Today, “self-care” seems synonymous with skincare. The hashtag #selfcare throws up thousands of carefully curated routines, refrigerated jade rollers, and endless sheet masks on social media. All this sounds lovely, of course (who’d say no to “me-time pampering”?) But it begs one question: is skincare even self-care? Can practicing mindfulness during your skincare routine truly comfort and soothe – or are we simply confused, mistaking self-indulgence for self-care?
Well, the answer lies within the definition of self-care. So, let's start there.
What is self-care?
Self-care: the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's health, well-being, and happiness, particularly during stressful periods. Unpack this a little more, and it immediately becomes clear that self-care can – and should – look different for every individual. There is no right or wrong way to do self-care. It can be treating yourself to a post-work massage, taking a hot bubble bath before bed, or lounging in a luxe set of silk pajamas with a book in hand.
Is skincare self-care?
Ultimately, self-care in its entirety refers to anything that makes you feel like your best self. So, yes, that means skincare can be a part of self-care. Taking the time to care for your skin gives you:
- Sense of control: In today’s fast-paced and hectic life, your skincare routine serves as a constant – imbuing you with a sense of control in a life filled with uncontrollable circumstances. Sticking to a consistent routine could thus help reduce your risk for various mood disorders, including depression (1).
- An opportunity to practice mindfulness: Your skincare routine offers you a pocket of time where you can quieten your thoughts – and acknowledge the emotions you're experiencing in each present moment, like the refreshing mist of toner, without harsh judgment. This could, in turn, buffer your risk for depression and anxiety (2).
- Improved self-esteem: Mindfulness isn’t simply great for your emotional health, either. Studies have also shown it to decrease collagen-damaging stress hormones, bolster the skin barrier, “turn off” inflammatory genes (that contribute to premature skin aging signs), and encourage lymphatic drainage (3). Note that we haven’t even touched on the benefits you’d see from your skincare products yet! And we all know what happens when you look better; you feel better.
How to practice self-care with your skincare routine
So, how can you remain more present throughout your skincare routine? Here are a few tips:
- Take your time: Allow yourself the luxury of taking at least a few minutes of “me-time” to take care of your skin. Remind yourself that your entire skincare routine – from cleanser to sunscreen – isn’t time-consuming (15 minutes, tops), so there’s really no need to rush through the process.
- Focus on all the sensations you feel: As you work your cleanser into your skin, for instance, notice every feeling. Tune in to how it lathers up on your skin. At this point, your mind may start to wander – but that’s okay. Each time you find your mind wandering off, acknowledge it, then return to the present moment. Replicate this mindfulness practice across all steps of your skincare regimen.
- Steer clear of electronic devices: Many of us are guilty of scrolling through social media, watching YouTube videos, or listening to podcasts in the later parts of our skincare routine (e.g., when applying serums or moisturizers). But they prevent you from engaging in the present moment. So, treat your skincare time as sacred self-care time; put your phone, laptop, or iPad away. Have some alone time with you.
- Listen to relaxing music: This is entirely optional, but listening to relaxing music could help improve your ability to practice mindfulness – further enhancing the latter’s mood-boosting and anxiety-relieving effects (4). Just remember: the keyword here is relaxing. That means slow beats (i.e., anywhere between 60 to 80 beats per minute) are best, and you should go lyric-free if possible.
A note of caution: don’t overdo it
Here’s a disclaimer. While skincare can indeed be a legitimate form of self-care, there is such a thing as using too many products on your skin. Meaning? You shouldn’t go crazy with stuffing products into your regimen for the sake of prolonging your mindfulness practice.
Slapping on too many products can result in redness, irritation, dryness, and breakouts. Why? One of the main reasons is that the more products you use, the higher the likelihood that you're pairing skincare actives that simply don’t mesh well together. For example, anti-aging Retinol loses all functional efficacy in the presence of Vitamin C and AHAs.
Worse still, skincare actives compatibility isn’t the only thing you need to worry about, either. Layering multiple products atop each other also involves the mingling of their full formulations. Certain emollient bases do not play nice with each other – and can increase comedogenicity or lead to a non-absorptive, sticky “feel” on the skin.
Think "minimalism" to get the most out of your skincare routine in terms of skin health and self-care. A basic skin care regimen consists only of three main steps: cleansing (washing your face), toning (balancing your skin), and moisturizing (hydrating and softening your skin). Your skin type – well-balanced, dry, oily, combination, or sensitive – determines the specific products you choose. Don’t know what your skin type is? Here’s a past article we’ve written that’ll help you out.
And as for serums: think of them as “elixirs”. Packed with concentrated doses of active ingredients, they’re meant to help mitigate specific skin issues like dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. Sandwich them between your toner and moisturizer for optimal results (that is if you need serums in the first place). So, excluding sunscreen, a typical skincare routine shouldn’t involve anything more than five steps.
Self-care goes beyond skincare
Yes, skincare is self-care. But it’s worth remembering that it isn’t the only form of self-care you could do. Instead, self-care is an all-encompassing way of living that can include small (e.g., allowing yourself the time to spend on your skincare routine) and large (e.g., adopting healthier lifestyle habits) acts. There are plenty of self-care ideas that’ll help you stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well.
No matter your choice of self-care practices, though, it's crucial for you to stay consistent with it. Ease into your self-care journey by starting small; choose one practice you’d like to incorporate into your daily life. Let’s say it’s integrating mindfulness into your skincare routine. Build up to practicing this behavior every day for one week – then add other self-care practices when ready.
Once again, don’t feel the need to stack endless self-care acts together. The goal is to make yourself and your well-being a priority, not stress yourself out about the self-care you're not doing!