If you listen to most skincare experts, you need to complete a full 25-step routine every morning and evening, complete with retinols and vit-C boosters, second cleanses and night time oils. But what if you don’t have the time, money or inclination for such a marathon morning and night?
We’ve been trialling brands that claim to offer an antidote to skincare overdose. They emphasise fewer ingredients, less pressure on the buyer to understand the purpose and order of every step, with simpler instructions, and, most importantly, fewer products, so you gain back both money and time. If your skin is prone to breakouts or irritation, you may also find that stripping your skincare back to basics alleviates some of those symptoms and allows you to clearly figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.
These aren’t brands that launch a new product every few weeks to keep on top of endless beauty trends; rather they focus on doing a few things really well. Many of them are very reasonably priced, too, making decisions easy for your wallet as well as your skin. A lot of these products also have beautiful, appropriately minimalist packaging, too, which we love.
We’ve tested them with the same rigorous standards we apply to all brands, looking for a pleasant application experience, how our skin felt immediately afterwards and how the long-term effects played out.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Lixr Skin electrogel cleanser
LixirSkin has made a name for itself with its Instagram-friendly millennial pink branding, but it is far more than just the packaging. The basics are the universal emulsion, a no-frills but highly effective moisturiser, vitamin C paste, a quick brightening mask, and electrogel cleanser, a non-drying cream face wash (our favourite). Complement these with four clever “night switch“ formulas that you add to your moisturiser for a tailored treatment based on your skin needs, whether that’s retinol or AHA exfoliation. It's simple but direct. There’s also a clay mask for when you have more time for indulgence. The range starts from £20.
Holy Grail Beauty retinol repair skin creme
Holy Grail Beauty’s line contains only four products – a serum, retinol, cleanser and mask. There’s no oil or moisturiser, so it doesn’t offer a complete routine, but it does offer incredibly good formulations for affordable prices (the cheapest is £12.99 and the most expensive £29.99). Its retinol repair creme is a particular standout: its formula is light and easily absorbed, and it gives the smoother, brighter, more refined skin you’d expect of a product that costs twice as much.
CeraVe moisturising lotion
We’ve been raving about CeraVe since it landed in the UK from the US a couple of years ago thanks to its high street prices and formulations that easily compete with far more expensive competitors. It’s range includes three cleansers – one foaming, one creamy (our favourite) and one smoothing – but it really stands out in the moisturising department, with different weights of lotions and creams, some with SPF, so you can pick exactly the right level for your skin. Our top pick is the moisturising lotion, which keeps our dry bits – cheeks, forehead and elbows – feeling plump and nourished all day for less than £10.
Five Dot Botanics daily prep
Five Dot Botanics was founded in London with the simple aim of creating skincare that was as transparent as possible with minimal ingredients, all vegan, palm oil-free and made in the UK. The brand offers just six products – a serum, oil, eye serum, mask, mist and cleansing balm – with prices from £24. Our favourite is the daily prep oil, a blend of carrot and evening primrose that is rich in omegas, vitamins and essential fatty acids, making it a perfect pep-up for dry, tired skin.
Verso enzyme peel
Swedish brand Verso offers more products than most, but its range is divided into numbered steps – “no1 cleanse”, “no2 daytime”, “no3 night time”, the list goes on. You simply choose a product that best suits your skin’s needs from each number to build your routine. It’s definitely at the luxury end of the market, with prices starting from £30 but most falling around the £100 mark, but we’re suckers for the effortlessly chic monochrome packaging. The enzyme peel is a particularly brilliant acid-based exfoliant and gives smoother, brighter skin in minutes.
Glossier the skincare set
You’ll likely know Glossier for its Instagram-famous, low-maintenance beauty products such as boy brow, cheek paint and lash slick, but its skincare range is also worth a look. With 16 products in the range, it’s a larger offering than many of the brands we’ve tested, but the collection is simple, offering the basics such as serums, balms, a cleanser and an exfoliator. Take it to its most minimalist level with this skincare set which contains a cleanser, moisturiser and universal balm, so you don’t even have to think about which products to choose.
Aime the simple cream
Aime is a French label that makes not only skincare – or, as they label it, “out” – but gut and skin-boosting supplements too, with a focus on improving skin health from within. The “out” category boasts just three products, and it’s clear a lot of care has been poured into their formulation. The simple cleanser is a silky, non-foaming wash, the simple serum majors on Vitamin C for glow and texture, and the simple cream (our pick) is a lightweight, hyaluronic acid-filled moisturiser; all are unscented. The products come in simple packaging with stand-out typography and cool, earthy terracotta tones.
Q+A 5-HTP face and neck cream
Q+A was founded with a view to simplifying skincare. All you have to do is take the eight-question quiz on the brand’s website and you’ll be given a combination products that will best suit. The 13 products in the range are made in Norfolk and are 98 per cent natural, cruelty free and artificial fragrance free. Most of the products are vegan, but not all. The collection starts at a very affordable £6.50 and we love the simple but bright packaging. The brilliant face and neck cream contains 5-HTP, a naturally occurring amino acid sourced from griffonia seeds, to improve skin elasticity – ideal for more mature skin.
Tandem Skincare super oil
Tandem offers just six face care products; it is one of the brand’s core values not to launch more simply for the sake of “new news”. You’ll find a milky, nourishing cleanser, two serums, one for breakout-prone skin and one for dull skin, two weights of moisturiser (depending on whether you’re dry or not) and an oil. Simple for your skin and for your bank balance too, with prices from £16. Our favourite product is the super-oil, which contains cacay, rosehip, marula and baobab oils that are rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, all housed in a lightweight formula that absorbs nicely.
Less face oil for dry skin
Less is a truly unusual brand in the world of skincare: its range contains just three products – a cleanser and two oils – making it the simplest offering we’ve seen. The unconventional clay cleanser comes in powder form; you either mix it to a paste with water and use it as a mask, or mix with a little more water in your hands and use it as a quick wash. Follow it up with one of the two oils depending on whether your skin is dry or combination/oily; our favourite is the deeply nourishing “dry” blend of avocado, jojoba, apricot and hemp oils. A simple, stripped back routine which we love.
The verdict: Minimalist skincare brands
For brilliant formulas and simple product descriptions at bargain prices, LixirSkin, CeraVe and Holy Grail are our go-tos – we’d be quite happy using each exclusively – but LixirSkin takes our best buy for offering the most complete routine.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
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