Real bodies: Bare faced chic

The minimum of make-up gives the maximum effect. SALLY WILLIAMS on the less-is-more beauty regime

Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar acceptance speech at this year's Academy Awards was striking for two reasons: first, her ability to burst into tears, right on cue; second the total absence of streaking mascara or foundation stains on her delicate cheeks.

Could it be that the sublime Ms Paltrow went to one of the most glamorous events of the year wearing a silky, pink, Ralph Lauren party frock and only the merest minimum of make-up?

If so, Gwyneth is not only where it's at in Hollywood, but also in the world of creams and lipgloss. Pared-down, less is more, streamlining - call it what you like, the big message is minimalism.

"The fully made-up look is long gone," says Owen Walker for Space NK. "Having three different shades for your eyes, lipgloss, eyeliner and helmet hair was huge in the Eighties and early Nineties, but now it's all about looking simple and having natural-looking skin."

Minimalism as a lifestyle philosophy, of course, is nothing new. In architecture the stripped-down empty spaces of John Pawson have heralded a new generation that covets stainless steel, pale grey wooden floorboards, untreated plaster walls and artfully placed pebbles. Muji, the Japanese store which sells functional, simple "No Brand Goods", opened in 1991: ever since, the fashion world has embraced the fluid, the floppy, the understated and the discreet. It is an antidote to the high-octane, gold-embossed excesses of the Eighties.

Less is more is also the solution to the modern woman's frantically busy life, juggling career, partner, children and more besides. "I work, I have two children and I just don't have time to put on 50 different products in the morning," says Claire Jeffreys, 33, who works very long hours. "I need solutions that are fast, simple and effective, which produce maximum results with minimum fuss."

Minimal beauty means minimal hassle, points out Newby Hands, the director of health and beauty for Harpers & Queen magazine. "Yves St Laurent has brought out these fantastic pots of colour and pencils. They go anywhere: cheeks, lips, eyes. To be able to take just one pot and some mascara is fantastic. I recently came across a very expensive face cream but you can use it day and night. I like that. You don't want to think, `Oh, what do I use now?'"

"We are seeing a huge demand for dual-functionality products," says Nicky Kinnard, founder of Space NK apothecary. "People are trying to simplify their lives in all aspects. It's part of downshifting."

A girl with under-eye bags and a troublesome T-zone used to solve her problems with a bathroom of pots and creams: cleanser, toner, moisturiser, foundation, concealer, night cream, powder, eyeliner, eyeshadow, blusher, lipstick, lip pencil and mascara. Now, she will come away from the cosmetics counter with a jar of Eve Lom's Cleansing Cream (cleanses, exfoliates and moisturises and comes with a washable muslin cloth); Nuxe's Huile Prodigieuse, a multi-usage dry oil for face, body and hair; and Nars Multiple, "a multi-purpose make-up stick for eyes, cheeks and lips." And that's it.

In the world of beauty, minimalism is also a reaction against meaningless pseudo-scientific beauty-speak. Women don't want to discuss time-release novasphere action or proanthocyanidins with department store assistants in lab coats. "If a beauty consultation starts to sound like a chemistry lesson, leave," says John Gustafson, make-up and skincare consultant at Dickins & Jones. Customers don't understand it. And they don't care. "They want practical nitty-gritty explanations."

According to Harpers & Queen's Hands, "Women are better educated now and companies are having to be a little less over the top about the medical, high-tech claims of their products."

Ironically, the other hazard for those who opt for a life of polishing and buffing their faces with layers of products is bad skin. "There are some products which definitely don't go together," Gustafson advises. "You shouldn't buy an exfoliant product and an AHA/fruit acid cream, or you'll be stripping off too many layers of skin."

Equally, layering foundation on top of moisturiser on top of sun cream can clog up pores, triggering an outbreak of pimples and rashes. Beauty consultants know this, but you probably don't.

Unless you have an expert to hand, the only way to discover if Revlon's Eternal 27+ Instant Wonder Cream quarrels with Estee Lauder's Fruition Extra is to test it and see. It's all very confusing. "There's too much out there," cries Eve Lom, beauty guru to the rich and famous. "Women slap too many lotions on their skins: the toners, exfoliators, eye make- up removers. You don't need all this garbage. Let's face it, the cosmetics industry thrives on these creams. Some people say, `Is she mental? Don't I need moisturiser?' No!"

Well, perhaps just a little Eve Lom Day Cream around the eyes and cheeks, after daily use of the Eve Lom Cleansing Cream, but never on your nose or chin. "Why put extra oil on pores that are already oily?" she says tartly. Czechoslovakian-born Lom, "soon to be 50", trained as a beauty therapist. "I was cleansing skins and using toner and doing this and that. It didn't lead anywhere. `Put this cream on,' they said, `and you will remove all blackheads.' I thought, `Who are they kidding?'"

Soon she established her own salon and, with a cosmetic chemist, developed her own back-to-basics line of skincare products. They aren't cheap (the three-in-one cleanser costs pounds 39), but you do save on space and cotton wool.

But before you throw out your hopelessly passe packs of eyeshadow and bottles of cleanser, moisturiser and toner, just remember that marketing is the beauty industry's middle name. Technological advances may mean that companies can produce multi- purpose products, but do they work? Remember Wash and Go, the shampoo and conditioner that was a market leader until people found it made their hair sticky?

"The key," says Hands, "is not if you can pack everything in one, but whether it's in a high enough percentage to work."

WITHOUT FOUNDATION

5 There's nothing new about multi-purpose beauty products, as Sarah Stacy and Josephine Fairley point out in The Beauty Bible.

5 Vaseline is a make-up remover, lipgloss and hair-glosser. Almond oil is great for cuticles, dry hair and on patchy dry skin.

5 Use hand lotion and hair conditioner for leg-shaving.

5 In an emergency, Nivea Cream will give ordinary leather shoes a gleam, and if you're out of wool wash you can use shower gel instead.

5 Most bizarre of all, Aveda's Active Formal Balancing Composition, impressive as a massage oil and invigorating inhalant, also (according to an Aveda insider) makes, "an ace toilet cleaner."

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