I Threw Out All My Complicated Skin Care & My Skin Looks So Much Better

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Perhaps the most notable perk of being a beauty editor is that we get to try many exclusive, lusted-after products. In particular, I go wild for getting my hands on skin-care newness. I’m not alone: The allure of trying the latest formula or buzzy ingredient is widespread, as is the “more is more” approach to skin care.

2020 saw us refocus our efforts on all things skin. Unsurprisingly, several reports show the self-care sector boomed during lockdown, with sales of skin care increasing ostensibly as a way to maintain a sense of normality. #Skincare was the top hashtag in beauty on Twitter, according to Sprinklr’s “The Beauty In Twitter” report, while others talked about how their elaborate skin-care routines helped alleviate pandemic-induced stress and anxiety.

While skin care in abundance works for some, many others — like me — experienced problems they hadn’t noticed before, and it’s all down to over-experimentation. Without sounding unbearable, I’ve always prided myself on my skin and received plenty of compliments on the level of “glow.” But last year, my jam-packed skin-care routine began to work against me. Trying more things and layering on expensive products started to take its toll.

By June, I had full-blown adult acne. A culmination of stress, constant mask-wearing, and a six-step routine resulted in nasty under-the-skin zits all along my cheeks and jawline. I was conscious of my skin — even embarrassed at times. It was an odd sensation, considering my job is to recommend products to people. To not be able to resolve the exact skin-care issues I was writing about was a difficult pill to swallow.

So I decided to visit Dr. Stefanie Williams, consultant dermatologist and medical director at Eudelo. I’d never been to a dermatologist’s office before, but Dr. Williams’ answer was simple: a “less is more” approach. She tasked me with streamlining my (quite frankly ridiculous) skin-care collection full of complicated formulas and encouraged me to stick to a pared-back, gentle regimen instead. It was time to part ways with my shelfie-worthy collection of products. (Of course, I acknowledge that visiting a dermatologist might not be the most accessible route for everyone struggling with their skin. In London, where I live, dermatologist appointments can start at £250, and that’s before recommended treatment and follow-ups. However, I’m hoping that sharing my routine may help others who are experiencing the same skin issues.)

My New Morning Routine

My new morning routine starts with a simple cleanser that has become a new favorite: La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Hydrating Cleansing Cream, a luxe, creamy formula that feels much more expensive than it is. I follow this with SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF, a vitamin C serum that’s best suited to oily or acne-prone skin types. I was unknowingly using the C E Ferulic formula before this, which is best for normal to dry skin. Although I adore this product, it’s a major investment: Garden of Wisdom Majik C Serum is a more affordable dupe with a 62% ingredient match, according to skin-care comparison site SKINSKOOL.

The next step in my routine is a prescription antibiotic cream containing clindamycin phosphate, which you can get from your dermatologist or through an online service like Apostrophe. I use this every other morning on alternating days to my evening medicated cream. I finish off my mornings with a layer of SkinCeuticals Sheer Mineral UV Defense SPF 50 — we all know how important sunscreen is, and it’s even more so when you’re using a retinol-based formula at night.

My New Evening Routine

First, I remove my makeup with La Roche-Posay Make-Up Remover Micellar Water Gel, which is so easy to use — it literally melts away product with water. Unless you’re wearing heavy makeup, there’s no need for a flannel or muslin cloth. I follow this with a second cleanse, using my morning cleansing cream.

Next is my retinol, Differin 0.1%. I have found this to be a bit of a miracle cure for my acne — plus, you can buy it over the counter in the U.S. Dr. Williams also recommends La Roche-Posay Redermic R Anti-Aging Concentrate, which is a little more costly than Differin but still cheaper than most prescription retinols. I use this retinol every other night and sometimes follow it with La Roche-Posay Toleriane Sensitive Fluide if my skin is feeling dry. Increasingly though, as my skin has become healthier, I find myself needing it less and less. It’s a really lightweight formula for when I do need an extra hit of hydration, and is great for breakout-prone skin, even when layered over retinol.

A couple of short months after visiting Dr. Williams, my skin was back on track, looking the best it ever has. The spots were gone, the glow was back, and my confidence had finally returned. And I’m not the only one enjoying simplicity right now: 2021 is set to see streamlined skin care take flight, and after all the over-masking and DIYing we did in the past year, it’s a welcome change.

Experts have actually been advocating a stripped-back approach to skin care for years. Skin-care consultancy Lion/ne is based on this philosophy. As cofounder Megan Felton explains, overusing ingredients and indulging in overcomplicated routines can cause more harm than good. “The more you use, the higher at risk you are of over-exfoliating and overfeeding, thus potentially compromising the skin,” she explains. “By stripping back a client’s routine, we tend to see a decrease in breakouts.” Dr. Williams says that she sees the “victims” of overloaded skin at Eudelo every day. “My advice is to give your skin more credit and help it to help itself, rather than suffocating it,” she says. This means avoiding heavy, overly rich creams and steering clear of over-exfoliating, too.

My experience is a reminder that stripping back your routine doesn’t mean it can’t be comprehensive and feature some of the best ingredients. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to a complicated regimen. I can’t believe it, but I’ve well and truly ditched many of my old skin-care must-haves.

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