What is Skin Fasting?
With everything happening in the world right now, you might find your skin-care routine naturally taking a back seat to other, much more important daily tasks (i.e. staying safe and sane during your self-quarantine, and checking in with friends and family members to make sure they are doing the same). If this is the case, don’t stress — it could actually be a much-needed break for your complexion. In fact, of all the many beauty trends that filter in and out of your social media feeds, the practice of temporarily paring down your skin-care products may actually hold some merit.
In other words, slacking on your standard skin-care routine right now is totally OK — not just because we are all dealing with unprecedented feelings of stress during a global pandemic, but also because it may coincidentally benefit your skin. Aptly dubbed “skin fasting,” the idea is this: Minimizing your skin-care routine, or even forgoing it altogether, for a set amount of time will allow your skin to reset.
But, as with most trends, the interpretation — and reasoning behind it — seems to differ from person to person. So, should you really shelve all your skin-care products for a few weeks? Or, does cutting out one product here and there make a difference? We asked experts for the full breakdown on skin fasting, including whether or not it really lives up to the hype.
Potential Benefits of Skin Fasting
“A skin fast allows the skin to return to its natural homeostasis,” explains Deanne Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist based in Westport, Connecticut. The theory is that when we use skin-care products, we are essentially coaching our skin on what to do, and thereby throwing off its natural, self-regulating cycle.
For example, applying moisturizer or facial oil could signal to our skin cells that it doesn’t need to produce as much natural sebum because we’ve got it covered (pun intended). Or, in using exfoliants like retinol, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), we’re chemically inducing increased skin cell turnover, aka speeding up our skin’s natural renewal rate.
By temporarily stripping away the use of products via a fast, the thought is that “when we take away the support system to our skin, it allows it to get back to what it naturally does,” Robinson explains.
In other words, “by eliminating all skin-care products, you are allowing your skin to ‘reset,’ and, in turn, improving the way your skin functions,” adds David Lortscher, a board-certified dermatologist in San Diego.
Of course, with regards to skin, “it could go either way,” Lortscher explains. “If you have a compromised skin barrier [to begin with], eliminating potentially irritating ingredients will encourage healing. But, eliminating products with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or ceramides that help repair a disrupted skin barrier may leave you worse off, despite the simplification of your routine.”
What Does a Skin Fast Entail?
One quick Google search indicates that proponents of skin fasting seem to interpret the idea very differently — and talking to experts about the topic isn’t much different. Some people claim that staving off of skin-care entirely (using zero products, not even soap) for a few weeks will allow your skin to fully return to its natural baseline. Others argue that simply sifting out a product here and there (i.e. pausing on active ingredients like retinol) will do the trick.
One could liken this to the many different variations of intermittent fasting, all of which have a similar overall goal: To give your body (or in this case, skin) enough time and space away from additives (be it food or skin-care products), in order for it to be able to hit the reset button and heal itself from within. And, just like with intermittent fasting, different variations of the overall concept seem to work for different people. In sum, “everyone’s skin is different, [so] what works for one person may not work for the next,” Lortscher says.
Still, both experts caution against stripping away all of your skin-care products at the same time. “Rather than a skin fast, what I tend to do is deconstruct a patient’s skin-care routine and pull out any ‘red flags,'” Robinson explains.
Because the overuse of active ingredients can cause dryness and/or general irritation over time, limiting the use of these products from time to time can be beneficial — especially for those with sensitive skin. “This doesn’t mean entirely getting rid of all products, but dialing down can be beneficial,” Lortscher explains.
However you choose to interpret skin fasting in your own routine, the bottom line among experts seems to be this: “If you have found it to be helpful, I see no problem in doing so,” Lortscher says.
What You Should Fast From
As mentioned, “in cases of significant skin irritation, dryness, or a negative reaction in general, stopping products with active ingredients is necessary to allow the skin to heal,” Lortscher says. These include potent ingredients like retinol, AHAs, and BHAs, and even vitamin C.
If you suspect that your skin needs a break from any of these actives, try stripping them out of your routine one by one “until your skin feels normal again,” Lortscher says. Then, “once your skin has returned to baseline, slowly introduce one product back into your routine at a time.”
That said, there is one product that both experts say you should never fast from: Sunscreen. “I’d never advise ‘fasting’ the skin of SPF coverage,” Robinson says. Additionally, for those with acne-prone skin, “dropping active ingredients that prevent, as well as treat [acne], from their regimens can lead to more breakouts weeks down the line.”
Though we’re all hunkering down at-home for the foreseeable future, sun protection is still a must while indoors, as windows do not block UVA rays from entering into your home or apartment — and, subsequently, your skin.