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Are 4 products all you really need? We put a minimalist skincare routine to the test

Photography By Aotea, Daniel Farò
Published 10.06.22

It’s time to break up with your complicated, 20-step skincare routine.  

Aside from being expensive and wasteful, this maximalist approach can actually create more problems than it solves, wreaking havoc on our skin’s natural barrier. That’s why so many of us are swapping fancy products with ingredients we can barely pronounce for a more pared back approach to beauty. Enter: the skincare minimalist 

Skin minimalism focuses on the essentials: the products, ingredients and treatments our skin type needs and responds to. It often means trading a cabinet full of products for just a handful of targeted items made from natural or organic ingredients.  

But – can you really achieve all your skin goals with just a few staples? To find out, we challenged RIISE’s marketing coordinator – a (former) skin maximalist with highly specific concerns – to ditch her multi-step routine for just four natural skincare products. 

Annabel describes her skin as “complicated” – “I wish I could say my skin is blemish-free, has a dewy glow and is plump with hydration, but the reality is it takes an army of carefully curated skincare products to battle against my acne-prone, sensitive and dry skin,” she explains.  

Though certain combinations have helped in the past, she admits that overloading her skin with products hasn’t always gone down well. When she (like everyone else) jumped on The Ordinary bandwagon a few years ago and added a cocktail of chemical serums and oils to her routine, her skin was left raw and dry. After this experience, she vowed never to use skin-stripping chemical products again. Another reason why she was the perfect candidate to test out Aotea’s gentle, natural products.  

Aotea is a low-impact beauty brand that harnesses the power of natural ingredients like mānuka honey and harakeke seed oil to target common skin concerns without causing irritation. Grown, extracted, and manufactured on the island of Aotea in New Zealand, its deceptively simple products draw on Māori knowledge and scientific research to fight everything from inflammation to dryness.  

To see if Aotea could be the simple skin solution she was searching for, Annabel trialled four basics from its range: a cleanser, toner, day cream and night cream. Here’s what she had to say about the range.  


Step one: treating breakouts with a calming cleanser  

“Feeling comfortable and confident with very visible blemishes has been an internal battle I’ve managed to win over the years thanks to self-affirmations. But acne still holds first place position as my greatest skin concern. Not seeing texture under makeup is a goal I work towards by finding products that aid the healing process.  

“Switching to Aotea’s Kūmarahou and Mānuka Honey Cleanser has done wonders for healing blemishes with its antibacterial properties and removing any nasties leftover on my skin from a long day. The smell when applying the cleanser was a sweet treat to wake up to in the morning and a little goes a long way with this product. I also prefer buttery textured cleaners over gel-based, so the creamy consistency was a welcome feature.  

“After using consistently day and night, I can say it’s reduced inflammation and hormonal breakouts. Impurities are gently stripped away, and my skin feels calm and hydrated after each use. I will definitely be giving the Kūmarahou and Mānuka Honey Cleanser a permanent place on my bathroom vanity.”  


Step two: minimising redness with toner  

“One concern that has popped up on my radar recently is redness and skin texture. I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of makeup I wear and champion my natural complexion, so I was keen to see what a toner could do.  

“A little birdie (AKA Google) told me a toner can balance the skin’s pH to help prevent breakouts, boost hydration, close pores, brighten the complexion and soothe inflammation. After a bit of research, I decided an astringent (rather than balanced) toner was the best option for my combination, acne-prone skin, which worked for trialling Aotea’s Mānuka Water and Kawakawa Toner. 

“This product combines the mild astringency of mānuka water with the anti-inflammatory properties of kawakawa water to balance pH, tighten pores, provide an extra cleanse, reduce redness, and leave the skin feeling calm and fresh.  

“Adding a toner into my routine was a first for me, and, although I welcomed it with open arms, I found that it wasn’t the game-changer I was hoping it would be. The toner was light and did leave my skin feeling calm and help reduce redness, but I kept waiting for a more drastic shift in my skin’s appearance. It would be perfect for someone who is after a gentle treatment as an additional product for calming inflammation, but perhaps I put a little too much expectation in this gentle toner to be ‘the one’ to give me that clear, smooth complexion.” 


Steps three and four: combatting dryness with day and night hydration 

“My former routine incorporated a day moisturiser that I lightly used in the morning. In the cooler weather, the weight of this product isn’t hydrating enough, and leaves me looking like the cracked ground of a desert by night. Combining the Aotea Mānuka Honey Day Cream and the Harakeke Seed Oil Night Cream has really helped with keeping my skin hydrated on a daily basis.  

“Aotea’s 100 per cent natural day cream contains Manuka honey, great for naturally drawing moisture to the skin, and kawakawa infused sweet almond oil which has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Though I was a little hesitant about switching from my previous moisturiser to a product with a higher oil content, the consistency of the day cream is really light and packs a lot of hydration without feeling sticky or too thick.  

“The real winner for me was the Harakeke Seed Oil Night Cream. The seeds of the harakeke (a flax plant native to New Zealand) contain omegas 3 and 6, which are super nourishing for the skin and even help with cell restoration. The other ingredients – coconut oil, beeswax, rose water and almond oil – are good enough to eat, literally. The night cream is so natural that it can be eaten, and while I didn’t taste test it, I found this extremely reassuring considering around 70 per cent of skincare products are absorbed into the bloodstream.  

“Applying the night cream has really helped tackle my skin’s dryness, which started to feel like a losing battle during the day. It’s such a rewarding feeling to wake up and find my skin is less red, and my blemishes are healing faster from all that added hydration. It’s also helped me cut down on using those extra products such as single-use face masks. The cream also felt very light on my skin’s surface – I only used a tiny bit every night and woke up with a dewy glow in the morning.” 

The verdict: 

“Switching to this four-step routine was a no-fuss, high reward change. Now that I’m using gentler, natural products, my skin’s never felt so consistently clean and soft (especially with the day and night creams helping to plump up hydration).  

“With a smaller product routine, it’s a lot easier to really nail what does and doesn’t work. In the past I’ve had the issue of trying to pin-point ‘what’s making my skin react like this?’, but a four-step routine helps weed out ineffective products. Being able to make sure the products you’re using are reacting well with your skin is so important for protecting the skin’s natural barrier and making sure you’re not buying into a product that has all the hype but doesn’t deliver for you.”

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