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Minimalist Beauty Isn't Exactly Simple

Makeup
Illustrated by Sarah Lutkenhaus

Trying to define it is much more complex than you think

Minimalism in beauty has been steadily increasing in popularity over the past few years, something that can be credited as a response to the overly contoured and caked-on "Instagram makeup" look made popular by YouTube stars and beauty influencers.

But what actually is minimalist beauty? Is it all just a façade presented to us through chic, simple packaging and good marketing, based solely on aesthetic, or does it actually have something to do with the products and formulations themselves? To further explore the topic, we chatted with skin-care experts and board-certified dermatologists to get the low-down on what they think minimalist beauty actually is, and, more importantly, what it should be.

Dr. Cynthia Bailey, president and founder of DrBaileySkinCare.com and diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, explains that the definition is, currently, a bit blurred, though there are some basic tenets that are followed. "There are no strict or well-established criteria for using this term," she said before adding:

In my opinion, minimalist beauty would be achieving one's goal with a minimum of simple tools and a simple approach to both the process and the final result-enhancing one's natural beauty, not overwriting it. As a skin-care and skin wellness expert, I would say that using a minimum of multipurpose and clean products would be at the heart of minimalist beauty. Simplicity would characterize the process. Moderation would characterize the final appearance, which would be restrained and natural.

While many products perceived to fall into the minimalist category may achieve a natural-looking result or be easy and simple to use (cue in the multipurpose, three-in-one, all-over color products), their formulations are not, in fact, anywhere near being minimal.

Is there a solid number of ingredients that should be used per product type? While opinions varied, the answer was clear: the fewer ingredients, the better. Bailey feels that, in terms of cosmetics, products should have just enough ingredients to achieve the color and final look. "Formulations should be as simple as possible and well-thought-out so that the solution to achieving the final goals is elegant," she says.

What are examples of some truly minimalist products, in Bailey's opinion? Certain mineral makeup products, for starters. "Loose powder or a compact should contain not much beyond the powder," she says. "Fragrance and filler would be omitted. It can be applied dry or wet. They have minimal ingredients that are clean."

Bailey also champions BB creams as minimalist products. "In one product, you have tinting as a replacement to foundation, sunscreen for sun protection, and hydration. The simplicity of using a BB cream necessitates a more complex product formulation; more ingredients will be necessary to achieve the three goals in one product. However, fragrance, fillers, and extraneous ingredients should be excluded."

While it's not really possible to set a particular number of ingredients, as different products yield different results, which would require different ingredients to get them there, Bailey summarizes it as follows: "Minimalist beauty would exclude the superfluous ingredients ubiquitous in most beauty products. Those are fragrances—both natural and synthetic—fillers, fairy dusted 'actives' added only to enhance marketing appeal, and excessive packaging done for the same purpose. The exact product formulation would vary depending on the product."

Elizabeth Trattner, doctor of Chinese and integrative medicine and green beauty expert, has a similar opinion, stating that, to her, minimalist beauty is all about transparency from the brand and clean formulations. "I love the minimal look in packaging, but I am all about transparency and lack of chemicals that can bind up the endocrine system," she says. "Too many women are getting sick from SLS, petrochemicals, and other chemicals that are bioaccumulative, meaning the chemicals build up in the system." On her list of non-minimalist ingredients? "Phthalates, parabens, heavy metals, and endocrine disruptors that can cause cancer, including breast and other female-based cancers. Also avoid petrochemicals, sodium lauryl sulfate, and artificial fragrance."

Sure, most of us aware that synthetic fragrance isn't clean, but even natural fragrances are typically unnecessary and could actually cause adverse effects—and are otherwise not considered part of a minimalist beauty regimen. Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, dermatologist and author of Beyond Soap, mentions that some essential oils—commonly used to scent products naturally—are highly allergic, irritant, or hormone-disruptive.

In general, clean is the way to go, but this doesn't necessarily mean natural and plant-based—natural, green beauty and minimalist beauty are two very different ideas.

Multiple experts have agreed that solely natural is not always better in terms of minimalism (yes, we gasped too). It's important to keep in mind that, like with essential oils as natural fragrance, some naturals are also known allergens. For those with sensitive skin, use of a minimal, natural product could end with less-than-desirable results. "Natural products can be problematic—they can lead to allergic reactions or irritant skin rashes just as easily and sometimes more than other products," says Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon. "Natural and preservative-free also may mean that these products are more susceptible to microbial contamination, which could cause infections in the skin. Instead, I like the idea of hand-selecting products with clinically proven results and safety. Using a few products maximally is what I consider minimalist beauty."

So, what really is minimalist beauty? Well, unlike the idea of minimalism itself, it's pretty complex.

All experts we spoke with mention using the least amount of ingredients that render the product effective, simple application, and a more natural-looking end result as being the main components of the minimalist beauty movement. Yet, many of the products that consumers think to be minimalist (hint, hint: some of the trendier "Instagram brands" of today) are quite the opposite. In many ways, it's all smoke and mirrors, unclean and unnecessarily complex formulas masked by minimalist packaging in a neutral color palette.

In short, a lot of "minimalist beauty" is essentially bullshit, and, according to the experts, it's not what minimalist beauty should entail. "The minimalist movement is sometimes more about packaging," says Skotnicki. "What we want to see, as dermatologists, is fewer ingredients."

It's up to us as consumers to not buy into a brand's packaging and advertising, thinking we're slapping on quality, effective products. "Consumers have to look behind the packaging," says Trattner. "Anything can be packaged in a clean white container, but, let's be real, with the green beauty movement at an all-time high—doubling almost every year—why go halfway?"

Before buying into the movement, then, make sure you're reading ingredients, researching the brand, and making sure they're on the same page as your ideals—and that you're not just getting sucked into a brand's "cool" aesthetic.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

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Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

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Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

"Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design"

Prada Group has announced that Prada, as well as all of its brands, will now be fur-free. According to a press release from the Humane Society, Prada, Miu Miu, Church's, and Car Shoe will ban the use of fur beginning with the Spring/Summer 2020 collection (aka the Fashion Week coming up next). The list of fashion designers banning fur only continues to grow, with 3.1 Phillip Lim, Coach, Armani, Versace, Gucci, and more having stopped using the material in seasons past.

"The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy—reached following a positive dialogue with the Fur Free Alliance, in particular with LAV and the Humane Society of the United States—is an extension of that engagement," Miuccia Prada told the Human Society. "Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design while meeting the demand for ethical products."

Following London Fashion Week designers forgoing the use of fur in September and the first-ever Vegan Fashion Week taking place in February, it's easy to imagine an entirely fur-free fashion future. It's especially easy, I presume, for the brands to consider a fur-free future, given that entire cities and states are taking a stance. New York is following in the footsteps of Los Angeles banning fur, with a bill proposed this March that would ban sales across New York State.

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Photo by Johnny Dufort

"Club leisure" is the new athleisure

Alexander Wang is recognizing clubbing as the workout that it truly is with his latest Adidas collaboration. In this fifth installment, he "changes gears," per a press release from the brand, taking the iconic sports brand to the dance floor.

For the new campaign, the collection comes to life in iconic choreographer Tanisha Scott's dance studio and stars dancers Noemi Janumala, Dakota Moore, Avi McClish, and Olivia Burgess. The dancers show just how far these clothes can go when you want to bust a move or stretch, but TBH, I'll leave these poses to the pros and just use my clothes for flexing on the 'gram.

The collection—which features six apparel items, three shoes, and six accessories—features, per a press release, "Wang's knack for pre-styling." Standouts from the mostly black-and-white items include a silver sneaker that was *made* for moonwalking, an airy windbreaker that has just the right dash of bright blue with the scattered Adidas trefoil design, and a towel hoodie that you won't feel bad sweating in.

Ahead of the May 25 collection drop online and in stores, peep the gorgeous campaign images below.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Joggers, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Towel Hoodie, $350, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Sock Leggings, $60, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Adilette Slides, $90, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Futureshell Shoes in Platinum Metallic, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Core White, $280, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Shorts in Core White, $120, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Bum Bag, $50, available staring May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Duffle Bag, $70, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.


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