You know the stories, a classic of the lifestyle genre: someone is asked to share their skincare routine, which they describe as low-key, considered, "simple". Then they list a plethora of products that they use in the morning and another list they use at night. Simple? Okay, sure.
In recent years, this concept of uncomplicated beauty has become co-opted to mean something else entirely. But a new movement of streamlined skincare routines is emphasising super-targeted ingredients and functional versatility (yep, the 2-in-1 concept of yore) - with a less is more, green philosophy also sparking a wave of exciting local beauty start-ups.
This pared-back approach comes off the back of the Korean skincare craze, which embraced a complex daily regime that required commitment and a lot of products. The famous 10-step Korean skincare routine included a double-cleanse (balm/oil and foaming), exfoliator, toner, essence, ampoule/serum, sheet mask, eye cream, moisturiser and a night cream/sleep mask or SPF.
K-beauty took over the Western mainstream in 2011, with consumers drawn to its combination of affordability and results (some, like The New Yorker's Jia Tolentino, likened complex skincare routines to a nice, controllable project or coping mechanism during a tumultuous era of politics). It also spoke to beauty's new embrace of skincare and "natural beauty" - cult US brand Glossier launched in 2010 with its skin-first philosophy, an influential approach that has had its critics ("natural beauty" - that is, beauty that focuses on skincare rather than the expressive side of makeup - is often equated with a very whitewashed look). Cynics could say that the beauty industry simply replaced relatively affordable makeup with much more lucrative skincare: you only really need one mascara but there's expansive potential in the number of skincare products you can have on your shelf.
But increasingly, consumers have begun to question the need for all these products - and its wider impact.
Trend forecaster WGSN named "the end of more" as a key beauty trend for 2021, with a focus on results-driven products.
"Not only is there a growing collective consciousness about the human impact on the planet, leading to people cutting back and avoiding brands that refuse to step up but years of buying excessive amounts of product that don't make that much difference are starting to take a toll on the consumer's patience – and wallet," they wrote. "Adding to this environmentalist mindset is the growing realisation that slathering the skin with multiple products isn't actually very good for it."
It's been dubbed "skip-care - a skincare diet that focuses on using fewer but harder-working products with high levels of proven concentrated ingredients – sort of like a vitamin shot for the skin".
Alongside this is the ongoing rise of natural, clean or botanical beauty, in the sense of ingredients rather than aesthetics - Mecca Cosmetica describes it as "naturally derived" essentials that "blend high-tech with holistic".
Local beauty entrepreneur Emma Lewisham launched her namesake brand last year with a focus on clean and sustainable skincare. She's slowly been expanding her line, while deliberately keeping the offering streamlined but multifunctional.
"When I developed Emma Lewisham, it was partly in response to being sold more and more add-on products," she says. "I found that beauty was becoming cynical in this respect and I also knew that the packaging end of life was going to landfill."
Earlier this year she launched a refill programme as a response to the environmental and waste concerns. For that reason and more, she believes the "skip-care" trend is only set to grow in 2021. "This shift is being driven by the understanding that putting more on our skin doesn't necessarily mean more results and, in fact, can be detrimental to our skin. Overcomplicated, excessive skincare routines can interfere with the natural oils in our skin and can cause irritation and more breakouts. Sometimes, less is more."
Aotearoa-based beauty brands are proving to be innovators in this space. Sans [ceuticals] was an early adopter, launching in 2007 with a focus on active and multi-functional skincare (they have 10 skin- and body-focused products). Beyond skincare, Aleph Beauty offers a tight edit of high-performance makeup with just four products, as does the just-launched clean haircare brand Chloe Zara Hair. Further to the idea of stripping things back to only what is actually needed are skincare brands embracing traditional Māori Rongoā - there are countless brands out there in this space (InnoNative is a wonderful store with a wide offering), but two high-profile ones are Aotea, utilising native flora grown on Great Barrier Island, and Frankie Apothecary, with its use of kawakawa extracts. Genuinely low-key, considered and yes, simple.
GIVE IT A GO
Brands worth investing in, for you (or them)
Emma Lewisham Illuminating Oil Cleanser, $77
Sans [ceuticals] Activator 7 Body + Hair + Face Oil, $59
Corbin Road Multi-Vitamin Restorative Face Oil, $55
Aotea Mānuka Honey Day Cream, $50
Chloe Zara Hair Silk Hair Balm, $54
Aleph Beauty Cheek/Lip Tint, $55
Frankie Apothecary Kawakawa Body Oil, $43 Maryse Bio-Boost Eye + Lip Serum, $42
The Avo Tree Facial Exfoliant, $35
Go-To Face Hero, $49, from Mecca
Skinnies Body Bar, $20