Stuck for time? Beauty editor Tracey Strange makes short work of the list of products you need to keep your skin and hair healthy and looking beautiful.
I once counted the number of different types of products the beauty industry prescribed for my skin. I started at pre-cleansers and ended with a special spritzer designed to protect me from electromagnetic waves. After 20 categories, I gave up. It wasn't that I resented the advice - products such as sunblock and moisturiser are absolutely essential if you want to keep your skin healthy. I just couldn't believe that anyone has the time (let alone the budget) for a 20-stage daily routine. And if you're currently juggling the often-conflicting demands of family, work and a relationship, I bet you can't either.
The pressure on us to keep ourselves looking good - and looking young - is immense, particularly when it's difficult enough to find the time for the standard cleanse/tone/moisturise three-step, let alone apply makeup or slap on some fake tan.
There are, however, all sorts of good reasons for keeping up with a regular beauty regime, no matter how limited. Self-esteem, for one. In 2007, Nivea undertook a major study into the interests of New Zealand women. Designed to back up its "Beauty Is" advertising campaign, the research focused on women's attitudes towards the way we look. It concluded that our experience of beauty is multi-faceted and incorporates how we feel, who we are on the inside and the way we interact with those around us.
But perhaps one of the most specific - and poignant - examples of the psychological effects of cosmetics comes from the results of an experiment at Tours Medical School, France. A group of senile dementia sufferers, who had lost control of their sphincter muscles, were encouraged to apply makeup every day. Three months into the experiment, a third of them no longer needed nappies. The researchers concluded that applying cosmetics attentively had enabled them to recover their human dignity.
Views vary drastically when it comes to what we consider to be "making an effort". Some of us are content with moisturiser and sunblock, others won't leave the house without lipstick. When you're strapped for time, beauty seems to naturally split itself into three categories: the fundamentals; the basics; and the nice-if-you-have-the-time. But within each group there are time-saving products specifically designed to speed up the process so that you don't have to feel guilty about allotting precious time to looking good.
According to Auckland skin specialist Dr Ian McKerrow, there are only four essential steps to good-looking skin. The first is cleanser, the second is an AHA product (to dissolve the substances that bind dead skin cells), the third is moisturiser (preferably containing the antioxidants vitamin C or A), and the fourth is sunblock.
But within this lineup are plenty of different options. For example, Clinique's famed three-step programme involves a cleanser, toner and moisturiser. Do you need the toner? In the Clinique example you do, since the toner also acts as an exfoliant, sloughing off dead cells to reveal the newer, brighter cells underneath. If you really are out of time, Clarins' Water Purify One-Step Cleanser ($50) is a combination facial wash and toner that removes makeup and refreshes, soothes and protects the skin all in one step.
Moisturisers also come in many variants. Without a doubt, the best contain antioxidants, especially those that have been clinically proven to have a beneficial effect on the skin. Give yourself a mental tick if your moisturiser includes any of the following: Vitamins C, E and A, amino acids such as L-cysteine and L-carnitine, and enzymes and co-enzymes such as alpha ipoic acid and co-enzyme Q10 - just some of the antioxidants scientists say really do make a difference.
When it comes to sunscreens, many come with moisturiser included. They may even also pack a good antioxidant punch. But the experts tend to be united: You probably do need to apply both sunblock and moisturiser, even if your sunscreen does contain hydrating ingredients. If you do want to cut a step in the mornings, stick with the SPF moisturiser first thing, but be diligent about applying a non-SPF night cream.
Once the skincare is sorted, it comes down to how much time you have to spend applying cosmetics. One of the best time-saving colour products is tinted moisturiser. The right one will provide even coverage (you will still need to use concealer to hide the odd blemish or pigmentation spot) while it hydrates.
Eyeshadow is one of those cosmetics that many women feel they can do without. But just a sweep of shadow can make all the difference, especially if you're tired. Choose a neutral colour such as taupe, beige, coral, sand or bronze (avoid white or silver - both are too much of a statement) and brush (or smear in the case of cream shadow) across the lid from the lash to the crease. Mascara is something you can do without, especially if you have your lashes tinted. Or you can try lash extensions. But, at approximately $200 per set (they should last four weeks or so), they aren't within everyone's budget.
Getting your lipstick shade right is something you do want to spend time on. A well-chosen "nude" will set you up for the entire summer. The best advice is to choose one that resembles the colour of the inside of your lip. But if applying lipstick is beyond you, a sweep of gloss or tinted balm is a perfect summer beauty accessory.
Last are brows and blush. Get your brows professionally shaped and, if the therapist recommends it, dyed. Strong brows are fashionable but they also frame the face, providing definition and structure when you don't have time for makeup. Blusher, too, adds that much-needed definition. Choose a neutral pinky coral for best effect. It will add life and warmth to your complexion on those days when you need it most.
We now come to the range of products that fall outside the essentials but still provide great value for effort. Foundation primers can help correct "flaws" such as redness, broken capillaries, and pigmentation spots, while also extending the life of your foundation. They can also be used under tinted moisturisers. Products such as Smashbox's Photo Finish Color Correcting Foundation Primer ($69) will also fill in fine lines and pores so that skin looks smoother and firmer.
Gradual tanners and creams such as Johnson's Holiday Skin ($8.99) and Lancôme's Sensuelle Summer Body Lotion ($55) are also a huge bonus over summer. They combine moisturisers with reduced amounts of conventional tanning ingredients and develop over a few days for natural-looking colour. They aren't quite as high-maintenance as standard fake tans and are therefore much less likely to streak.
Deep-conditioning treatments, while on the face of it not an obvious time-saver, are also well worth the effort. If you can manage to treat your hair to a three-minute "soak" (chose conditioners that come in a tub rather than the standard bottles), you will reap the benefits in good-hair days all week, and probably save at the salon too. Looked-after hair doesn't require nearly as much maintenance.
Nails are another much-neglected accessory when time is short. But there are plenty of quick-dry enamels available, as well as sprays and serums to harden polish within minutes. These, such as Leighton Denny's Miracle Drops ($35), are fantastic but don't expect to keep your toes or fingernails completely streak-free if you don't have the time to rest up for a good 20 minutes or so after applying. When in doubt, stick to a buffer and polish nails to a high natural shine that can't be smudged.
Last but not least are treatment products. If you're under 35, the chances are you might not need an intensive anti-ageing treatment. But if you do, applying an antioxidant-rich serum, or one that's speciically related to a problem area such as pigmentation, under your night moisturiser will pay dividends in a time-strapped regime for years to come.
Beauty editor Tracey Strange has worked in the fashion and beauty industry for 15 years, and says her favourite time-saving beauty product is a great cleanser: "Something that removes all traces of makeup, such as Dr Teresa Cattin's Faceworks Herbal Face Wash ($28). I'm essentially lazy, so not having to bother about makeup remover suits me fine. Another thing that saves me time is a good hairdresser. Having hair that's easy to maintain is a huge bonus. If it's a good hair day, I never feel the need for much makeup!"