Real Talk: The Ripple Effect of Minimal Beauty

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Barely There Beauty

The less is more makeup is everywhere now. We can blame (or thank) the pandemic for that wild shift. When staying home became the norm, full glam felt like overkill, and don’t even get me started on the highly uncomfortable struggle of makeup + mask. So naturally minimal makeup became everyone’s go to look. The trend (if we can even call it that now) seems like it’s here to stay. The beauty industry has been moving toward less heavy products, with more brands introducing tinted moisturizers and water tints and focusing the ‘woke up like this’ look in their campaigns.

Current minimalist beauty trends include the fresh-faced look also known as the clean girl aesthetic with fluffy brows on fleek, that sheer lit-from-within glowy base, lip oils and glosses instead of matte pigments, and lots of blush. We’re ditching the high-maintenance manis and channeling our inner Hailey Bieber with those viral glazed-doughnut nails. This coincides with effortless off-duty model hairstyles like slicked back buns and 90s inspired updos with big claw clips.

An essential distinction should be made between minimal makeup looks, often referred to as the clean girl aesthetic, and clean makeup. Clean makeup pertains to products that are formulated without parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and synthetic fragrances. Therefore, a clean makeup look may not necessarily be achieved solely using clean makeup products.

Welcome To The Dark Side

While I think the minimal makeup look has generated a wave of self-acceptance where people are more comfortable going out without a full face of makeup on, there’s a flip side. There’s also this new pressure to roll up with a genetically ‘perfect’ canvas—flawless skin, lashes that defy gravity, and lips that have their own zip code. So, while the initial aim behind the made-up minimalism movement was to use less, it’s not always the case. The popularity of minimal makeup is predicated on the behind- the-scenes work of skincare products, cosmetic procedures, and surgeries. It isn’t a surprise that as a result the skincare industry is thriving and so is cosmetic surgery. The derma space is the hottest ticket right now and more and more doctors are aspiring for it because, well, it’s practically like printing money.

While I’m all for people’s autonomy over their bodies, and if getting cosmetic procedures makes them happy, I would say go for it. But every time I come across a reel where a doctor is recommending a 20 something old preventative Botox, or someone barely out their teens is talking about which position you should sleep in to prevent your skin from ageing faster, I can’t help but feel alarmed at how people are getting obsessed with the myth of perfect unchanging skin at such a young age. A part of me feels glad that social media wasn’t a thing when I was a teenager because I probably would’ve been hauling a baggage of insecurities into my twenties with me if I had been exposed to it. Not that I don’t have my fair share of insecurities now. I feel like insecurities are part of the universal membership to being human.

Clean (More Like Classist) Girl Aesthetic

So, here’s the tea: minimal makeup is like a power move for some, making them embrace their natural selves. But for others it might stir up insecurities as minimal makeup often shines a spotlight on those

genetic perks that not all of us got in the gene lottery. So, while some feel like superheroes, others might want to swap capes. That’s when people feel the need to turn to cosmetic surgery. Again, nothing wrong with that so own it, flaunt it. The problem starts when these same people pretend like they’re blessed with these features naturally making others think they’re lacking this biological capital. It’s a vicious cycle. In this way the clean girl trend is aspirational and can often come from a privileged place.

Natural Look Or Subtle Control?

And like everything else in the world, minimal makeup too has something to do with patriarchy. Because unknowingly we are catering to the cis-het male gaze who prefer women with “natural makeup”. They want their women to have naturally flawless skin, flushed cheeks, pouty lips but god forbid it looks like they’ve tried to achieve this look instead of naturally waking up with it. It keeps us in the loop of traditional beauty norms, even while we’re trying to break free. It’s like the beauty world’s version of ‘you win some, you lose some.’

The Beauty Paradox

Minimal makeup, which is the appearance of less is actually a clever disguise for much more. Trends like these mainly cater to the beauty bourgeoise who enjoy the benefits of cosmetic labor without the overt display of having performed said labor. It’s like quiet luxury but for your face. So, next time you compare your features to someone on the internet keep in mind that there’s an uneven playing field to begin with. Many people you might admire on the internet don’t wear much makeup because they’ve already achieved standardized beauty through dermatologists, aestheticians, and surgeons.

Also, it’s important to remember that contrary to what the world tells us minimal makeup isn’t some secret club for the flawless few – it’s an all-access pass. It’s about flaunting your perfect imperfections and feeling confident in your skin.


Unpublishable, The. “Eat the Rich, Steal Their Skin?” The Unpublishable, 28 Apr. 2023, aesthetic?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web Accessed 21 Aug. 2023.

Bateman, Kristen. “Foundation Is Dead.” The New York Times, 10 Aug. 2022, Accessed 21 Aug 2023.