Using Too Many Products Made My Skin Worse—Here's My Simple Solution

If you take one thing away from this story, let it be this: Owning loads of skincare products doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed great skin. In fact, I’d go as far to say it will likely be making the state of your complexion worse. In my many years as an acne-suffering beauty editor, I have finally come to accept that being a skincare minimalist is the secret to a great complexion. How do I know this, you ask? Because I found out the hard way. 

You see, for years, the beauty industry has been selling us a very lucrative lie. A few years ago, brands started educating us on individual skincare ingredients. They had us believing that such ingredients were "new” and set to be game-changing. I’m talking the likes of hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, and acids. Once we were suitably educated on their abilities, brands began selling us products that champion those ingredients. Nowadays, we have glycolic acid toners, hyaluronic acid serums, vitamin C masks and niacinamide cleansers. Before I knew it, I was applying a minimum of eight products to my skin morning and evening.


(Image credit: @SHANNONLAWLOR)

As my skin became gradually more troublesome and my acne began flaring up more regularly over the years, I started feeling increasingly more lost when it came to my skincare routine. As a beauty editor who knows the ins and outs of every skincare product and ingredient out there, even I couldn’t get my routine right. So how the hell was anybody else supposed to? When I reached out to skincare experts, their solution was always the same: reduce the number of products I was using. But how can I? I thought. Surely my skin needs all of these vital ingredients?

And the truth, I have learned, is that yes, my skin does benefit from all of the ingredients, just not in separate formulas. You see, I’m going to let you in on a very big secret: Layering your skincare products isn’t nearly as good for your skin as brands would have you believe; it just makes them a lot of money. Why sell one product, specially formulated with an array of ingredients designed to work in tandem, when they could split up that ingredient list into five different serums and sell them all individually?

"A common mistake is people using too many products without the supervision of a skincare expert. Each product alone can be effective, but when layered with one or more of the other ingredients, it can cause irritation and dryness to the skin,” says Ridah Syed, senior medical aesthetician at Skinfluencer. And this is where the issue arises. The fact of the matter is the average beauty consumer is not a cosmetic formulator. We simply cannot retain the amount of information required to know exactly what products should be used when, how and where. So we slap them all on, hope for the best and, as was my case, ruin the state of our skin while we’re at it.


(Image credit: @SHANNONLAWLOR)

For the sake of my skin, sanity and bank balance, I have once again started reaching for products that I know have been formulated to deliver a bunch of benefits all at once. "Multi-benefit products don’t focus on one single ingredient to the exclusion of others," says Helen Cowan, senior skin therapist at Dr Nestor’s Medical Cosmetic Centre, Edinburgh. "Rather, they take a more comprehensive view. In general, these products are formulated with a blend of antioxidants, skin-replenishing ingredients, as well as skin-restoring ingredients to help keep skin healthy and looking its best."

Such products are what I like to call minimalist skincare. Their ingredient lists might be far from minimal, but their nature very much is. All I need is a cleanser to remove grime and keep breakouts at bay without drying my skin; a well-formulated, potent antioxidant serum to fend off ageing free radical damage (such as that caused by UV rays and pollution); a moisturiser that delivers essential hydration and supports the antioxidant protection of my serum (some days I’ll use one or the other); and an everyday SPF. For when my skin needs some more targeted help, instead of trying to concoct my own routine, I simply reach for wash-off skin treatments and masks.


(Image credit: @SHANNONLAWLOR)

Since abiding by this regimen and adopting this mindset, I can safely say my skin has never looked better. The products are, by their nature, a little more expensive than the affordable, single-ingredient serums I’ve been used to, but they really work. Instead of buying 10 products at £15 each, I buy two products at £60, or if I’m feeling spendy, one product at £120.

If you can relate to this feeling of total skincare confusion, keep scrolling to discover the 16 minimalist skincare products that have saved my skin.

1. Cleansers

2. Treatments

3. Serums

4. Moisturisers

Next Up: The 11 Affordable Skincare Brands That Really Work

This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Freelance Beauty Editor

Shannon Lawlor is a renowned beauty journalist and has contributed to Who What Wear’s beauty content since 2020. As a leading beauty editor, expert and brand consultant, she has over eight years of experience working for some of the industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear (of course), Glamour UK, Stylist, Refinery29 and Fabulous.

Having also worked behind the scenes with some of the industry’s biggest brands and retailers, Shannon has a unique insight into what people really want from their beauty routines. Understanding that beauty lovers seek honest, open and responsible advice, she has it made her mission to demystify the intimidating world of beauty, taking a no-frills approach to the most relatable topics.

While Shannon is the first to admit she doesn’t hold the answer to every beauty question out there, she is dedicated to sharing her expert insights in a bid to help. As a self-proclaimed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for easy-to-use, foolproof beauty products and has made it her mission to scope out the best of the best.

When she’s not working, Shannon is likely soaking in the bath or giving no-holds-barred beauty reviews on Instagram from her bathroom floor.