. Idriss seconds paying attention to your skin concerns, rather than trends. "Focus first on the most problematic issue your skin presents, and then go after that," she says. For example, if dryness is your main problem, you may want to add a moisturizer with colloidal oatmeal; for hyperpigmentation, a glycolic acid or hydroquinone serum; if you're hung up on crow's feet or loss of elasticity, retinol is your holy grail; if acne is your biggest struggle, try a cleanser or spot treatment with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. "Focusing on one issue at a time and trying to address that issue singularly, rather than trying to focus on all of your problems simultaneously, will make the biggest difference when approaching your skincare routine," Dr. Idriss says.
In conjunction with the skinimalism trend, Pinterest has seen a 110% increase in searches for "homemade skincare." But Dr. Hirsch warns that might be counterproductive if you're seeking to simplify things for your skin. "All we tend to do with the mix-and-matching of ingredients is cause our own troubles," she says.
The bottom line: Routinized, committed use of a couple solid products should be all your skin needs to be its best. So once you land on your set, the next time you find yourself adding a brand's buzzy new launch to your online shopping cart, take a pause and consider whether it'll just end up as clutter on your shelfie — or your face.