Why the #shelfie trend could be bad for your skin and the environment

Here’s the formula for one of the latest Instagram beauty trends: gorgeous mirrored cabinet, lines of covetable cosmetics arranged with military precision and basically enough skincare to keep an army cleansed, serumed and moisturised for a year.

The beauty #shelfie, much loved by beauty directors and bloggers as an opportunity to showcase their faves (and their gorgeous bathrooms and dressing tables), has filtered down into the mainstream, and is now so widespread that there are more than two million hashtags using the term ‘shelfie’ on the social media platform.

It’s a trend that horrifies Millie Kendall MBE, CEO of The British Beauty Council.

‘#Shelfies are one of the worst things to happen in the beauty industry,’ she says.

‘They perpetuate the idea that we all need hundreds of products when actually we don’t. And the result is catastrophic for the environment.’

And she should know. The Council has just released a sustainability report, calling on the beauty industry to collaborate through a Sustainable Beauty Coalition. It makes for grim reading.

‘The drive to sell more means that people buy things they don’t need or want,’ states the report. ‘Almost two thirds of people have unused or partly used beauty products in their home that they no longer want. [And] most people have been given a beauty product as a gift that they will never use.’

All of that means more raw materials, and more waste, contributing to approximately 150billion units of packaging produced annually by the global cosmetics industry, and the 2.7billion plastic bottles from the personal care industry that hit landfill every year.

But it’s not just the environment that’s suffering. Research last year suggested that the average adult spent more than £1,000 a year on unused beauty products and toiletries. That’s money that could be in your pocket.

But, to a certain extent, who can blame us? We’ve been sold the idea that we need multi-step routines, that we need to be able to switch up our regime according to the season, or the time of the month, or just because skin needs a change (and goodness knows, I’m as culpable as the next beauty journalist when it comes to this).

But the truth is less really is more when it comes to skin.

Several dermatologists have told me of people coming to their clinics with acne or pigmentation issues and literally bringing carrier bags full of the products that they’re using or have tried in a bid to manage their skin issues.

‘The problem is that when you’re using so many products, you don’t know what is happening at a formulation level,’ says dermatologist Dr Jason Thomson, head of medical at Skin + Me, a company that provides bespoke prescription skincare.

‘When you combine a lot of active ingredients you run the risk of irritating your skin, disrupting the skin barrier and this has the potential to result in skin sensitivity and even the development of allergies,’ adds Thomson.

But it’s not just the actives you have to worry about.

‘Other ingredients in the formulations that may be interacting,’ he explains. ‘So, for example, one formulation might contain a penetration enhancer, and if you use that with a product that contains retinol, this could result in increased penetration of the retinol and higher chance of side effects.

‘You need to be a chemist to understand what’s actually going on when you layer up all these different skincare products and ingredients.’

Of course skincare isn’t just about efficacy, it’s also about ritual – and if you really enjoy using ten different products, and you’re not having any adverse reactions, knock yourself out – just make sure you use every single product right to the end.

But don’t be made to feel that you should be using more.

‘A cleanser, an active, a moisturiser and an SPF is the perfect skincare regime,’ says Dr Thomson.

Think how much tidier your bathroom is going to be.

Essential skincare products to slim down your routine

Here’s what to try if you want to ditch the shelfie and simplify your skincare routine…

Skin + Me

Bespoke to-your-door skincare service that delivers pharmacist-blended, prescription-level ingredients into a personalised cream designed to tackle your skin issues.

£19.99 a month, skinandme.com


A plastic-free, zero-waste skincare brand with minimalism at its heart that has just two products, a cleanser and a moisturiser ‘as we see these as the bookends of all good skincare routines’.

From £22, sbtrct.co.uk

Altruist Sunscreen

Dermatologist-formulated sun protection at affordable prices, with every purchase benefiting charity too. For extra environmental points, buy the one-litre bottle to cut down on packaging (and recycle it).

From £4, altruistsun.com

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