There is a school of thought that maintains that, if you use the same products for too long, your skin gets used to the ingredients and you don't reap the same benefits as you once did. This isn't something I want to believe when I’m shelling out money on a solid skin-care routine.
Despite the fact that it's my job to rate, slate, and review the latest skin, hair, and makeup products, my routine for all three is streamlined and very consistent — especially when it comes to skin care. I take my makeup off with a Face Halo or micellar water, cleanse with CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, then use Pixi Glow Tonic, a light layer of La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+, and finish off with Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream. On a particularly dry day, I’ll swap in the Herbivore Phoenix Regenerating Facial Oil in the evening. With the exception of the odd trial, my skin-care routine works.
But recently I became aware of the practice of "skin fasting." Popularized by Mirai Clinical, the idea is that you reduce your skin care to the bare minimum, which is said to allow the skin to "regenerate" without help from potent ingredients.
Heaps of skin-care obsessives are currently giving it a go — so, intrigued, I spoke to consultant dermatologist Dr. Justine Hextall to find out more about the technique before diving in. "The idea [of skin fasting] is that by leaving skin treatments, particularly moisturizer, off the skin, the skin produces its own oil and natural moisturizing factors," Dr. Hextall said. "If we over-cleanse the skin, this can remove natural oils and ceramides, which are integral to a healthy skin barrier."
Some articles suggest skin fasting for two to three weeks, while others say a couple of days per month is enough to see a difference. Despite the buzz, there are some instances where you should avoid skin fasting altogether. "If an individual is using an active treatment on their skin, like a retinoid or benzoyl peroxide for acne, then it would be difficult to go without a compensating moisturizer," Dr. Hextall said. "I also wouldn’t recommend skin fasting if there is active eczema or a skin reaction. The skin should ideally be at its calmest and not undergoing active treatments such as chemical peels or laser, which need a specific post-procedure regimen."
My skin can be temperamental, but in the name of honest journalism, I decided to go two weeks with no skin care to see how it would really affect my complexion. Before embarking on my fast, I looked to Dr. Hextall for advice. "Avoid excessive alcohol and overheated or air-conditioned environments," she warned me. "If your skin becomes particularly dry, itchy, or irritated, consider adding a hydrating serum such as a hyaluronic acid or stopping the fast."
I've noticed in the past that if I don’t immediately moisturize after cleansing, my skin can feel very tight — but I wanted to see what my skin would be like when I used absolutely nothing, and if this would help bring back a youthful texture and glow... or completely ravage my skin.
I wake up with very oily skin, especially around my nose and chin. I'd normally combat this with a quick cleanse in the shower, but instead I splash my face with water and wipe with a damp flannel. When I step out of the shower and dab my face as the moisture leaves my skin, it feels desert dry. When my skin feels this parched post-cleanse, I usually reach for an oil or a heavier moisturizer, but Dr. Hextall advised against this and actually sees it as a sign you could benefit from a skin fast. "Over-cleansing the skin so that it feels dry and tight and then compensating with a heavy, oily moisturizer can clog your pores," she says, "so if this practice stops that cycle, then I would see the fast as worthwhile."
Tightness around my mouth and nose is ever-present throughout the week, and instead of improving as my natural oils surface, my skin feels like a Brillo pad doused in olive oil. The texture is awful, and all I want to do is go home and triple-cleanse my face. Working in central London and traveling on the Tube means I'm constantly combating pollution and other people's germs. Skin care plays a huge part in shielding skin from both of these and I just don't feel clean. As the week presses on my skin feels clogged, and my pores are so wide you could use them for storage. I really hope this is a sign of "regeneration."
My period started at the end of the previous week and hormonal under-the-skin spots around my chin are beginning to surface. My temples are accruing a lovely little family of bumps that look like a rash. I think wearing my headscarf at night to protect my braids is wreaking havoc on my hairline because it’s suffocating my skin. It’s a hard decision to make: acne or laid edges?
Despite the way my skin feels — which, to recap, is tight, oily, dehydrated, and spotty — I have received a few compliments from colleagues and friends for looking "fresh" and "glowy." As I come to the end of the fast, I can see what they mean: My skin looks quite plump, and though it feels oily to me, it has a somewhat healthy shine. I’m not sure if this long, drawn-out fortnight was worth the "glowy" look, though, because how my skin feels is just as important — and it felt grimy. All I wanted to do every day was go home and scrub my face.
It wasn’t just my skin — I didn’t feel like myself while skin fasting. I realized that doing my skin care is a huge part of my morning and nighttime routine. My biggest takeaway from this experiment is how much I love that time, as it helps me wind down, pencil in important self-care and, of course, I get to pamper myself. Would I go on a skin fast again? Probably not. I love my skin-care ritual too much.
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