Can cutting down on our beauty products help us save money and give us the skin we’ve always wanted? NH investigates…
While everyday beauty rituals such as a dab of perfume behind the ear, a conditioner that makes you smell like your favourite flower, or a moisturiser that your mum swore blind by, might feel wonderfully familiar and feminine, experts suspect that our love of beauty products isn’t just damaging our planet, it’s also making our skin dull. As consumers, we’re set to spend £1.36 billion on skincare by 2023, but with 120 billion units of packaging produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, this will mean that we’re left with a huge excess of plastic bottles. Beauty bloggers, skincare experts and sustainability activists claim that skin fasting could be a good way to cut down on the amount of products lining our bathroom shelves, and help improve our complexion. To find out more, we asked the experts in dermatology and beauty for their two cents.
While skincare has been around since the Greek and Egyptian times, it only really sky- rocketed in the 1800s, following the industrial revolution when mass production came into play. Suddenly, we went from having very little to put on our face to having a huge choice of different skincare products. “Skin fasting has its origins in the philosophies of Hippocrates, an ancient Grecian physician who believed that abstinence can lead to body healing,” says Emma Coleman, a specialist in dermatology (emmacolemanskin.com). In fact, some beauty experts believe that in some circumstances, taking a break from skincare and make-up may give our skin a chance to rejuvenate naturally. “After a skin fast, people with dry, combination or acne prone skin types have reported having a brighter complexion, as their sebum production (an oily, waxy substance produced by your body’s sebaceous glands), isn’t altered by the continuous application of skin products. Only tepid water and sunscreen are permitted during a skin fast to lightly remove pollutants, dead cells and protect the skin from the sun’s UV rays.”
Part of the reason that experts recommend taking a break from products is because some ingredients can change the way your skin operates and cause irritation. “In a study done by the University of Bath, research showed that moisturisers containing sodium lauryl sulfate (a foaming agent found in shampoos, soaps, various beauty and cleaning products), may change your skin barrier permanently, while lipids or ceramides, which are often added to skincare products for moisture, may cause irritation,” says Emma. “These findings propose that beauty products may penetrate and influence the structure and function of the skin, making our skin dependent on these items to keep functioning in the way that we like it to. There’s also evidence to suggest that some extracts including niacinamide (which is used to improve enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines, wrinkles and dullness) and orthosiphon stamineus leaf extract (another pore reducer) significantly alter sebaceous gland activity.”
While the promise of naturally moisturised skin might make you keen to clean out your bathroom cabinet, it’s best to start gradually reducing the amount of products you use rather than throwing them all in the bin. “Sudden withdrawal of these ingredients may upset the skin” says Emma. “Often, the clients I see are overly cleansing their faces, or trying to maintain an eight-step skincare routine twice daily, which may upset your microbiome balance. Skin fasting for a minimum of seven days would be advisable so you can gauge the results.” If you find your complexion does look brighter after a fast, refrain going coldturkey with all your skincare. “There are fundamental products that are must-haves,” says Rachel Huskinson, beauty therapist (skinlounge.co.uk). “The most important product in your toolkit is sunscreen (preferably natural), which should be applied 365 days per year. The second is a pH balanced cleanser to thoroughly clean the skin without stripping it of oils, which if done correctly, will provide the best base for the next crucial step, which is a hydrator. Most people prefer this in the form of a moisturiser, however others will prefer a serum based hydrator. Life zaps moisture from our face, especially in the winter, so skin requires a little helping hand to rehydrate.”
The phrase ‘quality, not quantity’, is never more accurate than when it comes to skincare. “It’s always wise to invest in the correct three high quality products that are right for your skin and that do their job really well, rather than having five lesser quality products that are doing very little, and potentially harming the skin,” says Rachel. “Try to prioritise what you really need, and don’t use multiple serums for the sake of it. I speak to many clients who are using lots of products but not seeing any real improvement to their skin. The disappointing thing for people is that they think that they’re doing all the right things and are not getting anywhere fast – the truth is that skincare quality varies hugely. You may think vitamin C is vitamin C, but the truth is product potency varies massively from brand to brand, so always check the label before you buy. Don’t look at the product name alone.”
I’m all for cutting back on skincare products. I actually did this myself a few years back. I started making some of my own products, switching to natural brands and minimising my whole skincare routine. I think skincare is overcomplicated nowadays and you’re made to feel like you need a million products to achieve clear skin. I’ve found the opposite – less is more, and instead, being aware of the ingredients in the products you’re using and keeping it simple has been key for me in my own skincare routine.
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