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There are two types of people in this world: one who has a 20-step skincare routine and one who just washes their face and calls it a day. But which one is right? Are all of these skincare products necessary, or is it all a scam?

Taking care of your skin has been commodified thanks to the popularity of skincare among Gen Z. From celebrities making skincare brands to the emergence of pricey skincare companies, skincare is a growing industry. Taking care of your skin used to be much simpler, but now there are elaborate routines largely due to the presence of regimens and products going viral on social media, such as the Glow Recipe Salicylic Acid serum. TikTok itself has also given way to popular skin wellness trends, like drinking aloe vera or holding your face in ice water

Despite the growing trends and the daily skincare routines so many of us are used to, there’s an argument made by beauty culture critic Jessica Defino that says we don’t even need skincare at all thanks to our body’s natural oils. On the other hand, some say skincare is a necessity because it can positively affect your mental health by being a form of self-care that adds stability in your daily routine. So, I talked to a licensed dermatologist to get to the bottom of skincare and whether we truly need it. 

Since skin is an organ in the body, it needs to be cared for like the others.

Social media has redefined what skincare is. It’s become a complicated regimen of jade rollers, guashas, serums, and more. However, the root and purpose of skincare is much simpler than these endless products might lead you to believe. 

Dr. Nadir Qazi, a board-certified physician and cosmetic dermatology surgeon, tells Her Campus, “Skincare is often defined as the care and treatment of our skin, our body’s largest and most exposed organ. It needs to be cared for just like you might take care of your heart, pancreas, or brain. Today, good skincare is definitely necessary. Our environment is harsh with pollutants in the air, water, and environment, and our skin takes a toll, even if we do our best to keep it free from chemicals.” 

Skincare is put in place to protect yourself from these harsh pollutants and chemicals that we face every day. Though the skincare in stores is marketed to protect your skin, it’s not exactly what is needed to keep the skin healthy. Dr. Qazi agrees that additional attention through skincare is needed to keep the skin looking healthy, but not nearly as much attention as people think.

Skincare requires the bare minimum.

An array of serums, cleansers, and oils to protect your skin is not necessary. Our skin truly only needs a few products to stay healthy in the face of harsh environmental factors, especially the sun. Among one of the necessary products is SPF.

Dr. Qazi adds, “I am a strong advocate for wearing sunscreen with a high SPF. It is vital to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation. UV-A radiation is strong year-round and isn’t blocked by shade. So basically, you have UV radiation anywhere you have any natural light. An SPF sunscreen blocks the harsher UV-B rays and the sneakier UV-A radiation. Both types of radiation enhance aging, cause burns, and cause hyperpigmentation and liver spots.” According to the CDC, most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV radiation. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, around 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun, and those who use SPF 15 or higher regularly reduce the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40%.

Sunscreen is essentially a chemical that sits on your skin, so it needs to come off. Dr. Qazi advises that after wearing SPF, the next step is to wash your face with a gentle cleanser that won’t further damage your skin or alter your pH balance. The pH scale determines how acidic or alkaline something is. Typically, your skin is around 4.7 pH, which is further towards the acidic side of the scale, acting as a barrier for your skin that keeps moisture in and bacteria out. When your skin alters from that number due to harsh skincare products, the barrier is disrupted and your skin can become dry, irritated, hypersensitive, and susceptible to infections. 

Dr. Qazi continues, “Your goal is to be tender with your skin. You need skincare, but you can use things that work for you without making you feel like you are stripping, drying out, or polluting your skin. Instead of a harsh alcohol toner, try a pH balancing rose water. Rose water also has natural anti-inflammatory properties and is really good for reducing redness, and it smells nice too.” 

The core three necessities for skincare are sunscreen, a cleanser, and a moisturizer. According to Healthline, moisturizing your face is necessary because when the skin lacks moisture, it can become dry or rough. Therefore, moisturizer prevents your face from experiencing irritation. Dr. Qazi recommends using an aloe gel as a moisturizer because it is hydrating, natural, and won’t disrupt your skin’s pH balance. 

Skincare prevents your body from damage caused by external factors, which doesn’t always mean using products.

Dr. Qazi agrees that the idea of our skin having natural oils to protect itself, as well as correct itself in time, has some truth to it. 

According to Healthline, our skin’s cells are constantly replacing themselves. The skin cells are shedding, revealing new skin, which eventually fades scars and blemishes over time. Due to this natural regeneration, less is more when it comes to skincare. In fact, according to Insider, over-exfoliating your skin or over-using products can cause redness, irritation, and even worsen breakouts

Much like skin regeneration, our bodies produce natural oils that protect the skin, reducing the need for skincare products. Dr. Qazi says, “One of the best [skincare products] is jojoba oil. However, oil is a misnomer as it is a waxy ester with a very similar composition to the sebum oils our bodies naturally produce to keep our skin clean and protected.” Sebum is an oil produced by your body’s sebaceous glands, which moisturizes and protects your skin. So, you can ditch the surplus of serums in your drawer because your body hydrates your skin for you, but if you have problem areas that need extra hydration, serums can help

Skincare also starts within your body. There are natural remedies or tricks that can prevent your skin from being damaged by environmental factors. Dr. Qazi explains, “One of the best ways to ensure that your skin is healthy is to stay well hydrated and eat a healthy amount of fruits and vegetables that can help boost collagen production or make your skin more or less oily, depending on your complexion. There are concentrations of skin-healthy vitamins in so many foods. It is all about finding the right combination. For example, if you have oily skin, you can eat some sweet potatoes and greens to help balance it. Nutrition is skincare, too. Just like someone might eat differently to lower their cholesterol levels, you can eat differently to help your skin stay healthy in the long term.” 

The verdict is in: Skincare is needed, but not nearly as much as we previously thought. Less is essentially more in this case. Skincare needs will vary from person to person, but every person needs to protect their skin from pollutants and chemicals in the air, which might mean the core three products or might involve finding natural remedies to combat irritated skin.

Hannah Tolley is a contributing writer under the Entertainment and Culture vertical. She covers entertainment releases, fan theories, pop culture news, and more. Aside from Her Campus, Hannah was also a member of the Florida State University (FSU) Her Campus team. During her time with the chapter, she served as a staff writer for three semesters, where she wrote biweekly pieces across campus, culture, and personal verticals. She also was a content editor for two semesters, where she led a team of 6+ writers and oversaw and edited their articles. Hannah was also an editorial intern for Her Campus during her spring and summer term of her second year in college. As an intern, she worked alongside the full-time edit team to curate timely and evergreen pieces across life, culture, career, and style verticals. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from FSU in May 2023, with a Bachelor of Science in Media/Communication Studies with a minor in English. When she's not dissecting the latest pop culture events, you can find her reading a cheesy romance novel or establishing parasocial relationships with fictional TV characters. She loves to rewatch her favorite shows (Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, and Friends) or spend the day going down a rabbit hole of reality dating shows.