Considering that it entails doing absolutely nothing, the appeal of skin fasting—giving up all your beauty products for a short period of time— is pretty obvious. Its proponents, fatigued as the rest of us by time-consuming 10-step Korean skincare routines, swear that it imparts the same restorative benefits to skin that nutritional fasting supposedly offers the whole body. But in this case, is less really more?
The logic behind skin fasting
The theory, which originated with a skincare company in Japan (and subsequently spread like wildfire across the internet), is that your skin “breathes” in a sense, and piling on certain products may inhibit that process. Plus, your skin produces sebum that naturally moisturize skin, so why skew it with products? When you leave skin to its own devices, the thinking goes, you allow it detox and reset.
The potential perks
Withholding products may improve your skin—but only if you’re using the wrong products, says Erika Klemperer, M.D., a dermatologist at Well Dermatology in Santa Barbara, CA. (Not sure? A skin quiz can help.) If you are, you could be causing inflammation—and breakouts, dry patches, redness, and more—by disrupting your skin’s barrier. A popular culprit: over-cleansing your face, or doing so “with products that are more stripping or drying, or chemical-laden,” says Klemperer. Over-exfoliation and over-toning can also lead to inflammation, and thus removing these factors through skin fasting could potentially benefit your complexion.
Where skin fasting falls short
So, your skin doesn’t actually breathe. “The top layer of skin is dead keratin cells,” explains Klemperer. “There’s a molecular exchange happening, but it’s not breathing.” The more common meaning of the phrase “letting skin breathe” is that you’re not clogging it with products—but not all products are comedogenic. Giving up skincare could have no benefit at all, or it could actually make things worse by leaving you more exposed to external damage like pollutant particles (that you aren’t washing off at night) and ultraviolet radiation (that you aren’t protected from with antioxidants or SPF).
Klemperer suggests looking at your skincare routine in terms of support, not deprivation: “If we’re using the right skincare, and not relying on formulas that contribute to our toxic load, these rituals can really nourish us. And for many people, this is the only self-care time in their day.”
The right way to reset
A gentle cleanser
Rather than stripping skin or compromising its moisture barrier, which could lead to inflammation, this formula gently whisks away impurities. It also fortifies and moisturizes skin with a blend of green tea seed, lavender, and grapefruit peel oils.
If the promise of fewer breakouts is what lures you to skin fasting, consider switching to a moisturizer that’s naturally free of pore-clogging waxes—face oil. This blend clarifies and replenishes skin with essential fatty acids that support the skin barrier.