The Slow Beauty Movement Is This Year’s Answer To Skinimalism

Our obsession with immediate results might actually be hurting our skin.

Written by Megan McIntyre
Lucas Ottone/Stocksy
The New Year Refresh Issue
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As a culture, we’ve become obsessed with instant gratification. One-hour delivery, bingeable streaming content, literally all of social media — the world is at our fingertips with merely a click. And, that “I want it now” mentality has trickled into our beauty regimens. We’ve been taught that if something doesn’t immediately transform our skin, it must not be any good. Products are marketed as more powerful and potent, formulated with higher percentages of active ingredients, in an ever-increasing attempt to capture consumers looking for The One that will make them shinier, happier, prettier, glowier, insert-your-ier here.

But, the reality is that’s not how skin care works. “We all want results as instant as a beauty filter on Instagram,” says Charlotte Palermino, CEO and co-founder of Dieux skin care, “but you wouldn’t expect to be stronger after one workout, so why do we expect our skin to be completely different after a single use of a product?” Your skin needs consistency and moderation — what Dermalogica’s vice president of education Heather Hickman calls a “progressive, not aggressive” approach to products and activities. That’s because your skin goes through a natural process of renewal, says Hickman, turning over old cells and starting anew. “In your twenties, you're going to renew those skin cells completely within a couple of weeks,” she says. “When you're in your forties or fifties, it might take a month or so.”

That constant state of renewal means those fresh new cells need to acclimate to ingredients slowly, building up a tolerance. Automatically reaching for the most powerful percentage of the strongest ingredient is a skin SOS waiting to happen, explains Arabella Preston, co-founder of the U.K.-based Votary. “Overuse of actives at high percentages can leave skin sensitized and reactive, which can be really hard to recover from,” she says. “Most skin can be temperamental at different times in our life — whether it’s hormonal, stress, or environmental, there are many stressors that can contribute to our skin being a little delicate.” The problem with highly active products is that you sometimes don’t know your skin is in one of these phases until it is too late. “One application of the wrong product at the wrong time can spell serious trouble for your skin,” she warns.

As formulas become more intense and focused on faster results, this has also led to a rise in skin allergies, says Dr. Anjuli Mehrotra, a board-certified allergist, immunologist, and founder of sensitive skin line Evme. “We’ve seen skin allergies double in the last 20 years,” she says. “We’re coming across personal care products with hundreds of different ingredients… It’s possible that we are just getting exposed to so many different things that our immune system is getting confused and irritated.”


The Solution: Slow Skin Care

As more people realize the value that this “progressive, not aggressive” approach can have, there’s been a noticeable shift in the skin-care sphere that favors a slower, more thoughtful approach. The slow skin care movement eschews instant gratification for an effective, simple, and consistent routine using gentler, yet still highly effective products. The result is a strengthened skin barrier that supports skin health to prevent future damage (and a much smaller risk of irritation or sensitivity).

The Benefits Of Slow Skin Care

“It’s cliché, but slow and steady wins the race,” says Palermino. “If you burn your face off and spend weeks on end trying to repair your skin, you’re not progressing with your skin — you’re in damage control." Many of the super aggressive products on the market can throw off your skin microbiome — the collection of microorganisms that make up your skin barrier — which means you’ll have to use new products to try and reverse the damage, which can lead to more problems. Palermino notes that using caution and a less-is-more approach allows you to slowly figure out what your skin likes. “One reason I think slow skin care is becoming popular is the realization that a strong skin barrier not only feels good, but your skin is glowing,” she says. “You’re less likely to have reactions or skin that peels off for months on end.”

Another benefit of a slower approach to skin care — it can help your body’s overall health. “Skin is our body’s first line of defense, so keeping it as strong, resilient, and healthy as possible means your insides have a much better shield against external aggressors that undermine health, mostly by damaging the immune system,” explains Bryan Barron, Paula’s Choice director of research.

Those with sensitized or allergy-prone skin will find the slow beauty movement practically tailor-made for their needs. “We know that if you can repair that barrier again and get it back to its original form or as close as you can, you will do better with sensitivity and allergy over time because you'll just have a better protection in place,” says Dr. Mehrotra. Her line EVME was formulated to be what Dr. Mehrotra calls “sans allergenic” — or without allergens — and features three universal, multi-functional products to strengthen skin’s barrier that all include a less-irritating derivative of vitamin C known as sodium ascorbyl phosphate, plus barrier-boosting ophiopogon japonicus root extract.

Slow Exfoliation

Let’s be clear, though: Slow beauty doesn’t mean giving up active ingredients altogether. You can still use the skin-smoothing ingredients you love, but the secret is building up a tolerance over time instead of going in immediately with harsh actives every night. When it comes to buying products, try ones made with time-release ingredients or gentler alternatives that focus on working progressively over time. If you love a physical exfoliator, select one that doesn’t compromise your skin barrier — or better yet, also includes ingredients to repair your barrier as it exfoliates. Dermalogica, for instance, released a gentler alternative to its bestselling Daily Microfoliant exfoliator, the Daily Milkfoliant. Made with an oat powder base, it features papaya and papain enzymes to gently polish away dead skin, coconut milk to soothe, and hyaluronic acid to moisturize. “We've got a sugar derivative in here that is actually forming a film on the skin to protect the skin's natural barrier,” says Hickman.

If you’ve noticed your acid-based toner leaving your skin red, raw, or rough, that’s likely an indication your barrier is compromised. Instead, try a toner with gentler acids that exfoliate without irritation, like PHAs (poly hydroxy acids) or malic acid, which is found in Votary’s Daily Apple Toner. “Malic acid is an AHA with a larger molecule size than glycolic and lactic acid, which makes it great for sensitive skin,” says Preston. “Having said that, we also have glycolic and lactic acid in the toner. Formula is everything, and even sensitive skin can use AHAs when they are included at low levels.” Paula’s Choice came out with a Calm line, specifically formulated to soothe sensitive skin with a slew of anti-inflammatory ingredients; the Calm 1% BHA Sensitive Skin Exfoliant contains a leave-on, extra-mild beta-hydroxy acid exfoliant that’s gentler than the one found in its cult-favorite BHA Exfoliant.

Try An Occlusive

Another tip for amplifying the results of your products without upping the actives — try an occlusive, silicone product to lock in the benefits instead. Palermino launched Dieux’s new eye cream Auracle to be paired with the brand’s cult Forever Eye Mask to help intensify the hydrating effects. “Pairing it with the Forever Eye Mask means there’s a level of occlusion — that occlusion can intensify the actives,” she notes. “It’s cooling, has this beautiful squishy gel texture, thanks to the high glycerin, and feels good around the eyes. With time, skin should be more hydrated, plump, and revived.” Sio’s Reusable Wrinkle Patches made of medical-grade silicone come in different sizes and shapes that can be placed anywhere on the skin to plump up fine lines and boost hydration — no active ingredients needed.


Wash With Care

Slow beauty can even apply to something as innocuous as your face wash. “Typical cleansers [can contain] harsh detergents that dry out the skin and compromise its moisture barrier, ultimately disrupting its pH balance,” says U Beauty founder Tina Craig. Instead, opt for a sulfate-free face wash that cleanses without leaving your skin with that too-tight feeling, like Alpha-H Balancing Cleanser, Good Light Cosmic Dew Cleanser, or U Beauty the Mantle Skin Conditioning Wash — all of which cleanse the skin with a soft, consistent approach. “The Mantle doesn’t just cleanse and condition the skin — it meets the skin’s acidic pH, ensuring it’s microbiome-friendly, which optimizes hydration,” adds Craig. “The moisture barrier stays intact, and skin is optimized with visible renewal.”

A Slow Approach To In-Office Treatments

It’s not just topical products that slow beauty applies to — in-office treatment is also an area where slow beauty can actually lead to more natural-looking results. While that might seem antithetical to the whole point of cosmetic procedures — that is, spending spending big bucks for big results — board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sabrina Fabi says in-office treatment plans are just as much of a journey as your at-home skin-care routine. “When you’re in your 20s and 30s, you wouldn’t usually have any deep wrinkles, or jowling, or pigmentation, or redness that you necessarily have to correct,” she says. “In those instances, you are trying to prevent those from happening or slow it down from forming. So, you have to go into [procedures] with a mindset of these things are going to offer me a cumulative benefit over time, not a drastic before and after. You’re thinking long term, and that might mean in 10 years from now, you're going to look better than [your counterparts who are the same age].”

When the goal is to not radically change the structure of your face, says Dr. Fabi, you can focus on a multi-year plan that includes things like regular intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy and Clear and Brilliant treatments to address redness, hyperpigmentation, texture, and cell turnover; these treatments also require no downtime. Or, if you’re looking to get fillers, opt for a bio stimulating one like Sculptra to stimulate collagen production over time — and again, a slow, preventative approach is ideal. “It [takes] the collagen that you're breaking down naturally as you get older and [stimulates it] to form again,” says Dr. Fabi. “So it just kind of suspends you in time. You're not looking radically different, but five years, 10 years later, you also don't look like you've aged, and sometimes that's better — to not look like you've aged, instead of looking like you had a bunch [of work] done.”

The Takeaway: Slow Things Down

Let this be your invitation to slow down in 2023 and reassess your approach to skin care. Instead of chasing the newest, most powerful actives or the flashiest new skin-smoothers, try investing in progressive products and treatments that build with consistent use. “It’s better to spend four weeks with skin that’s looking more beautiful each day than to spend three weeks with irritated skin that you’re having to cover up until you finally see the results at week four,” says Preston. “You can get the same results without the pain by working gently with your skin’s natural processes.” As Dr. Mehrotra notes, your skin routine should be a marathon, not a sprint — and treating it as such can lead to other benefits in your wellness routine. “The slow beauty regimen really supports this concept of enjoying your beauty routine and using it as a way to give you more mindfulness and pleasure in your daily life,” she says. “There is no magic bullet and we need to invest in quality ingredients that are going to aid our skin over time.”

At the end of the day, slow beauty is all about consistency. Since you won’t see instant results with this approach, some patience is required — but the payoff will make it well worth it in the end.