Here's why you should consider giving your skin a breather.

By Hana Hong
February 11, 2020
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If you’re anything like me (an avid proponent of K-beauty’s 13-step skincare routine), you have a bevy of skincare products on your vanity. Most likely, this also means that you like to play skincare scientist and experiment with different products at once. But as someone with eczema and sensitive skin, my love of all things skincare often backfires and leaves me with rash results (pun intended). 

So when my dermatologist recommended not another new retinol cream or snail serum, but a complete surrender of my products altogether, I was definitely thrown off. Coined “skin fasting,” the process involves stripping your skincare routine to only the bare basics for anywhere from one to seven days. The term originally stemmed from 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.” 

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You mean to tell me that I collected hundreds of dollars worth of skincare products just to ditch them?” Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to go bananas and toss out all your products. “My rule of thumb is to stick to fragrance-free, oil-free, and hypoallergenic products,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Conn. “Don’t use products with a ton of active ingredients that you don’t recognize. Your skin could experience an adverse reaction that’s nearly impossible to identify the culprit.”

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I was terrified to take products out of my routine after having relied on them for so many months. What if I eliminated something and my skin totally freaked out? Regardless, I reluctantly dropped my snail serums, sheet masks, and exfoliating toners, and replaced everything with just two products: Dove White Beauty Bar and Eucerin Original Healing Lotion. And sure enough, my skin started changing in just two days. At first the change was subtle—I noticed that the redness and irritation was subsiding. After a whole week, the entire texture and tone of my skin had visibly improved. 

So what is the benefit behind Marie Kondo-ing your skincare arsenal? “When we're using new skincare products, we are coaching our skin's natural rhythms, whether it’s by adding oil and signaling to the body that it can make less of its own or increasing skin cell turnover with a retinol or AHA," says Dr. Robinson. "When we take these products away, the skin can self-regulate things like sebum production and collagen synthesis.”

Think of your skin as a giant organ (which it is). Just like any of your other organs, say your stomach or your liver, it’s exposed to so many potential aggressors (i.e., pollutants or harmful product ingredients). By holding back what you put on it, your skin is given time to reset its barrier and resume its natural turnover rate.

This doesn’t mean that a skin fast is for everyone. If you’re using a great skincare routine for your skin type and concerns, a skin fast isn’t worth it. When deciding whether it’s time for a skin fast, Dr. Robinson advises asking yourself a couple questions: Are you suffering from a skin issue like dermatitis, psoriasis, and/or rosacea? Have you experienced irritation lately and don’t know what the culprit is? If you answered yes, it may be time to take a break from your products. 

And most importantly, remember to let your skin take a breather every now and then, whether that be from makeup or seven layers of serums. “When we take away everything we do to our skin, it allows it to get back to what it should be doing,” says Dr. Robinson. “After all, your skin knows best what it wants.”

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