Just when we thought the CGI on Sonic the Hedgehog would be the worst thing to come out of 2020, the year flung a global crisis at us among numerous other situations.

With stress and anxiety at an all-time high, we’ve had to manage a deluge of unprecedented skin concerns too. Maskne, a term borne from the mask-induced breakouts, was chief among them.

Sensitised skin was another skincare woe, mostly in relation to mask-wearing and/or the zealous application of products with active ingredients. For those of us who worked from home and are still doing so, the buzz around blue light took on a life of its own.

In the upcoming year, brands and skin experts are predicting a shift in the way we care for our skin and shop for products. We enlisted the help of three beauty experts to divulge the skincare trends of 2021 and share how they can work for us.

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  1. Skincare trends in 2021

Skincare trends in 2021

An even stronger focus on our skin’s microbiome

Skincare Trends 2021 Microbiome

Our microbiome is made of a natural collection of microorganisms that live symbiotically with our bodies. In fact, the human body is home to more than one trillion bacteria. Not only is it an essential part of the body’s immune system, but it’s also responsible for the functioning of the skin barrier.

A thriving microbiome is able to prevent a whole host of skin issues, from eczema and rosacea to acne and even premature ageing. The greater the variety of bacterial species we have on our skin, the healthier our skin barrier will be. In short, our microbiome is the single most important element of skin health.

This is why probiotic skincare is bound to be one of the biggest skincare trends of 2021. “I think probiotic skincare is here to stay now that we are learning even more about the protective skin barrier and the importance of replenishing the system,” Tata Harper, founder of the eponymous skincare brand, says.

Nicolas Travis, founder of local skincare labels Allies of Skin and PSA Skin, agrees. “I believe it will continue to be a big focus as more people become more educated on the benefits of good bacteria and the skin’s microbiome,” he says. “Our cities are becoming more polluted and if last year is any indication, we are also getting more stressed in general and these can [impede our skin’s functions].”

When it comes to probiotic skincare, cosmetic scientist Lalita Vedantam (@skinchemy) suggests seeking out brands that have ample research to support their claims. “Probiotics are sensitive to various environmental conditions like pH and temperature. But with the advancement in skincare technology, we are able to overcome some of these challenges,” she shared.

How to boost your skin’s microbiome

Lalita recommends Mother Dirt’s AO+ Mist, a refreshing and hydrating spray that’s infused with live “peacekeeper” probiotics. Once you’ve spritzed it on as the last step in your skincare or makeup routine, the live bacteria within the mist gets to work.

It removes waste on the surface of your skin by eating them and converting them back into good compounds –  almost like a recycling process on the skin. In doing that, it lowers the pH down to a more compatible level for the skin and has a rebalancing effect.

Though there has been some exciting research on our skin’s microbiome, Lalita thinks we need more clinical trials in understanding the role that microorganisms have in our skin and how they contribute to the maintenance of skin homeostasis. She says, “I do hope in 2021, we see more clinical studies that test the efficacy of probiotics and prebiotics in skincare.”

“Our digestive system and skin are very closely connected,” Tata shares. “When one system is out of balance, it usually is an indicator that the other area is affected as well.” So apart from cutting down on excessive exfoliation, skipping harsh cleansers, and slathering on probiotic-rich skincare products, a good way to keep your microbiome healthy and flourishing is to support it from within.

Soluble fibre, which can be found in oatmeal, lentils, beans, and fruit, ferments in the colon and feeds the bacteria that live there, which keeps them happy and thriving. Fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are jam-packed with beneficial bacteria too. If you can’t stand the sour taste of fermented foods, though, probiotic supplements are also a good source of gut bugs.

Barrier repair products

Skincare Trends 2021 Barrier Repair

In line with supporting our skin’s microbiome, barrier respect is something we’ve started to see more as of late and will inspire one of the skincare trends in 2021. Barrier repair skincare products that strengthen, restore, and protect have been popping up everywhere, perhaps in response to numerous skin stressors of last year.

A weakened skin barrier can result from numerous issues, whether it’s harsh weather, physical abrasion, or certain fragrance additives. All of these factors can lead to redness, dryness, and itching. “I think there is a trend of overdoing it,” Nicolas points out. “Exfoliating twice a day is not a good thing as it can weaken the skin barrier and cause even more issues over time. Your skin should be treated as if it is silk.”

The one skincare trend he’d love to leave behind in 2020? DIY skincare recipes.

“Do not use baking soda and lemon juice on your skin. Ever. These can seriously damage your barrier and burn your skin,” Nicolas warns. “Just buy your products and when in doubt, always seek and follow the advice of a dermatologist.”

If you’re guilty of over-exfoliating and using harsh ingredients, however, fret not. There are barrier-loving ingredients out there that can help strengthen your skin’s first line of defence.

“We’re going to see a lot of brands come out with barrier repair creams, which can help restore your skin barrier when there is a flare-up,” Lalita predicts. “It would be great to see skin-soothing ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, oat, aloe, and niacinamide, to name a few.”

Indeed, barrier-restoring products are often packed with ceramides, essential fatty acids, and cholesterol, such as CeraVe’s Moisturizing Cream and Daily Moisturizing Lotion. Their affordable price points and inclusion of skin-strengthening ceramides make them popular choices among dermatologists and skincare enthusiasts alike.

Treatments that address maskne

Skincare Trends 2021 Maskne

It’s wild to think that just over a year ago, “maskne” wasn’t a part of our common vocabulary. Mask-induced breakouts are usually caused by a combination of heat, friction, and sweat getting trapped between skin and fabric. This warm, humid environment promotes the growth of bacteria on the skin’s surface, which is why we get clogged pores and blemishes more easily on the lower halves of our faces.

With the rise of this inflammatory skin issue, we’ve seen a surge in treatments that are targeted towards acne and it will continue to remain one of the biggest issues that skincare trends in 2021 will gear towards. Nicolas says mandelic acid, BHA (beta hydroxy acid), and bakuchiol are actives that can help to reduce breakouts. These three ingredients can also be found in the Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum, which fights blemishes and pigmentation while you catch up on some Zs.

Azelaic acid is also an overlooked ingredient when it comes to reducing blemishes. “Its inflammatory effects can help in the treatment of acne and rosacea,” Lalita shares. “It can also help lighten hyperpigmentation due to its ability to interfere with melanin production.”

If you have sensitive skin, you may want to start with a lower concentration of azelaic acid first. “Some find 10% to be effective, while others find lower percentages to be more effective,” Lalita says. “Most of the research we have for azelaic acid is for prescription-strength 15 to 20% concentrations.”

A good product to start with is The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, a gel-cream that protects your skin from free radical damage, brightens tone, improves texture, and minimises the appearance of blemishes.

One of the things we’ve also learned about managing maskne is that less is more. That means stripping your skincare routine down to the bare minimum.

“A simple, fragrance-free cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen can help strengthen the skin barrier and make our skin better equipped to handle the stressor of wearing a mask,” Lalita recommends. On top of that, you should try to avoid using too many exfoliants and new products lest they increase irritation.

Blue light protection in skincare

Skincare Trends 2021 Blue Light

Scientifically known as high energy visible (HEV) light, blue light is emitted from the screens of our devices as well as from the sun. When blue light penetrates the skin, reactive oxygen species are generated, which leads to DNA damage, thereby causing hyperpigmentation – just like how UV damage can create sunspots. We’ve heard the term more often in 2020 and looking at the skincare trends in 2021, it will remain relevant.

“Blue light exposure is real, yes,” Nicolas confirms. “However, you don’t have to do anything different or buy more products if you are already using antioxidants daily.” If your skincare products contain ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, resveratrol, superoxide dismutase, and teas, you’re all set.

In reality, blue light from our screens shouldn’t be a huge issue. “The effect is so small that even if it did cause an increase in free radicals in the skin, it’s unlikely to cause any skin damage like fine lines and wrinkles,” Lalita explains. “However, blue light from the sun – yes, that could cause pigmentation in darker skin.”

When it comes to blue light and UV rays, loading up on daily SPF is key. To strengthen your protection, Nicolas recommends layering an antioxidant-rich serum or moisturiser under your sunscreen.

For our top sunscreen recommendations, check out these articles:

Skincare as self-care

Skincare Trends 2021 Self Care

After a tumultuous year, the link between skin and mental health is something that brands will continue to explore. When stress and anxiety levels reach an all-time high, it can affect our hormone levels, potentially triggering breakouts and flare-ups.

“Finding balance is a daily process, and reconnecting with oneself has been a huge topic since [the pandemic],” Tata says. Taking time for yourself is a must, and skincare can be a form of self-care too.

“Everyone is trying to find ways to ease stress through meditation, aromatherapy, and skincare rituals,” Tata shares. “If you don’t have a skincare regimen yet, now is a great time to experiment with new products and discover what works best for you.”

A great way to ease your mind is by slowing down your skincare routine. You can try incorporating a facial massage or gua sha massage during your cleansing or moisturising step too. Of course, lifestyle factors play a huge part when it comes to managing stress and anxiety.

If you’re neither getting quality sleep nor eating a healthy, balanced diet, it shows on your skin too. Additionally, you can try to soothe your nerves with yoga or meditation. Finding something to ground you can help you get to a restful state. Well, this is a skincare trend in 2021 we can definitely get behind.

Celebrity skincare lines

Last year, the skincare department was star-studded, with big names like Pharrell Williams (Humanrace), Alicia Keys (Keys Soulcare), and of course, Rihanna (Fenty Skin) delving into the market.

We were largely impressed by the formulas. In addition, the story and ethos behind these brands hooked us in and left us craving for more, which is why celebrity skincare brands made it on our list of skincare trends in 2021 to watch. With the newly launched JLo Beauty, a celebrity skincare boom seems imminent in the coming years, so we asked our experts to share their thoughts on new celeb skincare labels.

“The formula is king. So, no matter where the products are from or created by, look at the ingredients list,” Nicolas advises. “Ingredients and their percentages matter and it’s the overall formula that counts.”

Lalita adds on, saying, “I think if a celebrity came out with thoughtfully formulated products with evidence-based ingredients at a reasonable price tag, I’m totally okay with it.” Her issue lies with the upcharge of celebrity skincare brands, which is largely due to having their names tied to it. When these brands aren’t offering anything innovative or different than what is already available on the market, it becomes a problem.

“Another issue is the question surrounding their involvement with the brand. It’s really hard to say how involved celebrities are with their brands in terms of product development, packaging, branding and so on,” Lalita lets on.