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Illustration by Irene Lee

How long would you go without washing, toning, indulging in a face mask, or moisturizing your face? One day? One week? One month?

One of the latest skin care trends popping up all over the internet is “skin fasting.” It involves avoiding all skin care products to “detox” your visage. According to the holistic Japanese beauty company that popularized it, Mirai Clinical, skin fasting comes from Hippocrates’ belief that traditional fasting can be used as a healing method.

Now, I’m skeptical whenever I hear the word “detox,” as it usually serves as a quick-fix solution rather than devoting time and patience to a consistent routine. And while I’m all for minimalism in my wardrobe and home, I also balked at the idea of using no skin care products. My skin tends to be on the sensitive side, and I feel like going without a good wash every few days leads to breakouts, dry patches, and overall dullness on my face.

More than just keeping my skin clean and moisturized, though, my skin care practice sets my day as part of a routine. It helps wake me up in the morning and lets me (literally) wash away the day to relax and unwind. I’m someone who typically likes routine; washing my face is a great way to bookend my day.

The theory behind skin fasting Your skin produces an oily substance called sebum that helps prevent moisture loss. The idea behind “fasting” is to let the skin “breathe.” It’s thought that cutting out products will let the skin neutralize and sebum naturally moisturize.

One week of ‘skin fasting’

I’m a fan of simple, no-fuss routines, so I stick to cleanser, micellar water in the evening to remove makeup, toner, moisturizer, and the occasional face mask (mostly for fun). All in all, pretty simple.

On this routine, my skin is normal with a tendency toward dryness and hormonal breakouts along the jaw. A spot appears every now and again, usually before my period.

I barely have time to wash my face in the morning, let alone do a 10-step routine or try contouring. At most, I use use an eye cream and wear tinted moisturizer. If needed, there’s concealer, eyebrow pencil, mascara, and then maybe eyeliner or shadow, plus lip balm.

But for the next week, the only product I would put on my face was water and sunscreen (because sun damage is real).

Day one, I felt dry. The night before I did a hydrating face mask as a last hurrah before this experiment. But alas, the gel formula didn’t carry through the night, and I woke up with parched skin that felt tight and dry.

Day two was no better. In fact, my lips were chapped and my face was now starting to itch.

I did, however, remember that whenever I drink enough water throughout the day (3 liters, minimum), my skin almost always looks great. So, I started downing bottle after bottle in the hopes that I could spare myself from the dry itchiness that was my face.

The next couple days were more of the same, meaning I either got used to the dryness or it subsided a bit. But by the end of day four came with the pleasant surprise of a pimple beginning to form, right on my chin. This is an area where I tend to break out the most, so I desperately tried not to touch it or put my hands in its proximity.

On day five, I woke up to see the pimple had matured into a nice, fairly noticeable red spot. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, considering the excess oil and dead skin cells that form pimples weren’t getting washed away. Fortunately I didn’t have anywhere important to go, and the pimple started to go away on its own accord.

But the entire week felt less like my skin was purging itself and more like a test of my willpower for how long I could go without reaching for a face scrub or moisturizer.

It was also a reminder to drink water, a basic requirement for the human body to survive and something we all tend to neglect too often.

Are there any scientific skin theories to support skin fasting? Think of skin fasting like the elimination diet. If there’s a problem, then abstaining from products will give your skin a break to rebalance on its own. While there are no studies on skin fasting specifically, there are several reasons why it may work for some and not others. These potential reasons include:
  • You’re not using the wrong product for your skin type anymore.
  • You’re over-exfoliating, and skin fasting lets your skin recover.
  • You’ve stopped using harsh or irritating ingredients for sensitive skin.
  • Your skin’s cell turnover is happening while your skin fasts.

The consensus

While I don’t think my skin benefitted from this weeklong detox, I can definitely see the benefits of paring down one’s skin care routine and cutting out unnecessary products.

The trend toward abstinence and “skin fasting” makes sense, especially in response to the recent product mania of 12-step routines that add a new retinoid, face mask, or serum on a monthly basis.

My dry, tight skin was also a reminder to hydrate. Yes, hydrating really can solve your problems. (Not quite all, but one can dream.) It’s also nice to take a break every now and again and just let your skin breathe — to not worry about falling asleep with your makeup on or putting on layer after layer of serums.

Just make sure to wear sunscreen!


Rachel Sacks is a writer and editor with a background in lifestyle and culture. You can find her onInstagram, or read more of her work on her website.