Is Skin Fasting The Skincare Method You Need To Try? Experts Weigh In

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Have you guys ever heard of ‘skin fasting’? It’s the latest beauty buzzword that’s regaining traction online. Often likened to a detox but for your skin, it involves cutting back on your skincare products with the aim of lessening your skin’s ‘reliance’ on them. First coined by Dr. Katayama of Japanese beauty brand Mirai Clinical, it’s said that this short-term complexion reboot can work wonders for your skin’s natural protective barrier. In a blog post by Mirai Clinical, writer Koko Hayashi notes that ‘our skin has an inherent ability to take care of itself. [Therefore] the purpose of skin-fasting is to strengthen the skin’s natural protective barrier that is weakened by excessive nourishing, to normalize the secretion of natural oils and support [the skin’s] natural rejuvenation process.”

But does this much-talked-about detoxifying trend live up to its hype? And is it really worth going cold turkey? We reached out to New York and Cape Town-based dermatologists, Dr. Doris Day (@drdorisday) and Dr. Lauren Knight (@derm.discovered), for a lengthy lowdown on skin fasting.

What’s the Purpose of Skin Fasting?

It’s kind of like R&R for your complexion. Dr. Day reveals that “the idea behind skin fasting is that it could allow your skin to rest and reset, returning to its natural state without being affected by any active ingredients or additives in skincare products.” Dr. Knight adds that when returned to its natural state, “[it] allows the skin to function with a self-regulating cycle, [therefore] controlling its own oil production and cell turnover. It’s so-called ‘resetting of the skin,’ free from products that we are using to manipulate how it functions.”

The Benefits of Skin Fasting

If you’ve recently dealt with a sudden breakout or persisting skin irritations, skin fasting could be an effective method to suss out the culprits. As Dr. Day explains, “it could help identify any products that may be harmful to your skin and simplify your skincare routine by removing any unnecessary or redundant items.” However, “it [also] depends on the type of skin you have and its underlying problems,” says Dr. Knight. “For instance, if you have skin with a compromised barrier, removing irritating or very exfoliating products would be of benefit as this would allow time for your barrier function to be restored.” 

Dr. Day shares similar sentiments, “I often say if everything is not working, it may be time to try nothing. Also, people often end up with a long list of products they read about, and all the products may be fine but not all at once!” Therefore, a skin fast could aid in constructing a more productive skin regime. You can also check out our guide to combining active ingredients in your skincare routine here.

How Do You Skin Fast?

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It can either be achieved in one of two ways, the first being what experts describe as going cold turkey — in other words, “cutting all products and simply using water on the face, basically,” Dr. Knight says. Alternatively, you can skin fast through the elimination of non-essentials, which involves “cutting down your routine to just the basics; say cleanser, moisturizer, and of course, sunscreen,” with most dermatologists favoring the latter route instead. And when it comes to the duration of a skin fast, it’ll likely differ for every person and “how your skin reacts to [it],” says Dr. Knight. “We know the skin takes 28 days to complete a full cycle, so much like it takes time to see an effect from products, it’s likely going to take time to see the benefit from a skin fast, if there is any to be had.”

How to Cut Back Your Skin Routine

Both of our experts agree that the regular application of SPF is a non-negotiable step (along with cleansing). While Dr. Day reassures us that it’s perfectly fine to “stop other products if you want to take a break,” there’s still is an important method to downscaling. Dr. Knight advises that you must “first, narrow down what your skincare concern is, then critically look at your routine. Identify products that may be duplicates (that are essentially doing the same thing) or have the same side effects, which are then compounded. Start with these and exclude them, especially actives, if you are experiencing sensitivity. Many actives like retinoids have similar anti-aging benefits if used three times a week rather than nightly, so these could easily be scaled down.” 

How to Reintroduce Eliminated Ingredients After Skin Fasting

Essentially, it all comes down to keeping tabs on how your skin reacts or when it appears rebalanced. Dr. Day suggests that you “reintroduce products when you feel that your skin has had ample time to “rest” OR if you notice negative results from removing certain products.” Simply put, she urges that you just “listen to your skin.”

Who Should Skin Fast & Who Should Avoid It?

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Dr. Knight notes that “skin fasting would be useful in cases where the products you’re using have compromised your barrier — for instance, you’ve used too many actives at the same time, or you’ve overdone it with retinol.” A fast would then work as a period of recovery or normalization, allowing your skin barrier to bounce back. “Additionally, [it] would be useful if you’ve developed sensitivity and you’re not sure which product is to blame.” But keep in mind that “individuals with skin conditions such as eczema, severe acne, rosacea, or melasma should avoid skin fasting,” warns Dr. Day, “as elimination of products or prescription topicals could worsen their conditions. [Rather] if you do decide to skin fast, speak with a board-certified dermatologist beforehand.”

Do the Pros Think Skin Fasting is Really Necessary?

Dr. Knight: “I don’t think fasting is necessary as I believe that while our skin is perfectly capable of self-regulating, science has come a long way in the development of products, which allow us to not only support it when or if needed, but also get more out of our skin.”

Dr. Day: “I don’t think this is something most people need. With products like retinoids, they get better the longer you use them, and your skin doesn’t benefit from taking a break. If your skincare routine is working, there’s no reason to stop doing it.”

And we totally agree! As we say again and again, skincare practices aren’t universal, and every individual’s skin needs differ, so don’t feel pressure to now lay aside your beloved skincare stash. If a 10-step regimen works best for you or if a minimalist approach is more up your alley, then stick by that. However, if you feel your skin routine isn’t working, stripping it back to the bare minimum could give you the opportuninty to find what really does do good things for your skin, and what you don’t need. Do you, boo.

Have you tried skin fasting before? Or are you tempted to give it a go? Let us know all about your experience in the comments below.