Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not a “cleanse person.” I’d never once considered the possibility of doing one, even when everyone around me was practically dousing themselves with green juice. While my coworkers and friends faithfully detoxed and flushed their system of toxins for days at a time, I preferred to loudly lament my high-carb diet and then go back to my exercise of choice: running (okay fine, padding) to and from my kitchen to refill my wineglass as I caught up on my extensive HBO Go queue. Whatever religion the cleanse cult was preaching, I never bought it.
Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I wasn’t exactly thrilled at myself for agreeing to go on a three-day skin cleanse for the sake of a story. Sure, a skin cleanse isn’t the same thing as an actual cleanse (I can still order sushi takeout, for one), but the thought of going three whole days with nothing on my face but things like turmeric oil didn’t exactly sound appealing (especially coming from someone who hasn’t left the house without tinted moisturizer on since eighth grade). But Adina Grigore, the lovely founder of natural skincare line S.W. Basics and author of Skin Cleanse: The Simple, All-Natural Program for Clear, Calm, Happy Skin, reassured me that I was going to be just fine—better than fine, actually. She said my skin was going to glow. As a beauty editor, I hear this promise at least five times a day, so I was dubious. Nonetheless, I picked three days where I had the least amount of appointments in my calendar and proceeded to detox the hell out of my skin. The results were surprising, to say the least.
How the Skin Cleanse Works
First, I should probably explain what this skin cleanse consisted of—and to do that, I need to give some background on Grigore’s book. I hopped on the phone with her a few days before I started my cleanse to learn more about her skin philosophy and why she decided to write the book. “I was having such horrific skin reactions in my whole life to everything,” she told me. “I couldn’t use soap. I couldn’t use what was on the market that was marketed as ‘natural.’ The revelation I had that is the entire gist of the book, is when I decided—mainly out of desperation—to start using nothing.” She went on to explain that she had cut out all of her personal care products to figure out what was making her skin freak out. From there, she migrated to the kitchen—and that’s when the paradigm shift happened. “I tried olive oil—I know it sounds gross to put it on your skin, but I was so scared of everything else—and then, turns out my skin loved it!” she said. “Then, it was like, ‘Let me try sea salt or turmeric,’ and it kind of grew from there. I was my own guinea pig.” She started S.W. Basics, an all-natural skincare line with products that contain five ingredients or fewer (Toner is one of my favorites), and then decided to turn her natural-is-better skincare philosophy into a book.
Which brought me to my current position, where she was tasked with prescribing me a three-day skin cleanse, drawing inspiration from her book. “Because you’re a hardcore beauty junkie, I think you’ll notice the effects from any sort of break you take, as opposed to someone who already doesn’t do much to their skin,” she says. I thought that meant I was off the hook—not so easy. “I really like the idea of you trying a single ingredient as a moisturizer—it will help your skin start regulating itself,” she explained. She told me to try olive oil, and if my skin didn’t like that, I could try avocado oil or hazelnut oil. I was told to forgo all skin makeup for all three days and supplement my skincare routine with the DIY Detox Mask and Skin Feast Mask from her book. “I think that just trying the DIY recipes would go a really, really long way for you,” she said. “You don’t want your skin to go into so much shock that you can’t enjoy the time you’re on the cleanse.” I ended up picking the middle ground—I had the Cleanser (made with organic rosewater, vegetable glycerin, and tea tree oil, $20), Toner (organic apple cider vinegar and witch hazel, $20), and Oil Serum (organic avocado oil, geranium oil, turmeric oil, coffee oil) from S.W. Basics in my bathroom, so I used those products to cleanse, tone, and moisturize, and then used the Detox Mask and Skin Feast Masks the first and third nights.
On the morning of the first day, I decided to be adventurous and try to wash my face with olive oil, which was something Grigore had said she enjoyed and had helped regulate her oily skin. I didn’t mind rubbing the oil on my face—it felt nice, actually, and I’ve used enough oil cleansers to be used to the feeling—but when it came time to wash it off, unlike oil cleansers, the olive oil stayed. It felt like there was a thin layer of oil on my face, and I did not enjoy the feeling at all. I rubbed my face vigorously with my face towel and then put the olive oil back in my kitchen pantry. So—not off to the greatest start. I toned and moisturized with the products from S.W. Basics, finished with a natural SPF (my favorite, Renée Rouleau’s Daily Protection SPF 30, $58), and then bravely faced day one sans makeup.
My face felt naked, and I felt extremely uncomfortable—kind of like that dream where you show up in class and realize you only have your underwear on.
It was, to put it simply, difficult. I’m used to my face being an oil slick by lunchtime, but this time, there was no tinted moisturizer to hide behind or powder to soak up the shine. Every pore felt completely exposed and visible, and my freckles and dark spots were just begging to be stared at. My face felt naked, and I felt extremely uncomfortable—kind of like that dream where you show up in class and realize you only have your underwear on. I came home, emotionally exhausted at my self-consciousness, and grudgingly went about making the Detox Mask. I mashed canned chickpeas, added a pinch of turmeric and a splash of water, and then applied the weird mixture to my face. I should probably also note that, at this point, I had started getting a breakout right in the center of my forehead. It was a strange recurring breakout that had started happening a few months earlier, where tiny little bumps would just emerge in the middle of my forehead for no apparent reason, and no amount of spot treatments or masks I did could make them go away any faster.
The chickpea mask did not apply easily. I thought it would be like putting hummus on my face. Instead, it was crumbly, almost like scone batter, and I ended up making a huge mess in my bathroom sink. Oh, and my boyfriend happened to be over, so obviously I made him do the mask with me (“It’s for science!” I whined as I forced chickpea batter on his face). I left it on until it dried, then rinsed it off and examined my face. It definitely felt cleaner, I had to admit. And maybe clearer—and brighter, too. I couldn’t really tell, because I hadn’t washed my bathroom mirror in weeks. I was too tired at this point to do anything more, so I finished with the Oil Serum and conked out.
The next morning, I blearily washed my face with the rosewater cleanser, then peered into the mirror. I blinked twice. My breakout was gone. Disappeared. Vanished. My forehead was a blank canvas, with nary a bump or hint of a bump in sight. Was I dreaming? There was clearly the beginning of a massive breakout forming on my forehead before I went to bed. Where did it go?! “THE CHICKPEAS! IT’S THE CHICKPEAS!” I screamed gleefully from my bathroom, before remembering my roommate was still home and may have thought I’d gone completely mad (though to be honest, it wouldn’t have been the first time she’d heard me cackling about beauty products to myself).
Day two was much easier. I floated along through the day and even found myself admiring my bare, makeup-less skin in the mirror a few times throughout the day. My skin was much less oily than the day before, and I even sort of liked seeing it in its naked state—sunspots, blackheads, and all. I felt like my skin and I had crossed a relationship threshold—it was the second time I’d seen it naked in the middle of the day, and it was still weird and uncomfortable, but now also sweet and intimate. I decided to let my skin rest that night, and simply cleansed, toned, and moisturized with the S.W. Basics products.
I felt like my skin and I had crossed a relationship threshold—it was the second time I’d seen it naked in the middle of the day, and it was still weird and uncomfortable, but now also sweet and intimate.
By the third day, I was practically begging people to look at my face. I felt like a new mom whose child had just said her first word—and it was mama. I talked loudly about the skin cleanse I was on in front of my co-workers and may or may not have pulled down the windshield visor in my car a total of five times on the way to work to admire my own complexion. To admire my own complexion—yes, I had become one of “those” people. My skin was by no means perfect—far from it, in fact. My blackheads were still fully visible on my nose, my freckles and sunspots were scattered across my cheeks as usual, but the overall tone and texture of my skin just felt so much cleaner and more balanced. I was actually in shock at how much it had changed in just three days. That night, I came home and made the Skin Feast Mask from Grigore’s book, consisting of half an avocado, a tablespoon of brown rice flour, and a tablespoon of apple juice. It’s supposed to help balance your skin’s oil production as well as just give it a big dose of hydration. This mask applied much more easily, and though I didn’t notice as much of a difference afterward as with the Detox Mask, I still loved how soft and supple (I hate that word, but there’s no other way to describe it) my skin was.
On day four, I tried going back to my normal concoction of serums and tinted moisturizers but found that they didn’t even necessarily make my skin look better. I honestly felt like my complexion looked dulled down under the makeup and moisturizers—I found myself actually missing my skin’s naked state. That night, I went home and swapped the Oil Serum back in.
So have I given up the disturbing amount of skincare products in my bathroom for good? Not quite, but my skincare routine has been heavily whittled down. And I now know the true value of going on a cleanse—you get to know yourself and your skin in a whole new way, and there’s a beauty in seeing it so completely bare and exposed, with all the imperfections out there for the world to see. Suffice to say, I’m officially a skin cleanse convert—some might even call me a full-on evangelist.