For some, skincare is a 20-step process, morning and night. Which occasionally makes us wonder: Are we going overboard with the products? Cue skin fasting, a rising trend over the past few years, and your skin's very own version of a detox cleanse.
We tapped one dermatologist, Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, and two estheticians, Natalie Aguilar and Karen Fernandez, to get the lowdown on all things skin fasting. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She specializes in skin cancer screenings, general medical dermatology, pediatric dermatology, and cosmetic dermatology.
- Natalie Aguilar is a Los Angeles-based dermatological nurse and celebrity esthetician. She is the founder of N4 Skincare.
- Karen Fernandez is the lead esthetician at SkinSpirit, based at the company's Palo Alto, California location. She has been licensed in aesthetics for 28 years.
What Is Skin Fasting?
“Skin fasting is taking a break from all of your current skincare products or routine to give your skin time to breathe, rest, and reset,” explains Zubritsky. “Theoretically, it allows your skin to naturally function the way it was intended to without the help of skincare products.”
While the concept is fairly straightforward, the methodology can vary from person to person. “Like food-related fasting, there can be different levels of how much you eliminate and for how long,” says Fernandez. “The theory is to let your skin rebuild its protective stratum corneum layer to foster better skin health and resilience. It can also be a good way to detect products that are causing irritation, breakouts, or other skin problems.”
While information as to what products work best for certain skin types, what products work best with one another, and what products you should avoid all exist, it’s easy to get caught up with new launches, fads, and trends. Skin fasting doesn’t have to be a full elimination of your skincare products; sometimes, it can be just phasing out one product at a time to test what works best for your skin type.
How Do You Skin Fast?
“Skin fasting is unique to the individual,” says Aguilar. “Some slowly eliminate products while others go cold turkey.”
“For a complete skin fast, you stop using all of your skincare products entirely,” adds Fernandez. "No cleansing or toning, or applying serums, hydrators, or moisturizers. Letting your skin’s own natural sebum [oil] do all the balancing and protecting is the main action.” It’s important to listen to your skin throughout the process, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks according to Zubritsky.
“I recommend sticking to the basics like cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen, and eliminating all other products cold turkey,” adds Aguilar, offering a different angle on skin fasting. “If you’re going to eliminate sunscreen, then you should eliminate sun exposure as well.” If we’ve learned one golden (skincare) life rule, it’s to always wear SPF.
Zubritsky backs up Aguilar when it comes to keeping some basics in your routine. “Eliminating all products can potentially wreak havoc on your skin, so this is something that I don’t recommend,” she says. “For example, if you stop washing your face with a cleanser, dirt, debris, makeup, and oil can build up, resulting in more breakouts.”
Who Should Try Skin Fasting?
“Those with skin sensitivities may benefit from skin fasting,” says Fernandez. “It gives the skin time to not have any active ingredients that can trigger inflammation.” She adds that skin fasting is more beneficial to those with dry skin and that oily and acne-prone skin will not benefit from a full skin fast of any length.
Any person experiencing trouble with their daily skincare routine can also benefit from a less severe form of skin fasting by eliminating one product at a time until the skin irritant is identified. “Anyone can try skin fasting, especially those who feel like their skin needs a reboot,” says Aguilar. “It is especially beneficial for those experiencing more blemishes, dryness, or irritation than usual.”
Who Should Avoid Skin Fasting?
“I do not recommend skin fasting for those who have skin disorders like eczema, uncontrolled acne, rosacea, melasma, or other skin disorders that do require topical products to help,” says Zubritsky. “I am not a fan of the cold turkey, total elimination of all skincare products at once, especially if you have a skin condition that requires active ingredients.”
“It is advisable to speak to your dermatologist or prescribing physician about taking a break from any prescription products that you are currently using, as some should not be stopped,” adds Aguilar. “Not protecting your skin with sunscreen [is a risk]. If you've used any acids in the last three days, especially retinol, then you must continue to wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure.”
Those who have skincare routines that work may want to skip this method, too. As the saying goes—if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
The Final Takeaway
Ultimately, skin fasting is successful on a case-by-case basis. The method is not a one-size-fits-all process, and listening to your skin in real time is the safest way to proceed when trying out skin fasting.
“If one wants to try this, I do recommend slowly taking away one product at a time to see how your skin reacts,” says Zubritsky. “Skin fasting in the sense of 'detoxing' your skin has no physiological or scientific basis.”
Just like any other detox or reset, skin fasting can be helpful for those who want a fresh start. “I recommend skin fasting to anyone who feels like their skin needs a reboot or is feeling confused about what their skin might need,” explains Aguilar. “You can explore what your skin might be lacking, or have too much of. It’s also a great way to test if your current products are truly working for you.”
“Skin is very smart and will become resilient over time,” adds Fernandez. “What I recommend is occasionally just using the basics [cleanser, SPF] and giving your skin time to rest and rebuild. This will keep your fasting from becoming a disaster that sets you back in your fight against acne or any other skin disorder.”
Zubritsky left us with one final rule: Always wear your SPF. “If you do want to try skin fasting, I recommend at the very least wearing sunscreen every day. That is one step that is non-negotiable.”