Published on October 19, 2019

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photo by aaron bengochea

In a time when medicine cabinets get as much (if not more) Instagram love as beautifully arranged bookshelves or neatly organized closets, you might find yourself stopping in the middle of your lengthy moisturizing routine and asking, “Wait, do I really need all of these products?” And you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, there are plenty of skincare lines that have built their followings by simply offering something more, well, simple.

Ayond, a four-product line inspired by southwestern desert plants, is one of the newest brands taking a pared-down approach to skincare. With a cleansing balm, face serum, day cream, and face oil—all containing plant oils and butters—the line offers an uncomplicated and preventative treatment plan. “We have a holistic approach to optimizing skin health,” explain founders Porter Yates and Shani Van Breukelen. “Skin experiences stress throughout the day, and we wanted to create a regime that keeps it hydrated, nourished, and protected from environmental stressors.”

Ayond’s less-is-more strategy is part of a larger movement within the beauty industry: Cult-status brands like Vintner’s Daughter, routine-oriented ones like Peet Rivko, and versatile options like Noto Botanics are all paving the path for less-packed medicine cabinets, increased transparency, and more approachability for those of us who can’t tell an essence from a serum.

Why Less Might Be More

According to the experts, it’s possible we’re overthinking our double digit–step routines in the first place. “The ideal number of steps is three: cleanse, apply an active product, then moisturize—plus a sunscreen in the morning,” says Morgan Rabach, board-certified dermatologist and cofounder of LM Medical. “Too many steps decreases compliance, and more than a few layers of products often causes them to bead up or they don’t get absorbed as well in the skin.”

And there are so many products that no longer serve just one purpose. Your serum can fight hyperpigmentation and acne. Your moisturizer can hydrate and exfoliate. So when you invest in high-quality products that do it all, there’s less cocktailing required of you—and that can lead to an even better result. For example, Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence is full of active ingredients from 22 different nutrient-dense plants, and when paired with the brand’s Active Botanical Serum, the combo is powerful enough to eschew much else.

For Gloria Noto, founder of Noto Botanics, using versatile products is also key for a simplified, sustainable routine. “Sustainability comes from so many avenues—one is by creating products that have multiuse functions, meaning you have less but still have it all.” Noto’s Deep Serum, which contains Vitamin C-rich sea buckthorn oil and anti-inflammatory rosehip seed oil, among other natural ingredients, can either be used as a traditional serum or a serum-moisturizer hybrid.

There’s also the fact that using too many products could make it trickier to pin down what’s really working for you—and in the worst scenarios, it could have an adverse effect on your skin, Yates and Van Breukelen point out. And just because a product is trendy doesn’t mean it’s going to change your complexion overnight. “So much of skincare is driven by newness for the sake of newness, not because the skin needs it,” says April Gargiulo, founder of Vintner’s Daughter. “I always say, find the products that are truly in service of skin and marry them for life.”

How to Find a Minimal Skin Routine

While it’s easy to be swayed by buzzy ingredients or pretty packaging (guilty as charged!), before adding any product to your routine, it’s important to give it a background check. “Most people don’t realize that the skincare industry is essentially unregulated with no major legislation passed since 1973,” says Johanna Peet, founder of Peet Rivko. “I think smart, updated regulation would go far in helping the average person understand what’s in a product and how it might affect their skin, and then they can make an educated decision about how complicated their routine should be.”

When in doubt, avoid piling on active ingredients (basically, the ingredients that “treat” specific issues like acne or hyperpigmentation), and start with a foundation of gentle products. “My line is great for mixing and matching with your other favorite products, especially those that might be more aggressive, like a retinol or acne medication,” Peet adds.

While it may be tempting to stick to a single line of skincare products (as pretty as they might all look on your bathroom counter), Rabach says this isn’t necessarily the best strategy. “I think it is important to seek out products that use the best ingredients available,” she says. By prioritizing natural ingredients (and being transparent about them), minimalist brands are making approachable, simplified routines that might just be the easygoing alternative your skin has been craving. “We’re creating products for all people,” Peet says. “Anyone with skin.”

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