person in a white rob with a white towel wrapped around their hair, covering their face with their handsShare on Pinterest

If you spend a considerable amount of time online, you may have seen several headlines detailing the importance of “detoxing” your skin. And “detoxing” your home, your friendship group, pretty much your entire life.

Detoxing has become an overused term. But, just like clean beauty and the growing wellness movement, “skin detoxing” is seen as a bonafide trend.

All, however, is not what it seems when you delve a little deeper.

To detox, in simple terms, means to remove toxins from the body. These can come from the environment, from your diet, and from lifestyle choices such as smoking.

Thankfully, there’s little you need to do to aid this process.

Your lungs, liver, kidneys, and colon have the ability to remove harmful substances all by themselves. (Substances in alcohol and cigarettes can, however, cause lasting damage.)

But that hasn’t stopped people from embarking on juice cleanses and fad diets in a bid to fully “detox.”

The trend has also encouraged the beauty industry to adopt detoxification. And there can be quite a bit of confusion over what this means.

Because the skin is the largest organ in the body and can therefore pick up dirt and grime, some believe it is possible to “purge” the skin and remove all the “bad” stuff that’s clogging pores. This isn’t really true.

“There’s no such thing as skin detox from a medical perspective,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey.

What you can do though is protect it from potential environmental toxins, such as pollution and UV rays.

All of these things — along with a poor diet and excessive cleansing and exfoliation — can deplete the skin’s outermost layer.

Also known as the stratum corneum or skin barrier, it helps keep skin healthy by blocking substances that can cause premature aging, among other damage.

“When people talk about ‘detoxing the skin,’ it’s more about what you can do to the surface to protect your skin from the outside environment more so than clearing out what’s on the inside,” says Dr. Ross Perry, medical director of CosmedicsUK.

Why? Because toxins can’t exit the body via the skin.

You can cleanse your skin as much as you want or leave it alone for extended periods of time. This “detoxing” won’t actually remove any toxins.

Instead, it’s the aforementioned organs — primarily the kidneys and liver — that hold that responsibility.

Your skin, however, “may need you to stop certain products that aren’t working for you,” notes board-certified dermatologist Dr. Caren Campbell.

One example, she says, is a condition called tachyphylaxis where the skin “becomes used to” things like steroid creams and they stop working.

“In this instance, skin detoxing makes sense,” states Dr. Campbell. “A doctor may need to switch to an alternative steroid for it to work and then later switch you back.”

Here’s where most of the duping occurs. Self-proclaimed skin care experts, says Dr. Frey, “say that the skin contains toxic substances. They are wrong.”

That makes sense because skin care products boasting the ability to detox in this way are rarely transparent about which toxins they’re claiming to remove.

It’s true that your skin may feel cleaner and smoother after a charcoal mask, for example. But that’s all the product is doing.

As explained, no product can physically remove toxins because the skin does not have the ability to remove toxins.

Products can, however, get rid of “grime from the surface of the skin such as excess sebum and dead skin cells,” says Dr. Perry.

But people with extra sensitive skin should be careful when using a so-called “detox” product. “Some may irritate the skin,” Dr. Perry adds, potentially leaving it dry and red.

Some skin care products use the term “detox” in terms of skin defense. Products containing antioxidants can reduce the effects of environmental damage.

But they can’t physically pull damaging substances out of the body. Instead, they inhibit or remove the free radicals that cause the damage.

Not really. Sweat is, in fact, almost entirely made up of water.

Humans do excrete a tiny amount of waste products, like urea, through it. But the amount is likely to be so small that it’s barely noticeable.

Bottom line? No amount of cardio or hot yoga is going to aid your body’s natural detoxification.

Sweating won’t help to remove toxins, and neither will any kind of diet. The few studies that exist haven’t provided strong enough evidence to suggest otherwise.

In fact, a 2015 review published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found no convincing evidence to support “detox” diets’ toxin removal claims.

Some people admit to feeling better after juicing or undertaking another kind of “cleansing” diet. But elements of some of these diets are generally guaranteed to improve health anyway.

Their benefits have nothing to do with detoxification and more to do with eating nutritious food, drinking ample water, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

To keep your body working the way it should, it’s recommended you follow such health principles, especially consuming a balanced diet with five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

Sorry, the answer is no yet again.

Companies that claim to sell “detoxing” supplements and the like tend to struggle to prove those claims.

In fact, in 2009 a group of scientists asked manufacturers of 15 “detoxification” products to provide evidence.

Not even one company could explain what their detox claim meant, or what toxins their products were supposed to eliminate.

Thankfully, there are plenty of science-backed ways to help your skin look the way you want it to. Here are a few key strategies to take note of.

Assess your current skin care routine

What does your daily skin care ritual look like? Do you even have one? If the answer to that second question is no, try to get into a skin care habit morning and night.

“If you’re following a good skin care regime, then a ‘facial detox’ really is just another buzzword,” Dr. Perry says.

A basic routine involves products such as cleanser and moisturizer. “Make sure you’re cleansing twice a day at home, morning and before bedtime,” says Dr. Perry.

“A gentle cleansing foam should suffice, followed by a toner if skin is particularly oily and a light moisturizer. [Don’t] forget to use an SPF of at least 30 every morning.” (More on that later.)

Once you’ve got those important parts down, feel free to add products designed for your skin type and needs.

For example, people with acne may want to incorporate products that include salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in the ingredients list.

Whatever you end up using, sticking to a personalized routine every day can boost your skin’s appearance.

Add exfoliation to your routine

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the face or body.

This tends to happen naturally every 28 days, but factors like aging and oiliness can slow the process down.

A build-up of dead skin cells can reduce the effectiveness of any skin care products you use, lead to breakouts, and even dull your entire complexion.

Exfoliation has to be done right to benefit the skin rather than damage it. There are two ways to do it: physically or through chemical means.

Physical exfoliation involves things like scrubs and brushes, but it usually isn’t suitable for sensitive skin.

If you’re worried this method may be a little too harsh, stick to the chemical type involving alpha and beta hydroxy acids.

Remember to exfoliate gently and not to overdo it to avoid a red, raw look. Dr. Perry recommends exfoliation twice a week.

The same goes for sunscreen

The sun’s rays can be harmful all year round, so covering yourself in sunscreen is the best form of protection against skin cancer and signs of sun damage.

You can use whichever formula you and your skin prefer.

Just make sure that the sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection, water resistance, and an SPF of at least 30.

Wear it daily, regardless of the weather! And remember to reapply every two hours or straight after sweating or swimming.

And don’t forget antioxidants and retinoids

Dr. Campbell calls sunscreen, antioxidants, and retinoids the “holy trinity.”

Antioxidants, she says, “help make sunscreen more effective and protect against free radicals that break down collagen and elastin and age us.”

Retinoids can also keep skin looking firm, notes Dr. Campbell. They are “one of the few things we can apply topically to the skin to stimulate collagen.”

Limit foods and drinks that trigger skin flare-ups

While research suggests that diet can play a role in the development of skin conditions like acne, you may have to go through some trial and error to figure out your personal triggers.

Foods and drinks to look out for include ones high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, or ingredients lists containing dairy. Alcohol can also have a negative impact on skin.

Try cutting individual items out one by one to see which, if any, result in improvement.

Stay hydrated

A general rule of thumb is to drink eight glasses of water — or water-based beverages — a day to benefit your overall health.

It’s also thought that hydration can help the skin by remedying dryness and dullness.

There isn’t much research to prove this, but keeping up your water intake certainly won’t hurt.

You can also directly boost your skin’s hydration levels by applying a hydrating moisturizer or product containing hyaluronic acid.

As you’ve probably realized by now, detoxification doesn’t always mean what you think it does.

If you’re concerned about your complexion, living a healthy lifestyle and taking good care of your skin can often help.

And if it doesn’t? Instead of shelling out for a product that may end up doing very little, find a dermatologist that fits your budget and book an appointment.


Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.