I’ve experienced a few heartbreaks in my lifetime, but nothing as hurtful as having to break up with my skin care products for two weeks as part of what the beauty industry has dubbed “skin fasting.” See, they say it takes 21 days to start or break a habit, yet it only took two days into my skincare-free journey to realize that skin fasting was not for me. No one forced me to do it. In fact, many of my co-workers questioned whether my decision to give up my holy grail skin saviors for two weeks was actually wise choice. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
A skin fast is exactly what it sounds like: Forgoing your entire beauty routine or at least, minimizing the use of your products for a period of time, so your skin becomes more reliant on itself to detox and fix its own problems instead of relying on an army of cleansers, moisturizers, serums, etc. The term was originally coined by Mirai Clinical, a Japanese skin and body care brand that describes skin fasting as a way “to strengthen the skin’s natural protective barrier that is weakened by excessive nourishing, to normalize the secretion of natural oils and support the natural rejuvenation process.” While Mirai Clinical suggested fasting by sleeping without moisturizer on the skin a few times a week, I went a little extreme and avoided using all products on my skin. Yes, that meant not a lick of moisturizer or cleanser, no sheet or sleeping masks, no makeup, nada for two weeks. It felt like the Battle of Winterfell took place on my skin.
But first, what my skincare routine was:
As a beauty hoarder with a laundry list of skincare woes to deal with—dry, sensitive, acne prone, dark spots, etc.—my daily skincare routine is no walk in the park. In the mornings, I typically start off with my tried-and-trued La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser. It doesn’t lather and leaves my skin feeling fresh and hydrated. I follow up by playing eeny-meeny-miny-moe with the serums on my dresser, from PCA Skin’s Hyaluronic Serum to Ayele + Co’s cult-favorite Sunflower Sweets Serum. From there, I use my go-to moisturizer, Dermalogica’s Prisma Protect SPF 30 (morning) and Fresh’s Rose Deep Hydration Face Cream (night) seals everything in.
Make no mistake: This is just the simple version, excluding all the dark spot treatments, facial steaming, masks, lip scrubs, and eye creams that keep my skin in shape. So, you can imagine the terror I felt when it was time to say sayonara to my loves. It was almost like I could hear Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” faintly playing in my ear.
What a dermatologist thought about skin fasting:
Before I took the plunge, I wanted as much information about skin fasting I can get, so I called upon Dr. Whitney Bowe, an NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin, to breakdown what skin fasting is and its benefits. According to Dr. Bowe, skin fasting isn’t all that bad. “Dialing down on overly cumbersome skincare rituals and products can not only be freeing, but can also be healthy for the skin,” she said. But Dr. Bowe suggested starting off with a skin “diet” instead of a full-on fast.
“I think going full fast is not necessary,” she adds. “But, if you feel pressure to keep adding extra steps to your routine, and you’re not sure whether each product is really benefiting your skin, it’s time to rethink and streamline your regimen. I do advocate streamlining your skincare to only products you need, and using products that complement one another, rather than overlap in their function. I would recommend talking to your dermatologist about using just 3 or 4 products a day for a few weeks to reset your skin, and then slowly introducing one at a time to see if it actually boosts your glow, or just adds extra cost and extra time to your regimen.”
Skin fasting could be very beneficial to those who tend to over-cleanse, because “our skin is covered with trillions of microorganisms you can’t see, primarily bacteria, that are essential to healthy and beautiful skin. These microbial critters are part of your skin’s health and behavior, and many of them provide vital functions for your skin that the human body can’t perform on its own,” Dr. Bowe continued. Using certain products with “antibacterial” properties or just simply, over cleansing can strip the skin of its natural oils and nutrients, which can ruin the skin’s natural barrier little by little and can cause *ding, ding* breakouts.
At this point, I somehow convinced myself that fasting for two weeks with no products was still doable. I mean, of all the green juices, CBD-infused products, and “firming” rollers that have been touted by beauty mavens and editors for their health benefits sans any actual scientific evidence to back up claims, how hard could skin fasting be?
Now, for the actual skin fast.
Week one was the hardest. My skin fast began bright and early one Monday morning, so I made sure to give my skin an extra boost of hydration Sunday night by sleeping in my all-time favorite Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. In the morning, I drenched my skin with warm water to wash off the remaining product from my sleep mask and dried with a paper towel. My skin felt super dry and a little tight, which made me that my skin probably relies too heavily on other products to keep it hydrated. Dr. Bowe agreed.
“It can take skin at least a week to reach a new equilibrium, but if you continue to experience breakouts or symptoms after that, it means you actually are relying on your products to keep skin clear,” she said. “If you feel like you’re using too many products and want to dial down, but your skin keeps acting out when you do, then you need to rethink your approach to skin from a more holistic standpoint.”
It felt weird walking around without my SPF because, as most Black women will come to realize sooner than later, we actually do need to use sunscreen. After eight hours at work, my skin’s natural oils came out to play, which brought me to another revelation: I probably don’t need to pack on a ton of moisturizer throughout the day. But by the time Wednesday rolled around, I could play a game of Connect the Dots with the fresh new breakouts that popped out. Was it the oil? The dirt and debris from the NYC transit air? My co-workers chalked it up to my skin trying to balance itself out after such a drastic change. I, on the other hand, took it as a sign from my skin that it didn’t approve of my fast and stared down my cabinet of products. Of course, a little mixture of Apple Cider Vinegar and Aztec Healing Clay could make all my worries go away, but momma didn’t raise a fraud.
I powered through the week product-free and watched the optimism I had at the beginning of the week quickly fade as my skin became incredibly itchy on my forehead and cheeks, dull, and dry. I decided to sit out all my personal training sessions week one because the last thing I wanted to do was work up a sweat without properly cleansing my skin afterwards, even though Dr. Bowe suggested exercising, getting an adequate amount of sleep, and staying hydrated were the best ways to keep the skin healthy.
“When you exercise, you increase the blood flow to your skin, nourishing your skin with vital nutrients and oxygen,” she said., “Not only does exercise improve your skin’s metabolism, it is scientifically proven that you can even begin to reverse the signs of visible aging by working out.”
By week two, I was less confident and my social anxiety coupled with my new lackluster mug was enough to confine me to the walls of my bedroom. I did, however, attend my training sessions at the gym during week two, and while I couldn’t cleanse my skin the way I wanted, I reached for my Simple Micellar Makeup Wipes to wipe off any excess sweat and dirt accumulated from my workout session. Sue me.
The dry, itchy feeling seized during the final week, but the bumps from the first week were met with a fresh batch by the end of week two. I was two seconds away from booking a facial because I needed it all: deep cleansing, extractions, light therapy, mask, everything. I kicked off my countdown to the last day of my fast (I ended on Friday) and swiftly booked a facial at my local spa for Saturday because reversing the very visible breakouts my skin fast gifted me with needed much more powerful hands.
So, what now?
To say my overall skin fasting experience was a success would be a complete lie—and I’d also be lying if I said skin fasting made my skin softer, clearer, and more radiant. Should I have completely done away with my skincare routine? Probably not, but I did realize that my skin could use a breather every now and then. Skin fasting also helped me realize that perfect skin isn’t easily attainable and I need to be more patient with my skin.
So, will I completely forgo my beauty routine again? Hell to the no. But, skin fasting forced me to better pay attention to the products that will provide long-term benefits and are the best for my overall skin health.
This article first appeared on ELLE.