Let’s time-travel back to early March 2020. The alarm goes off at 6:30 am. You wake up, hop into the shower, blow-dry and style your hair, pick out an outfit, stand in front of the mirror and do your makeup, grab your lunch and gym bag, and run out the door to make the 8:10 bus. You do the same the next morning. And the next. And the one after that.
If just reading that sentence is enough to make you save a LinkedIn search for “remote jobs,” you’re not alone. Over the past two-and-a-half-ish years, there are a lot of things we’ve realized we’re okay doing without. It’s a general theme of “less”—less commuting, less crowded workout studios, less silly chitchat at social commitments. Add to that: less makeup.
Even as people are venturing back out, many don’t plan to return to the days of contouring and fake lashes. There’s another reason for that besides new habits: More people paid attention to skin care during the pandemic, say dermatologists, and better-looking skin negates the need to reach for foundation.
Some are calling this trend “skinimalism”—a.k.a. an emphasis on a natural, easy, streamlined look that’s all about showing off glowing skin.
“People are really into their skin—healthy skin, not heavy, heavy makeup,” says Carl Ray, a DC makeup artist who has seen a big improvement in longtime clients’ skin. “Now it’s like less is more. Quality over quantity.”
Statistics bear this out. The global cosmetics industry initially took a dip when Covid hit, but it rebounded to pre-pandemic levels last year, according to L’Oréal’s 2021 annual report. Dermocosmetics—products that support both skin health and its appearance—drove much of that. While dermocosmetics sales have slightly outpaced the global beauty market for several years, they grew significantly more than the at-large beauty market during Covid: It’s the only cosmetics sector that saw growth in 2020, according to L’Oréal’s report from that year.
Meanwhile, the weekly use of cosmetics dropped, on average, by 28 percent compared with pre-Covid days, according to a Kantar study, which found that people were opting for fewer, higher-quality products when they did use them and were placing a greater premium on simplifying their routines.
As part of their new pared-down approach, Ray says, many of his clients are into streamlined products with multiple uses—a tinted moisturizer with SPF, say, or a lip stain that can also be applied to eyes and cheeks. Whereas clients previously might have used at least ten products at a time, he notes, “they’re down to five to eight that fit into one little bag. People have really simplified their lives. The pandemic has done that for folks.”
Before the lockdown, Mary Turner Troutman, a 30-year-old Dupont Circle resident who works in marketing, almost always left the house with makeup on. When she went to work or met friends, she would put on concealer, foundation, bronzer, blush, eyeliner, mascara, shadow, and eyebrow pencil. In the early Zoom-from-home days, she kept up her routine, then realized it didn’t make sense to waste time getting ready when she wasn’t going anywhere. “You reprioritized your time,” she says. “Sitting at home with the family all quarantined together just made you have a look at yourself and how you approached your day.”
Troutman got used to seeing herself without cosmetics, even when she left the house. These days, she’ll occasionally do full makeup for a special event, but typically she’ll just slap on some skin-care products, sunscreen, dry shampoo, and she’s out the door. She also has seen an improvement in her skin since she’s stopped wearing as many cosmetics, making her even less inclined to go back to her old routine.
Melanie Corcoran has a similar story. Before Covid, the 29-year-old Loudoun County resident, who’s a clinical technician and nursing student, would wear a faceful of cosmetics every time she went out—foundation, concealer, eyeliner, mascara. She had battled acne for years and was self-conscious about her skin. Plus, she’d been wearing makeup so long, she thought she looked weird without it.
But when her foundation started rubbing off under her mask, she ditched most cosmetics. More time at home meant time to research and try new products. (An unexpected benefit of face masks: If your skin freaks out from a new product, no one can tell!) This combo—less makeup, time to find the products that work best for her—means Corcoran’s skin is looking the best it ever has. “It’s just glowing now,” she says. “I never thought it would actually glow.”
These days, the most makeup she usually wears is a tinted moisturizer or SPF and eyebrow pencil. “People are just becoming more confident in their natural beauty,” Corcoran says of the past couple years. “People are so much more appreciative of who they are without makeup. It’s becoming more of an enhancement, as opposed to a way to hide yourself.”
Core Skin Care
An important part of the “skinimalism” equation involves taking care of your skin—after all, it’s harder to embrace an effortless, natural aesthetic if you feel self-conscious about acne or hyperpigmentation.
At the start of Covid, some went a little too hardcore with skin care, says McLean dermatologist Lorena Dollani. More time at home meant that more people scrolled around on TikTok and Instagram, and they started experimenting with products or techniques that their favorite influencers used.
“It’s easy to go overboard,” says Dollani. “The skin-care community kind of exploded.” She reports patients coming in with irritated, itchy, and red skin after using and mixing too many products.
It doesn’t take much to get healthy skin, says Arleen Lamba, medical director and founder of the DC facial membership group Glo30: “There are three components of skin care—the goal is hydration, pH balance, and anti-inflammation.” She recommends using a gentle cleanser to balance pH; an SPF and a serum such as vitamin C to fight inflammation; and a moisturizer. Retinoids could be helpful, too, Lamba says, but she suggests that people consult with a dermatologist before using them.
The biggest key is consistency, she explains. “I kind of compare it to your wardrobe,” Lamba says: Just as you would with a streamlined capsule wardrobe, invest in core products that feel good and that you’ll want to reach for. “You need to have your staple items in skin care. That’s what skin minimalism is.”
This article appears in the September 2022 issue of Washingtonian.