May 21, 2020

Skintellectuals: An Unexpectedly Millennial Skincare Craze

Skintellectuals: An Unexpectedly Millennial Skincare Craze

Before the pandemic, I was never really that into skincare. My routine consisted of my Simple face wipes, a trusty tea-tree oil cleanser I’d been using for five years, and a couple of random sample moisturisers I’d picked up in beauty shops.

Browsing through YouTube, I discovered 24-year old skincare enthusiast Hyram Yarbro. His channel relays the importance of a consistent skincare routine – audiences are provided with both his personal recommendations and some simplified scientific explanations as to why certain products can be beneficial or destructive to your skin.

I was surprised by the sudden growth in his popularity; in the past year alone, he’s received around one million subscribers. I was even more surprised to find that his demographic caters towards teenagers and people in their early 20s. Naively, I’d always assumed that skincare would be most popular among an older audience.

As the world of skincare slowly revealed itself to me, my mind was blown by the number of mistakes I’d been making. Horrified, I scrutinised the ingredient labels on the back of my cleanser and moisturisers. Sure enough, every single one of them contained alcohol, fragrance and the dreaded ingredient, sodium lauryl sulphate, all of which I’d learnt actually accelerate the process of ageing and dehydrate the skin.

The makeup wipes I’d grown to trust for their “effective simplicity” after many a drunken night proved to be the fakest of friends. Shocked, I came to understand that not only were they terrible for the environment, but they were actually causing microtears in my skin and weren’t even removing my makeup, but were just spreading it around my face.

As I continued my journey down the rabbit hole of skincare, there was no going back. I read countless reviews on the best cleansers, the best exfoliants, the best sunscreens, the best moisturisers... I was overwhelmed by the vast range of choices that the beauty industry seemed to offer. I called up some of my friends to share these new discoveries and was alarmed to find that most of them already knew everything I knew and more. I'd just been late to the party.

And it turns out they’re not the only ones. An American survey recently found out that 54% of consumers aged 18-29 years are already using skincare products every day. Whilst doing research, I found a community on Reddit called Skincare Addiction, home to half a million subscribers – 70.5% of users are between 19-29 years old.

So why the sudden millennial obsession with skincare? First of all, technological advancements have caused a subsequent rise in communication between consumers. This community of ‘skintellectuals’ are now fully up to date with the scientific facts backing up certain ingredients. Well-known brands like The Ordinary sell products with the names “AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution”, “Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%” and “Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion”. Say goodbye to the small bottles that claim to give you perfect skin, and hello to a solution that tells you exactly what you’re getting.

That’s not all. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, companies like Sephora, Vichy and Bobbi Brown have adopted virtual skincare advisors that recommend you specific products after you complete a survey on your skin type. Brands like Olay and Ulta are taking this one step further, using AI and image analysis to detect problems in your skin and develop a routine that suits you. And in case you’re worried about making the same mistake I did by choosing unnatural and damaging ingredients, some brands like Officinea have created an app that detects and flags these potential products.

But are we taking this quest for perfect skin too far? As Krithika Varagur says in her article “The Skincare Con”, “perfect skin is unattainable because it doesn’t exist”. Skincare can be dangerous, especially for those who don’t know what they’re doing. Consumers experiment on their face with retinols, acids and chemical exfoliants – some brands urge users starting these products to build up their skin’s endurance by applying them once a week – should we really be using products that our faces have to get used to?

On the Reddit community, Skincare Addiction, you can read thousands of pleas for help from startled consumers, whose beauty products have caused severe reactions in their skin. One particularly jarring account tells the story of a consumer who mistakenly tried to use a sulphur mask to clear her acne. Instead, she woke up to find her skin “numb, burning and slightly oozing”. All the products she usually used on her face were now ineffective and made her skin feel like it was burning off.  

On top of that, some people are starting to religiously follow a Korean skincare routine that consists of 10 consecutive steps. I was amazed by its popularity – surely no-one would invest that much time and money to perfect their skincare routine? Of course, I was wrong. 60.9% of Millennials and Generation Z would be willing to undertake the multi-step skincare routine.

Is all this really necessary? Licensed dermatologist Dr Rachael Eckel promotes a less-is-more policy, believing that only 15% of women actually even need a moisturiser. Another cosmetic dermatologist Dr Obagi supports this theory, asserting that moisturisers can prevent the body from hydrating itself, as it becomes accustomed to the moisture provided to it by beauty products.

Both of these dermatologists recommend drinking plenty of water. And yet, there have been multiple articles that highlight the lack of scientific evidence to back up the idea that drinking eight glasses a day is beneficial to your skin.

The skincare market is currently rebranding the word anti-ageing. Instead of promising to make you look twenty years younger, they promote radiance and natural beauty. And although many critics are sceptical – after all, there is nothing more natural than the ageing process – I believe that this new label provides a more positive outlook for both men and women.

As someone who used to suffer from bad skin, I’ve always had a very love/hate relationship with it. I understand how insecure it can make you feel – up until a year ago even when my skin was clear, I would never be caught leaving the house without some sort of foundation coverage. I think if done right, having a skincare routine can be quite powerful to your confidence. It feels great to be in control of your own skin – adopting a new skincare regime can really improve your mental health, helping you to create a routine that alleviates stress. My advice would be to jump on that bandwagon as soon as you can - but do your research, and don't fall into the trap of buying too much!