Instagram seems to be exploding with complex skincare routines that claim to be absolutely essential for the health of the skin. On the opposite side of the spectrum are skincare minimalists advocating for a minimal routine, or to avoid skincare altogether (“I wash my face with soap”) either because of the fear of chemicals or just ignoring the need for care.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. Over-obsession is equally as dangerous as ignoring skincare. The excessive use of skincare products might mean exposing skin to extra chemicals, hurting the environment (as it leads to massive overuse of natural resources), packaging waste, and releasing chemical compounds into the environment.
To be precise, there is no magic number of steps that bring to good skin. At some points, overemphasizing the absolute need for some products is a marketing trick. So these are at least partly marketing myths: “You should be using toner to balance the pH of your skin” or, “If you are not exfoliating at least once per week, your skin will get worse”.
The truth is that you might have a gentle cleanser that does not significantly alter the pH of your skin, and if your skin does not have special needs (like extra dryness), then you might not need a toner and can go straight to the moisturization. If you have sensitive or very dry skin and use a gentle cleanser, you might not need any exfoliation. So the key is to look at the needs of your skin. Your skin’s needs change depending on the season, your own state (stress, nutrition, changes in the lifestyle, etc.) and even your hormonal cycle.
For example, my skin is normal with a tendency for dryness. And in summer it is in the best condition, so I skip many steps and focus on maintaining the moisture. In summer, I cleanse my skin with cleansing oil + gel once per day in the evening and also apply a blend of oils. I don`t use a cleanser in the morning, only moisturize with oil and then apply sun protection.
Sometimes, even in the summer, I might have special needs that require extra products. For example, pregnancy can cause dark spots on the skin. To address that, I might use a brightening lotion or serum a couple of times a week.
However, things change in colder times, especially when the heat is on. My skin gets extra dry, even flaky. Applying oil is not enough, and I add moisturizing lotion or cream with humectants, use toner, and try to do a nourishing mask at least once per week. As you can see, the difference in routine is quite substantial, so is the skin condition.
For other skin types, the situation is quite different. You might find your skin extra oily in the summer and less in the winter. You might want to have some anti-aging treatments in your routine or feel that you need some exfoliation. These are all optional depending on your needs, but not mandatory to have healthy skin.
To simplify things, let's consider the routine that is foundational and then the additional options that could be added, depending on your needs. The routine should, in essence, consist of cleansing, moisturizing, and sun protection. Anything above that is extra, depending on your skin condition.