At Oil + Water, our driving principle is reduction: reduction in the number of ingredients we use, the number of products we offer, and the amount of waste our products generate. The goal of this reduction is to minimize the footprint of our daily choices on our bodies, minds, and our planet, and to infuse our daily rituals with greater meaning.
MY PATH TO A REDUCTIONIST* MINDSET
The origin of my philosophy of reduction, and therefore of Oil + Water's philosophy, was undoubtedly my architectural education. Through 5 years of rigorous design studios, I was taught to carefully consider the role of each element in a design, and to ruthlessly eliminate anything extraneous, in order to arrive at a cohesive whole in which every component is crucial and necessary. This critical approach took many years of practice to nail down.
It's not always straightforward to determine what is truly adding value - it requires you to question everything and to constantly consider the big picture even while working out the most minute details.
It is a skill I continue to refine every day. And I find that, much like speaking a language, if I stop doing it, my capacity to do it temporarily diminishes.
So in today's post, I hope to share a little bit of basic insight into the critical thinking process I learned in design school that helped me to form Oil + Water. I hope this knowledge can empower you to apply the same rationale to your skincare regimen, and maybe even to your lifestyle as a whole.
We should all be able to objectively question whether our daily choices are contributing to the development of the people we want to be and the lifestyles we want to live.
Now to get to the nitty gritty...
THE DRIVING IDEA
The first step I learned in any design project was to generate a driving idea. The second step was to question whether each element in the design was contributing to the driving idea.
How do we take this two step process and apply it to skincare? We start by asking what the driving idea is in any skincare regimen: to care for the skin, of course. Bear with me here - this may seem insultingly obvious, but we often completely lose track of the most fundamental idea when we are so overloaded with options and information. This kind of mental distillation is often helpful to reset our thinking and allow us to refocus on what's truly necessary and important.
Now let's go one step further.
What is the driving idea in a reductionist* skincare regimen: to care for the skin in the simplest way possible using the fewest ingredients and products necessary to get our intended result.
This statement tells us in a broad sense exactly what we need to do and how we need to do it. It provides a framework for us to decide what is working and what is not.
Next we need to elaborate on what caring for the skin actually entails. What are the fundamental things that a good skincare regimen should accomplish? In the most basic sense, we know our skincare products must meet the following needs:
- Cleansing - Our skin is an external organ that is exposed to environmental impurities and toxins that must be removed to keep skin free from breakouts and infection. Occasionally we need to deep clean or detox to get at harder-to-reach dirt buried within our pores.
- Balancing/Toning - An effective skincare regimen will help to shrink pores, even out skin tone, balance oil production, and restore the skin's optimal pH levels.
- Hydration - Moisture in our skin is constantly lost to the environment and must be replaced. This has to happen from both the inside and the outside, through both diet and topical treatments like oils, balms, lotions, etc.
- Exfoliation - Our skin is a living organ that regenerates itself and sheds dead layers. We need to periodically help it to eliminate dead cells, exposing fresh and radiant new skin underneath.
These next two needs are just as critical, but are often met by products that do one of the 4 things above as their primary function:
- Nourishment - Just like the rest of our bodies, our skin needs vitamins and nutrients to stay healthy. Nourished skin is more balanced, resilient, and supple. The right nutrients can also help skin to repair itself and recover from daily stresses and damage.
- Protection/Solar Protection - Our skin acts as a barrier between our internal organs and the environment, but sometimes it needs additional reinforcement. We can help our skin retain nutrients and moisture by using products that form a secondary barrier to protect the skin just as it protects our insides. We also need to shield our skin against harmful solar radiation that can cause damage and discoloration over time.
Our intended result is for our skincare regimen to satisfy all of the needs listed above. Let's also consider that our skin varies greatly from one part of the body to another (we'll be elaborating on the specific differences in a future post).
What this means is that we need to tailor our skincare regimen to these differences in our skin, making sure that different areas get the proportionate amounts of care in the form of the items listed above.
Over-simplifying and using the same products everywhere would not deliver the proper care to our skin, and would fall short of our driving idea. But before you get overwhelmed... For most people, it is probably sufficient to satisfy the requirements above for only two areas of the skin: the face and the body. Supplementary care for the hands and feet or more delicate skin like that of the lips, neck, and under-eye area can help to fill in some of the gaps left by this approach.
Now going back to our list of needs, consider that most products will satisfy a few or several of our requirements but will typically focus on just one or two primary needs. A simple lotion, for example, can nourish and protect, but its main function is to hydrate. A good facial mist will tone as its primary function, but can have the added benefits of cleansing, hydrating, and nourishing.
A good rule of thumb is that, for each part of the skin we are targeting (face, body, etc.), we should have one product that addresses each of the first 4 items above as its primary function.
So if you have a cleanser, a toner, a moisturizer, and a scrub tailored to your face, and the same 4 kinds of products tailored to your body, while also making sure that they provide the right nourishment and protection, that is really all you should need to give your skin excellent care.
Depending on your particular skin type, you may feel that you need more of a certain type of care, or less of another. If you have dry skin, maybe you need extra hydration. If you have more mature skin, maybe you need to focus on providing your skin with the antioxidants and nutrients it needs to combat signs of aging. Your skin's needs with also change seasonally. You may be able to use the same products in different quantities, or you may want to swap a few out as the seasons change.
SOME HELPFUL TIPS
Of course, this process of figuring out what products are truly necessary to keep your skin happy is extremely personal and will take some time. In the end, only you can determine what works best for you and your skin. However, having a framework for deciding what you can eliminate can be extremely helpful. As you think critically about what you can eliminate in your own regimen, here are a few closing tips to keep if mind for doing more with less:
- Try to find products that can do double duty. If you can get one thing to do two, you've halved its footprint.
- Eliminate products you don't use regularly. Set a time period that makes sense for you and your personal skincare regimen, whether it's one week, two weeks, one month, or longer. If you find that you haven't used a product within the time period you set, consider eliminating it.
- Only have one product to do each thing at a time. I know you may find it tempting to buy new products as you discover them - natural skincare is exciting! - but try to only purchase new products when your old product is almost out.
- Buy products in smaller sizes, so that you can use them up quickly. This way you won't get tired of something, and if you love it, you can always buy more.
- Treat beauty products more like you treat food. When you buy groceries, you purchase what you know you can cook in the next week or so. And you don't buy many different kinds of the same thing because you don't want your food to go to waste. It's not a perfect analogy because skincare/beauty products and food are different after all, but should they really be that different? They're both eventually perishable and we can't forget that skincare has a shelf life. The longer the shelf life, the more chemicals are involved in making it so. If you think of skincare more like you think of food, you're more likely to buy based on what you know you'll use in the short term.
- Take care of your skin, and you'll have to buy less and less makeup, because you won't need it! Extra diligence in your skincare routine can mean less spending and clutter elsewhere.
Ultimately, make your purchases about more than just trading your dollars for products. Buy consciously. Find companies whose philosophies align with yours. The more thoughtful you are, the more intentional you will be. You will find yourself buying less and caring more about what you do buy. You won't want to waste or be careless with products if they mean something to you.
With this in mind, I encourage you try reducing in your own life! I hope I've inspired you to discover just how much there is to gain from choosing less.
*Reductionist is a word that has an established meaning in philosophy - it represents a view that complex things can be understood by reducing them to a sum of their parts. We don't associate with this philosophical view. Rather, we have our own definition of what reductionist means to us and we feel that this is the very best word to represent our ethos. For Oil + Water, reductionism means critical thinking and conscious decision making. It means being responsible stewards of our planet. It represents distilling and decluttering our lives, so that we can do more with less and appreciate the things we keep that much more.