This is how much of your beauty products you should really be using

Why less really is more when it comes to your beauty routine
Photography: Lucky If Sharp, Pixeleyes

The average person spends £570 a year on skincare, according to a new survey. But have you considered how much of these products we’re buying ends up being frittered away down the drain? From the huge dollop of cleanser you apply to your face every day, to that excessive spritzing of your trusty toner… if you find you’re constantly running out of your favourites, it’s a good job you’re reading this.

There’s no doubt that the beauty business is booming (Mintel found that British women are spending more than ever on facial skincare). But is it simply a case of being hungry for the latest buys – or a sign that we’re guzzling them faster than ever? Whether it’s beauty influencers on Instagram or Sunday-night pamper sessions on YouTube, we’re constantly seeing faces coated in thick layers of masks (when a smidge will do), and complexions drowning in two – or 12 – pipettes too many of serum. So it’s little surprise if we’re following suit and laying things on a bit thick. But what’s the effect of this decadent approach to beauty on our skin, bank balance – and Mother Nature?

Skin deep

Can too much of a good thing be harmful? In a word: yes. ‘Excessive use of serums containing retinols, for example, can cause irritation, inflammation, redness and even hyperpigmentation,’ says dermatologist Dr Michelle Henry. Perhaps that’s not so surprising – but overuse of day-to-day products can also create problems. ‘Moisturisers with oils or heavy, occlusive ingredients [which create a barrier] can cause blackheads and breakouts,’ adds Dr Henry. ‘Judicious use of products is the way to go.’

There’s another tough truth to learn: applying double the amount of product doesn’t double its efficacy. So if you’re slathering on copious amounts and hoping for better results, step away from the jar. And pay attention to how many variants of the same thing you’re using. ‘For example, exfoliation is important to help unclog pores, shed dead skin cells and allow serums and creams to be absorbed,’ says Dr Henry. ‘However, too much will leave skin raw, irritated and damaged.’ A grainy scrub, glycolic acid and a cleansing brush? That’s too much.

Eco impact

When it comes to protecting our planet, beauty waste is in the spotlight. In 2018, the UK success story was the ban on microbeads (plastic particles found in some scrubs, cleansers and soaps), in a bid to stop harmful plastic making their way into our oceans. Next on the to-do list is packaging, and brands are increasingly taking serious steps to change. For example, Garnier has partnered with TerraCycle – a scheme that means you can recycle any of its products in the UK for free, wherever you live; Soaper Duper’s Body Wash bottles are made from 50% post-consumer recycled plastic (aka your recycled milk bottles); and We Are Paradoxx products are encased in aluminium bottles, to cut back on plastic. Awesome stuff.

But here’s something to consider: if we used the correct amount of product, we’d need to restock less often, so less packaging would be created in the first place. While recycling is kinder to the environment than waste ending up in landfill, the process still requires a lot of energy – and this is especially true with plastic. Refillable bottles are another win for the planet as, when you buy again, you’re not generating a demand for more packaging (check out the Beauty Kitchen refill station in the Boots London Covent Garden store). But it still pays to pump less: shampoo, shower gel and the like all contain chemicals and, after these ingredients go down your drain, they can travel through wastewater treatment plants and end up in local waterways.

Money matters

Whether you’re a certified beauty junkie with a full arsenal of products, or you follow a simple cleanse-tone-moisturise regime, those creams, lotions and toners will burn a hole in your pocket. So maybe it’s time to apply the fashion formula of ‘cost per wear’ (CPW) to your beauty bag. Have you ever considered the CPW of your serum? If a 30ml bottle isn’t lasting you three months, it’s time to check your portions – and your pennies. Plus, remember that investing in a more luxurious item can be smart, if it means you savour it. Think about how mindfully you apply that indulgent night cream you treated yourself to, compared with the way you squirt out a palm-full of your regular shampoo without a second thought. So yes, investment beauty buys could be the way forward.

So, if you’re ready to slim down your slatherings, where to start? We’ve done the work (see right), to help you re-evaluate your serving sizes, sharpish.


portion of cream in spoons


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Cleanser 1/2 tsp
We love: Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion (200ml) – like a hug in a cleanser, this oil-free wonder removes eye make-up, too.

Night Cream 1/4 tsp
We love: EXCLUSIVE No7 HydraLuminous Overnight Recovery Cream Drier Skin (50ml), a light gel with the nourishing power of a cream.

Moisturiser 1/4 tsp
We love: NEW The Inkey List Snow Mushroom Moisturiser* (30ml), a jelly-like hydrator that helps reduce redness and calm skin.

Serum 1/6 tsp (shown on 1/4 tsp)
We love:
NEW Revolution Skincare 2% Hyaluronic Acid Plumping & Hydrating Solution (30ml), to supercharge a dehydrated complexion.

Eye Cream 1/8 tsp
We love: CeraVe Reparative Hyaluronic Acid Eye Cream (14ml), with a lightweight formula that makes a perfect base for make-up.

*Available on and in selected stores