Skincare Layering Ruined My Complexion—Now I Turn to These Products Instead

If you take one thing away from this story, let it be this: Owning loads of skincare products doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed great skin. In fact, I’d go as far to say it will likely be making the state of your complexion worse. In my many years as an acne-suffering beauty editor, I have finally come to accept that being a skincare minimalist is the secret to a great complexion. How do I know this, you ask? Because I found out the hard way. 

You see, for years, the beauty industry has been selling us a very lucrative lie. A few years ago, about the same time beauty really took off on social media, brands started educating us on individual skincare ingredients. They had us believing that such ingredients were “new” and set to be game-changing. I’m talking the likes of hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, and acids. Once we were suitably educated on their abilities, brands began selling us products that champion those ingredients. Nowadays, we have glycolic acid toners, hyaluronic acid serums, vitamin C masks and niacinamide cleansers. Before I knew it, I was applying a minimum of eight products to my skin morning and evening.

As my skin became gradually more troublesome and my acne began flaring up more regularly over the years, I started feeling increasingly more lost when it came to my skincare routine. As a beauty editor who knows the ins and outs of every skincare product and ingredient out there, even I couldn’t get my routine right. So how the hell was anybody else supposed to? When I reached out to skincare experts, their solution was always the same: reduce the number of products I was using. But how can I? I thought. Surely my skin needs all of these vital ingredients?

And the truth, I have learned, is that yes, my skin does benefit from all of the ingredients, just not in separate formulas. You see, I’m going to let you in on a very big secret: Layering your skincare products isn’t nearly as good for your skin as brands would have you believe; it just makes them a lot of money. Why sell one product, specially formulated with an array of ingredients designed to work in tandem, when they could split up that ingredient list into five different serums and sell them all individually?

“A common mistake is people using too many products without the supervision of a skincare expert. Each product alone can be effective, but when layered with one or more of the other ingredients, it can cause irritation and dryness to the skin,” says Ridah Syed, senior medical aesthetician at Skinfluencer. And this is where the issue arises. The fact of the matter is the average beauty consumer is not a cosmetic formulator. We simply cannot retain the amount of information required to know exactly what products should be used when, how and where. So we slap them all on, hope for the best and, as was my case, ruin the state of our skin while we’re at it.

For the sake of my skin, sanity and bank balance, I have once again started reaching for products that I know have been formulated to deliver a bunch of benefits all at once. “Multi-benefit products don’t focus on one single ingredient to the exclusion of others. Rather, they take a more comprehensive view. In general, these products are formulated with a blend of antioxidants, skin-replenishing ingredients, as well as skin-restoring ingredients to help keep skin healthy and looking its best,” says Helen Cowan, senior skin therapist at Dr Nestor’s Medical Cosmetic Centre, Edinburgh.

Such products are what I like to call minimalist skincare. Their ingredient lists might be far from minimal, but their nature very much is. All I need is a cleanser to remove grime and keep breakouts at bay without drying my skin; a well-formulated, potent antioxidant serum to fend off ageing free radical damage (such as that caused by UV rays and pollution); a moisturiser that delivers essential hydration and supports the antioxidant protection of my serum (some days I’ll use one or the other); and an everyday SPF. For when my skin needs some more targeted help, instead of trying to concoct my own routine, I simply reach for wash-off skin treatments and masks.

Since abiding by this regimen and adopting this mindset, I can safely say my skin has never looked better. The products are, by their nature, a little more expensive than the affordable, single-ingredient serums I’ve been used to, but they really work. Instead of buying 10 products at £15 each, I buy two products at £60, or if I’m feeling spendy, one product at £120.

If you can relate to this feeling of total skincare confusion, keep scrolling to discover the 16 minimalist skincare products that have saved my skin.

Cleansers

The thing that I love the most about this cleanser is that it is suited to just about every occasion. The slippery gel texture works into a hardworking lather, and it is also pH balanced to match the skin's natural levels and avoid irritation. Beyond delivering cleansing hydration, though, it also contains English mulberry, which is high in vitamin C content to help boost glow and protect skin against ageing oxidative stress.

One thing I have learned is that when my skin is oily or prone to breaking out, the worst thing I can do is start slathering on heaps of products. Instead, I like to keep my product choices consistent and swap in a clarifying cleanser like this one. With salicylic acid, it helps to slough away pore-clogging dead skin cells, while niacinamide works to reduce the appearance of large pores and keep skin happy.

Okay, listen up. This cleanser really is one that I believe everyone should have in their collection. It utilises a special amino acid complex to help keep skin free of dulling congestion, while supercharged squalane and aloe deliver the ultimate hydration. It has a satisfying lather that really doesn't dry the skin out, making it the perfect example of why different ingredients with different end points should totally be formulated together.

For the first few weeks of using this cleanser, I wasn't aware of the price. I loved the fact it just did what I wanted it to without any fuss. It unclogs pores, delivers adequate hydration without suffocating the skin, and also possesses some wonderfully brightening antioxidant properties too. So when I discovered it's only a tenner, I genuinely couldn't believe my luck.

Treatments

I really love the fact that this stuff only takes a couple of minutes to do its work. Just slather it on (it's suitable for sensitive skin, too), and let the powerful formula unclog pores to leave skin looking glowy and feeling smooth.

Whenever my skin is lacking a bit of something something, I reach for this mask. It's one of the cheaper Dr. Barbara Sturm products out there but definitely one of my favourites. With antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, this mask gives skin the stuff it needs to make it look like its very best self. With kaolin, it helps to gently work against oil production, while a plethora of soothing moisturising ingredients such as vitamin E, aloe vera and chamomile help to restore balance. 

As mentioned, I don't like to leave targeted treatments on my face—even if the packaging advises it. Instead of using this overnight as suggested, I like to slather it on my skin and leave it for 10 minutes to let the vitamin C and squalane do their tone-evening, glow-boosting, hydrating thing. 

This mask is totally foolproof. You can reap the benefits of it no matter your skin type. Containing manuka honey to hydrate, charcoal to combat oil production, and gold to boost glow, it has become a weekly reach-for.

Serums

This stuff is full to the brim of antioxidants to help deliver one of the most plumping, glow-boosting formulas I have ever come across. Developed by a dermatologist (as opposed to so many other products that are simply developed with dermatologists), this stuff really does deliver everything skin needs to be at its healthiest from all angles. And if that isn't enough, it also contains a hearty dose of hyaluronic acid to boost plumpness and hydrate skin at the surface.

As the name would suggest, this serum takes a four-dimensional approach to skin protection and defence by using four different filters. First of all, there is a two-tier antioxidant complex to help protect skin against ageing and dulling free radical damage. Then there's the addition of peptides to help repair damage. Finally, it uses a sugar film. At first, this takes a little bit of getting used to, but the tacky feeling disappears soon after application. Its purpose? To create a second layer to the skin barrier and protect those damaging free radicals from doing their thing.

This is without a doubt my most-loved skincare product ever. The reason is that when I have a bottle of this on the go, I really don't need anything else (barring SPF, of course). It contains a huge amount of hyaluronic acid to help plump skin and deliver hydration, while also boasting a very impressive antioxidant complex to help protect skin and boost its repair overnight. If you only ever buy one skincare serum, make it ANR.

While really great all-in-one antioxidant serums tend to be expensive, this little green bottle is an exception. It's so good, in fact, that it is one of The Body Shop's best-selling products worldwide. It delivers an instant glow and helps to protect skin in the long term.

Moisturisers

Few moisturisers deliver the immediate joy that this one does for me. It contains hyaluronic acid to plump and give skin that quenched juiciness I crave, but most importantly, it also contains ginseng to boost hydration further, protect skin against free radicals, and help reduce inflammation.

While I'm sure Augustinus Bader needs no introduction, this new cream probably does. While The Rich Cream is considered to be one of the best minimalist skincare products ever created thanks to its multi-pronged approach to skin health, this cream does all of that while delivering next-level skin-soothing moisture and hydration. While it's doing its dryness-busting thing, the brand's iconic TFC8 complex helps to fight fine lines and hyperpigmentation caused by external aggressors. If you have this stuff to hand, you really don't require a serum.

I consider this moisturiser to be my go-to for when I feel confident that my serum is doing enough. It champions lightweight hydration that delivers maximum results. Expect skin to look more glowing while feeling softer and plumper straight away.

Price shown is members' price.

Why should antioxidant face creams have to break the bank? This stuff contains a plethora of antioxidants to help fend off signs of premature ageing, while hyaluronic acid helps to plump and hydrate. Beauty Pie knocked it out of the park once again with this one.

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