The 12-step K-beauty skincare regimen—as intricately choreographed as, say, a Cardi B. video—has seduced many of us into adopting the belief (delusion?) that we’re all just a pageant of ampoule-charged elixirs and sheet masks away from the Best Skin of Our Lives. But this kind of production demands that the average user have an intuitive understanding of the difference between a concentrated essence and a serum—along with endless supplies of spare time. Plus, over-exfoliating or over-treating your skin may well be weakening your skin barrier, kindling the breakouts you’re trying to scrub away. Maximalism, as it turns out, has no place in our skincare arsenals. First step in your skin routine: cleanse it of its time-gulping, potentially damaging, gazillion-step complexity, and send yourself on a product holiday.
Balm Labs’ Chief dermatologist Dr. Robin Schaffran, based in Beverly Hills, makes a 3-point case against the 12-step program.
1. Barrier issues
For all of our glowy—and problematic—skin days, we have our skin barrier to thank (or blame). The skin barrier—the stratum corneum—is the skin’s outermost layer, made up of ceramides and fatty acids. The barrier, as its name rightly suggests, moonlights as a sort of bouncer, air-traffic controller and first line of defense, determining what comes in and protecting against potential threats (irritants, pollution, bacteria). A robust, high-functioning skin barrier translates into healthy, glowing skin, while a compromised, weakened barrier can result in irritation, inflammation, flaking and breakouts.
Age only inflames the problem, as your skin barrier weakens with time. For women in their 30s and 40s, a plethora of products can corrode an already thinning skin barrier, inciting breakouts. The basic algorithm: a skin-barrier breakdown can cause breakouts. “People with acne-prone skin tend to use a LOT of products on their skin to treat their acne. But they’ll irritate their skin even more. They’re just overdoing it,” Dr. Schaffran says. Muddling up this, well, complexity problem is that if you throw 15 creams, serums, toners and elixirs at a pimple, in hopes that something might work, you’ll never be able to identify which one actually did work, and which one didn’t. Plus, in this kitchen-sink approach, there is also the possibility that one ingredient may cancel out the next.
2. It’s Complicated
“The main problem with these 12-step routines is that they’re incredibly complicated to understand. From a purely logistical perspective, they’re kind of a disaster,” says Dr. Schaffran. “Keeping the routine simple will result in compliance, which will result in improving your skin’s condition.” There may be a certain sexiness and fun to the 12-step regimens, but they demand an exceeding amount of time and commitment, undermining their sustainability—and effectiveness. BalmLabs provides an easy, time-sparing alternative: its approachable, 3-step system invites effectiveness insofar as it’s easy to maintain over time.
3. Power of Three
For the past several decades, all over-the-counter topicals in the acne space have relied on benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and retinol—highly active ingredients used to treat teenaged skin can be especially damaging to drier, more sensitive, adult skin, stripping and thinning an already compromised skin barrier.
BalmLabs, formulated for adult acne-prone skin, is charged by 6 Plant-based Superstar Actives—the sort of Avengers of the anti-aging, anti-acne skincare realm.
Leading the charge is full-spectrum, hemp-derived CBD. “It’s the jack of all trades of ingredients,” says Dr. Schaffran. CBD has multi-pronged powers, improving both acne-prone and aging skin: it has been shown to reduce oil and sebum production, soothe inflammation, and serve as a powerful antioxidant by preventing free radical damage to the skin.
If CBD is the marquee star, Bixa Orellana is the secret weapon, and CBD’s perfect complement: it reduces oiliness without causing irritation, refines pores and lends brightness. The remaining quartet—natural alpha hydroxy acids, niacinamide, squalene and hyaluronic acid—collaborate to hydrate, refine pores, reduce redness and inflammation, protect and boost the skin barrier, and help repair skin cell damage. You don’t need more than 3 products when each is an active-packed workhorse.