Finally, We're Treating Our Bodies Like Our Faces
My approach to skincare has evolved since my two-step routine of Cetaphil cleanser and Noxema pads in high school, but until recently, the way I treated the skin below my neck had been stuck in 2002.
Over the past year, instead of settling on whatever body lotion and mildly floral-scented body wash is on sale at the drugstore, I've started getting more particular with the body care products I keep in my shower, opting for sophisticated formulas with active ingredients that aren't far off from what I use to treat the acne, hyperpigmentation, and dryness I experience on my face.
And I'm not the only one who's been upgrading their body care routine since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in 2020.
In a May 2020 article by McKinsey & Company on the impact of the pandemic on the beauty industry, European e-commerce company Zalando reported "a boom in pampering and self-care beauty categories." This included candles and aromatherapy, but specifically sales of skin-, nail-, and hair-care products were up 300%, year over year. These results are consistent with Amazon's reports in the US, which saw a slight decline in color cosmetics, while sales of nail-care products (218%), hair coloring (172%), and bath-and-body products (65%) were way up.
With so much time spent at home in the past two years, people are embracing and spending more time on self-care, and that includes caring for their skin from the neck down. And brands are responding with formulas that are good enough for the face –— but designed for the body.
Dr. Jeanine Downie, a board-certified dermatologist and Director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, N.J., says the newfound focus on body care is a direct reflection of people prioritizing skin health during COVID-19 lockdowns.
"Skincare is booming because of COVID — we were all locked inside looking at ourselves on Zoom and freaking out. Because of this, we are now paying attention to the face and body. More than ever, our body care regimens reflect that we want to wear short sleeves and shorts skirts and have our backs out," the dermatologist says. "So, we want products with active ingredients that have science behind them so we can live our best lives."
And there are now a plethora of product options for treating the skin concerns below your neck, from bacne to dark underarms. Soft Services is one new body care brand dedicated to treating these body skin issues like you would if they appeared on your face. Founded by Glossier alums Rebecca Zhou and Annie Kreighbaum in 2021, the brand offers products formulated with proven active ingredients and come in sleek packaging you will want on display in your bathroom — even if they treat typically taboo skin concerns. The Smoothing Solution, an exfoliating gel for hyperpigmentation and ingrown hairs, and the Clearing Mist, a body breakout treatment, are a few examples.
"I think it's ok to say that sometimes these things suck, because they do, but our goal with Soft Services is to offer solutions for people looking for them, not to shame people into thinking they need to be concerned about something that they didn't really care about before," Kreighbaum tells InStyle. "It's been eye-opening to read reviews from our customers who say they had never worn shorts in public before using Soft Services — so the taboo around imperfections is quite strong. Unlocking that freedom for people is important, but inspiring an obsession with perfection is not."
While popular skincare ingredients such as retinol, lactic acid, and salicylic acid keep popping up in body care innovations, Kreighbaum notes that formulating body care products is an entirely different art form. "To be successful, you really have to approach the body category from scratch because it's not as simple as taking a formula that works for the face and selling it in a larger size," she explains. "The body has so many other factors to consider when developing your formulas — what you leave out is just as important as what you put in because the likelihood of fungal imbalances, friction, and over-absorption of actives is much greater on the body than on the face."
Existing skincare brands that specialize in specific skin concerns, like acne, are also expanding into body care. Last year, Hero Cosmetics launched a collection of products that treat and prevent body breakouts by targeting the three main causes of acne: dead skin buildup, overproduction of sebum, and bacteria imbalance. The lineup includes a cleanser, mist, scrub, and moisturizer.
"Facial skincare has been a trending category for the past few years but we're seeing this wellness concept move beyond the face. Again, call it the 'skinification' of face moving to body as well as hair and consumers are showing that they want to pay as much attention to other parts of the body as they do their face, Hero Cosmetics Founder Ju Rhyu says. "People are realizing that the skin on our bodies has much larger surface area than on our faces, and want to take care of it; now they have more products and options to do so."
VIDEO: How to Get Rid of Bacne for Good
The skin on some areas of your body is thicker than your face, but it still may be beneficial to slowly introduce the products into your routine to prevent irritation. "When using vitamin A, retinol, and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) on the face, you do not have to go as slowly because the chest, back, arms, and legs are thicker-skinned areas," says Dr. Downie. "That being said, if you're using them on your body for the first time, perhaps start every other night so you build up topical usage over time."
Using these body products at the right time is also key. Dr. Downie points out that applying products with active ingredients like retinol or AHA acids on freshly shaved or over-exfoliated skin can be potentially irritating. Also, be sure to check if you're allergic to any of the ingredients before slathering them all over your skin. And when in doubt, consult with a board-certified dermatologist to build the best routine for your skin's needs.