Published on March 5, 2019

The search for skin perfection can be a fool’s errand. Yet we still go through all the steps in hopes of achieving that ethereal radiance. We can use a toner, essence, serum, lotion, mask, exfoliant, and microcurrent as if each product and treatment will lead us closer to flawlessness. Yet a radical new movement in the skincare industry is being heralded for its incredible benefits—and it’s simpler than you think. Say hi to a skincare diet, where you do nothing to your face and still achieve perfect skin.

So what is this magical (anti) regime?

It’s called the skincare diet or cleanse because you stop using all products for seven to 10 days in the attempt to heal your microbiome layer—and, in turn, repair and reset your skin. Already a big trend in Korean beauty, the process is known as a skincare “challenge” (because, yes, it takes some willpower).  

Is the diet necessary? Take it from a beauty editor whose job is to guinea pig the latest and most adventurous products: “Having to try so many products for so long weakens your skin’s barrier, something that I’ve struggled with,” says David Yi, founder and editor of Very Good Light.

The idea of a skincare cleanse arose when he had been experiencing cystic acne breakouts after constantly putting his skin to the test. A Japanese makeup artist and Korean beauty entrepreneur friend both suggested that he stop his skincare routine altogether for at least a week.  

Does it work?

During the skincare diet, you’re supposed to go an entire week without doing anything to your face. This means no cleansing, toning, SPF, even lip balm—nothing! “If this sounds terrifying, it really is,” says Yi.

It’s most ideal for those with skin irritation or consistent acne, although most people can benefit from a once or twice a year cleanse. It sounds wildly counterintuitive to stop using your products for better skin, but partakers in the skincare diet can have tremendous success. Yi lasted four days until “breaking down” and cleansing his face. Prior to that, he noticed a vast difference. “I kid you not—I stopped breaking out,” says Yi. “My skin is now more even toned, bouncy, and looks so much better.”

For wellness and food blogger Alison Wu, the diet came out of necessity for addressing her sensitive, reactive skin. “I often take a day off from wearing any products or makeup on my face anyways, so the idea of a seven-day fast sounded really intriguing to me,” she says. Wu followed the cleanse diligently for the full week, only splashing her face with alternating warm and cold water in the morning, and using a warm washcloth in the evening, laid over her face to allow the steam to gently cleanse. Nothing abrasive and absolutely no products.

At the end of the week, Wu didn’t see as much of an improvement as Yi, but it was a reminder to her about skincare product excess. “Honestly, my skin was pretty much the same,” she says. “Overall, it reminded me of the difference between what I want versus what I need. I definitely enjoy putting my night cream on, but it’s nice to know that my skin is pretty resilient on its own and I don’t, in fact, need much to take care of it.”

How is it done?

“Nearly every client who comes in with an issue involving breakouts or dermatitis, I put on a skin cleanse,” says San Francisco–based esthetician and founder of Monastery Made, Athena Hewett. In these cases, she instructs her clients to stop using absolutely everything—including makeup and sunblock.

Hewett suggests trying this cleanse for seven to 10 days and then assessing if irritation and acne have dissipated. If so, your troubles are usually a topical or product-based irritation versus a more serious internal problem, such as diet or genetic troubles. “Internal issues that cause acne or dermatitis can be a lot harder for an esthetician to cure,” she explains.

Hewett is a huge fan of skincare diets and recommends that anyone with irritation give it a try. “Helping people to see that the products that they are using may not actually be helping their skin but hurting it can be so important in changing their skin’s health,” she says.

What comes after the cleanse is also incredibly important. The idea is to incorporate products cautiously and intentionally back into your routine, assessing if you really need each and every one. Hewett recommends starting with only the basics. Use a gentle oil cleanser, a soothing toner, a preservative-free moisturizer, and a sunblock.  

For both Yi and Wu, the experiment has made them realize that perhaps they don’t need to do as much to achieve happy skin. “I still practice my skincare diet when I feel as if I’m doing too much,” says Yi. “It’s really allowed my face to stop relying so much on product and rely on its own process.”

“I’m planning to incorporate skin fasting into my regular routine,” adds Wu. “I’m not sure if I’ll do a full seven days again soon, but I’d like to try one to two days a week where I’m just letting my skin breathe.”

The skincare fun doesn’t stop here: 
I Put Magnets on My Face in the Name of Skincare
The Skincare Ingredients That Finally Helped My Adult Acne
Read This Before You Hop on a Plane This Week

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