Would It sounds like crazy talk, but if you have sensitive, dry, or acneic skin, it may not be as nuts as you think. In recent years, traditional foaming cleansers have gotten some heat for being overly drying and irritating. (So much for a you go a week without your face cleanser? clean reputation, right?) So, to get to the bottom of this cleanser-is-evil debate, we asked the lovely ladies here at R29 HQ to ditch their favorite face washes for a full seven days — and, to our surprise delight, five of our brave staffers volunteered to forgo the foamy stuff for five face-wash alternatives.
For their cleanser-less week, these ladies used oil, wipes, and even vinegar (for real!) to remove their makeup and freshen up their complexions. And, of course, they recorded every detail —
so you can know exactly what it's like, for example, to wash your face with coconut oil. (Note: Do not, we repeat, do not get that stuff in your eyes.) To make sure we weren't going to wreak havoc on the visages of our intrepid coworkers, we spoke to dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi and aesthetician Joanna Vargas, who told us which face-washing alternatives were A-okay and which were better left on our kitchen counters. (Lemons, we're looking at you.) Then, once we were armed with ample info, we sent our testers off into the great cleanser-free unknown.
Have you been curious about oil cleansing? Wonder if raw apple-cider vinegar might solve your acne woes? These ladies will tell you what it's really like — read on for their full reviews!
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Who: Lauren Caruso, contributor network editor
The Method: Coconut oil
The Pros Say: Vargas is a huge fan of coconut oil ( who isn't?!) and says there aren't many ladies who wouldn't benefit from this natural cleanser. "Coconut oil would be good for all skin types except for acneic skin. It is especially beneficial for people with skin sensitivity and dehydration."
Lauren's Take: "I was stupid-nervous when I said yes to the experiment. My skin is hyper-reactive, so if this made my skin — which had been behaving well most of the winter — break out, I would be none too pleased.
"My normal skin-care routine falls anywhere from wiping my makeup off with one of Dermalogica's Precleanse towelettes (lookin' at you, Saturday nights) to, more often, using the brand's entire system. I hate to say it, but I live and die by its Daily Microfoliant. I've converted about half the office, too.
"Luckily, I've used coconut oil on my face before, though only after I'd already cleansed and exfoliated. I expected it to be able to take my makeup off, but I wasn't looking forward to the residue, dead-skin buildup, or the potential for breakouts."
How It Went Down: "On day one, two people on the subway asked me if I wanted their seat on the crowded train. I assumed this was because 1) I was wearing a very oversized, drape-y dress, and 2) my skin was glowing. And, by glowing, I mean greased.
"It took me until day three to figure out how to wipe all of the coconut oil off my face in the morning, and I spent a collective three hours trying to navigate my bedroom after getting coconut oil in my eyes. Until then, I had to deal with the annoying side effect of my makeup sliding right off my face — a great look for all of the important meetings I had, truly. When I would get home at night, I'd swear that my Daily Microfoliant was taunting me right from my own medicine cabinet.
"When the week was finally done, I still had the 'coconut-oil glow,' and I was happily sans breakouts. My skin was notably softer — but, surprisingly, the shininess I usually experience in my T-zone toward the end of the day had completely disappeared."
The Verdict: "I don't think I'll continue to use only coconut oil to wash my face — I really, really missed my Daily Microfoliant — but I'm certainly going to include it in my routine more often."
Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, $5.99, available at Trader Joe's locations.
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Who: Candace Sautman, associate PM/producer
The Method: Raw apple-cider vinegar
The Pros Say: Vargas is a fan of raw ACV (as it's commonly referred to among devotees) for blemish-prone ladies. "Raw apple-cider vinegar is perfect for any skin type, but particularly amazing for people who break out. Raw apple-cider vinegar exfoliates and balances the skin, and it also helps calm breakouts and heal them quickly." Dr. Tanzi noted that vinegar can be irritating for ladies with very sensitive skin, so we recommended that Candace dilute the vinegar with water before using it.
Candace's Take: "I have to admit: I was really worried to participate in this experiment. I've struggled for some time now with troubled skin, and up until recently, it has been improving — so much so that people were starting to take notice. (That made me happy.) For the past couple of months, I've been using Dermalogica products exclusively — Lauren turned me on to them! However, I am always up for finding new ways to help better my skin, so with apple-cider vinegar, I figured — why not?
"I've heard about using apple-cider vinegar in your hair before, but never on your face. I've heard that it can be very harsh on the skin, so some people drink it instead of applying it topically and claim that it still has an effect on the skin. However, my assignment was to apply it as face wash, so I diluted one tablespoon of vinegar with two tablespoons of water and went for it!"
How It Went Down: "Let me just note: The two tablespoons of water didn't help one bit with the stench! The smell of this product made my stomach turn. I found myself getting wafts of it throughout the day — the worst.
"I couldn't get over the smell, so before even trying it, I went in to the process not having the best attitude toward the product. Once I got to day three, I couldn't wait to get back to my regular face-wash regimen. After my first wash, my skin felt sticky, even though I rinsed my face with warm water afterward. I found my skin becoming more greasy, which was odd because I thought it was supposed to do the opposite. Very quickly, my skin began to break out, and after day three, I noticed multiple bumps forming underneath my skin. I was not happy about this one bit.
"Throughout the entire process, my skin seemed to worsen. After day five, I had multiple bumps on my skin, but after that, things began to subside. The bumps went down, but my skin seemed to be so greasy one day and so dry the next. I definitely wasn't a fan. I felt my skin looked dirty.
"I complained to my friends, and they said, 'Oh, it gets worse before it gets better.' But, I definitely wouldn't continue this method outside of the seven days. Coming from a girl who has problem skin, I don't want to add to the breakouts, even if it does get worse before it gets better. I'll be sticking to my Dermologica products moving forward."
The Verdict: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Bragg Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, $4.69, available at The Vitamin Shoppe.
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Who: Neha Gandhi, executive editor, features
The Method: Oil cleanser
The Pros Say: Vargas is a fan of this newish addition to the face-washing scene. "Cleansing oils are suitable for any skin type, but are best for dry, dehydrated skin. People who are prone to breakouts shouldn’t be fearful of this cleansing method because if you use any type of oil on the skin, it will control oil production." Dr. Tanzi agrees that this method is especially good for oily or acneic skin types.
Neha's Take: "I'm normally 100% devoted to my Tatcha skin-care goods. But, I had recently run out of the cleanser, so I had been pinch-hitting with some random thyme-infused cleanser I picked up at our company beauty sale. And — shocker! — as a result, I was breaking out, and my skin was looking a little bumpier and angrier than normal.
"I've used cleansing oils before but have never been able to stick with them. I hate that they run through your fingers when you pump the oil into your palm. I also don't like that they don't work with my magical konjac sponge, which is all about sudsing. I generally like the way they make my skin look but, ultimately, reserve them for a pre-gym face wash rather than an all-the-time skin solution."
How It Went Down: "After reading a million Amazon reviews (almost all raves), I tried the Josie Maran cleansing oil for the first time, after work. Immediately, I liked how heavy and viscous it felt, like it had real substance. I hate when I try a cleansing oil and it feels all runny and watery — that immediately triggers a mental bias for me that it's probably not really working. Also, online reviewers were really into the scent of the oil, and I kinda got it. It definitely had a distinctive, honey-tinged fragrance that made itself known.
"On day two, I woke up feeling good. Skin looked good. My breakout was fading, but my face still felt a little bumpy. By day three, my skin looked even clearer (which, in all fairness, was probably just about distance from the failed thyme-cleanser experiment). However, the smell. It was starting to...ugh. Too sweet. Too sugary. Not a fan. Skin still looked good, though.
"Toward the end of the week, it's not that I felt anti-cleansing oil, but I was starting to tire of it. I went to Barneys for a little browsing and ended up splurging on an entire new skin-care line. It involves a foaming cleanser, lots of retinol, and some beautiful packaging. Plus, on day six, I ended up tasting a bit of this stuff. And, it was disgusting — yes, much more than normal face wash.
"By day seven, there was no denying that this stuff works. My skin looked great. Like, actually glowing. But, I hate the way the oil smells, and I just don't enjoy using it that much."
The Verdict: "The pros: This stuff totally solved my previous skin woes and made my face look good. It's effective and easy to use. The cons: Smells bad. Tastes worse. I miss the way the texture of a foaming wash changes when I apply it. I like that it's heavier than the average cleansing oil, but it's still just not very satisfying to use.
"For a person who is into cleansing oil, this stuff is liquid gold. As it turns out, I'm not going to be that person. At least, not consistently. So, I'm switching over to my fancy new Verso routine. Will report back..."
Josie Maran Argan Cleansing Oil, $32, available Sephora.
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Who: Zooey Purdy, product manager, publishing platform
The Method: Olive oil
The Pros Say: Dr. Tanzi warned that "olive oil can cause breakouts if the person is acne-prone," but Vargas urged us to include it in our experiment. "Olive oil is an anti-inflammatory, so I would use this on skin that is either sensitive or dry and dehydrated." Zooey's Take: "I was super excited about this experiment because I try to keep my beauty routine as simple and natural as possible. The idea of a one-ingredient cleanser/moisturizer was very appealing to me.
"Normally, I cleanse with either La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser or baby wipes if I'm feeling lazy. I follow up with La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 Soothing Repairing Balm. The only drawback to the La Roche-Posay products is their price. I loved the idea of oil cleansing — plus, I dug that it's more natural, and I hoped that it would help out my dry, sensitive skin."
How It Went Down: "My first reaction to the olive oil was that it smelled like food! I liked the consistency much better than coconut oil, which has that kind of chunky, liquid-solid issue. It was tough to use, though, because it was so liquid-y that it would drip between my fingers. I used a washcloth to rub in the oil and remove it.
"The olive oil gave my skin a major glow immediately after the first wash. My skin definitely felt moisturized, although I ended up still needing the B5 Balm after an hour or two. Turns out, using a washcloth is annoying, because I was worried that it was growing bacteria, and I felt the need to switch it out constantly. I missed using baby wipes on days when I felt lazy. And, the oil didn't seem to be helping any dry areas — I got worried that maybe it was actually preventing my moisturizer from sinking in.
"I didn't really notice any difference in my skin at all until the second-to-last day. Then, I started breaking out a lot around my hairline. I did actually think there was a bit of an improvement with the oily areas around my nose."
The Verdict: "I really wanted this to work, because it's cheap and all-natural. But, using a washcloth was annoying, the oil caused (or at least didn't prevent) breakouts, and that bottle definitely looked silly in my shower. So, nope, I won't be sticking with it."
Filippo Berio Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $6.48, available at Walmart.
Who: Emily O'Brien, software engineer
The Method: Face wipes
The Pros Say: According to Vargas, face wipes are an okay option for ladies with normal, happy skin, like Emily. "If your skin is already dry, wipes will make your skin feel drier. If your skin is oily and tends to break out, face wipes could make you break out."
Emily's Take: "I don't really have a 'skin-care routine.' I use makeup remover or soap and water before bed. Sometimes I use a little Clinique moisturizer in the morning if I really need it. I'm happy with this because I don't like to spend a lot of time getting ready, and I can always use a little foundation if my skin isn't totally perfect.
"When I heard about the experiment, I was excited to try out something new. I was a little nervous that my skin might react badly, but I didn't really expect that to happen since it's just makeup remover. I think, if anything, I was most nervous about committing to a routine and using the product twice a day.
"I've used face wipes before to remove makeup — they're very easy and convenient. I was curious to see how well the Philosophy version would work, and I was interested in finding out how my skin would react when I used it twice a day, instead of just once a day."
How It Went Down: "My first reaction to the product was that the wipes remove makeup pretty quickly, but the fabric could be a little softer. Right after I would use the wipes, my face would be a bit red and would feel very slightly tighter. My impression didn't change very much over the course of the week. I think they did a good job of removing makeup, but they didn't drastically change my skin overall."
The Verdict: "I will probably continue with this method because face wipes are so much easier to use than a liquid or cream makeup remover plus a towel. Because I primarily use this around my eyes, I may use another brand with a softer cloth or a formula with more moisturizer."
Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleansing Cloths, $15, available at Sephora.