Should You Take a Break From Your Skincare Routine?

Lately, skincare aficionados have been trading in their favorite products for weeks or months at a time in favor of a more minimalist routine. So, is a skincare detox a good idea? We asked the experts.
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Written by India Bottomley
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Should You Take a Break From Your Skincare Routine?Park Street/Unsplash

Blame it on the captivating complexities of K-beauty or, more recently, our increased time spent at home during COVID-19 pandemic, but the last few years have generally seen a more is more approach to skincare. There is plenty to be said about 10-step regimens and complex layering techniques (hey, we love a well-stocked vanity), but what about giving your skin a break?

Lately, skincare aficionados have been trading in their favorite products for weeks or months at a time in favor of a more minimalist routine. So, is a skincare detox a good idea? To better understand the trend, we spoke to Amanda Doyle, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Russak Dermatology Clinic in NYC, and two women who have undertaken a skincare cleanse to find out what happens when you stop using skincare.

What Is a Skincare Detox?

A skincare detox — also referred to as ‘skin fasting’ or a ‘skincare cleanse’ — involves ceasing the use of any kind of skincare product you would normally use. The idea is that you pare down your regimen to nothing as a way of letting your skin rest and reset. If you are using prescription-strength topicals or following a protocol from your dermatologist to treat a specific skin condition, don’t go cold turkey without consulting with your doctor first. But, if you tend to use a smattering of products from the skincare aisle, it should be generally safe to discontinue use at your leisure.

The Benefits of a Skincare Detox

To put it simply, a skincare detox can give you a chance to start over. “A lot of people use great products, but skincare is highly individualized and personal,” Dr. Doyle says. “A lot of tailoring is involved to get the right regimen on board.” As she explains it, some products and ingredients can be overused, which leads to irritation, dryness, redness, and blotchiness. Those side effects may lead people to seek treatment for skin conditions they don’t actually face. “The benefits of going on a complete skincare detox is that it allows for a reset, which can be helpful for sorting out what your skin actually needs,” Dr. Doyle shares.

If you’re someone who likes switching up the products you use on a regular basis but aren’t seeing the results you want, skincare fasting can help you figure out what works best for you. A detox is also a great time to pay a visit to your dermatologist. “Learning what the skin looks like without anything on board can allow for a dermatologist to really address the skin needs to get a patient on the right regimen by seeing it in its natural state,” Dr. Doyle notes.

Frequently Asked Questions

At this point, you probably have a lot of questions about what the detox process actually looks like, and we asked Dr. Doyle to answer some of the most common inquiries:

1. What Happens When You Stop Using Skincare?

The short answer is that it depends on what you are treating with your skincare routine to begin with. “If there is an underlying medical condition that you’re treating, such as acne or rosacea, you can experience a flare of either condition if you stop the regimen,” Dr. Doyle cautions. “This can happen shortly (within a few days) after stopping or can happen a while (one to two months) after stopping your regimen.” If you are treating age-related concerns (think: fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone or texture), you may see some subtle differences. “If you are using the right regimen and you stop, you might notice the skin feels less smooth and lustrous,” Dr. Doyle says.

2. How long should you detox for?

One week is the minimum amount of time you’ll need to commit, if you wish to see any sort of effect from your skincare cleanse. Needless to say, the longer you fast, the more significant the results will be. “Detoxes to reset and see what your skin baseline is can be anywhere from one to four weeks or longer,” Dr. Doyle explains. “During this time, whatever positives or negatives your skin experiences as a result of being on the products will start to wane.”

3. What about starting your skincare routine again after the detox?

Slow and steady wins the race. “First, start with a proper evaluation with a dermatologist. An assessment to make sure the right things are added back in the right way is paramount to success,” Dr. Doyle says. “If someone has sensitive skin, I start slowly and gradually add products to make sure they are compatible with the skin.” For patients that require more acute care, the process may move a bit quicker. “If someone has a more severe skin condition that needs immediate attention, the regimen may be more involved right off the bat,” she adds.

4. How often should you detox?

Generally speaking, people see a benefit to detoxing once or twice a year. “Most patients who find themselves frustrated with not achieving their skincare goals despite spending lots of money on products would benefit from a reset, especially if you’ve never had an evaluation with a dermatologist,” Dr. Doyle says. No two complexions are the same, which means no two skincare routines should be either. “A lot of patients have very specific skincare needs and even diagnosable skin conditions that do best with a personalized, tailored regimen that incorporates both prescription and high quality over the counter products,” she explains. When in doubt, ask your dermatologist for advice.

Patient Perspective

So, what’s it like to ditch your skincare routine? We talked to two women who chose to take a break from their routines in an effort to reset their skin.

Isla, 27, New York City

Isla works in a high-stress job and has struggled with breakouts since she was a teen. She decided to use the first few weeks of lockdown as an opportunity to give her skin a complete break from the makeup and skincare products she usually uses.

The AEDITION: What led you to go on a skincare detox?

Isla: My skin had been getting progressively worse over the previous six months or so. I have struggled with bad skin during periods of stress ever since I was a teenager. Things at work weren’t easy in the lead up to lockdown, so my skin was flaring up pretty badly. When I got an email from my office telling me we’d be working from home for the foreseeable future, I spent some time looking into how to sort out my skin once and for all. Detoxes kept on being featured in articles I was reading, and I figured when else would I literally be banned from leaving the house? So, I set out on following a skincare detox program for four weeks and now have built up a very minimal skincare routine again. My skin is better than it has been in a long time, despite how stressful things are at the moment.

The AEDITION: What happened to your skin during the detox period?

Isla: To begin, my skin got worse. That being said, I had a whole bunch of spots and zits that were waiting to ‘emerge’ before I started the detox. My skin was somewhat painful for a week or so, but, as time went on and my skin started to heal, the pain stopped. I would describe it almost as my imperfections drying out. They just kind of started to heal more quickly and weren’t immediately followed up with a new batch like they were in the past. By the end of the four weeks, I had skin that had a few imperfections as opposed to the extensive active breakouts I had when I started.

The AEDITION: How did your skincare routine change after the detox was over?

Isla: I built things back up very gradually, starting with a gentle cleanser. Now I have a stripped back, three-step routine in place. I used to go all out thinking that more serums, masks, and heaven knows what else would help get rid of the spots. Turns out I just needed to leave my skin alone and go easy on it. That being said, I have also switched up how much makeup I put on. I think I was stuck in somewhat of a vicious circle with bad skin making me want to cover it with makeup and, in turn, the makeup giving me bad skin.

The AEDITION: Do you have any advice for people considering a skincare detox?

Isla: Hopefully, we won’t be going back into lockdown, but, if we do, it truly is a great chance to go on a skincare detox. If you do have to see people, be aware that you may need to consider your options for covering the breakouts that may occur during the first couple of weeks. I was also asking a friend who is a dermatologist a ton of questions during the whole process, so find yourself a professional who can help you out.

Jenni, 35, Los Angeles

Jenni had been using a mix of drugstore and luxury skincare to combat early signs of aging but wasn’t seeing the results she hoped for. With the help of a dermatologist, she was planning to switch from her current hydration-rich routine to a more aging-focused one, and she decided to take a short break from all products in between.

The AEDITION: What led you to go on a skincare detox?

Jenni: I’ve been seeing those first signs of aging turning into proper, full-on signs of aging. I knew I wanted to overhaul my skincare, but I didn’t really know where to start. I knew the products I was using weren’t appropriate for my skin anymore, so I consulted a dermatologist and asked about their views on detoxing between my current routine and the new regimen we were going to work on together. They advised of the benefits and drawbacks, and I decided that it would be an interesting thing to try.

The AEDITION: What happened to your skin during the detox period?

Jenni: It was relatively uneventful in that I didn’t get any extra breakouts or anything of those sorts, which seems to be quite common for people who have more acne-prone skin. I found that my skin felt somewhat less hydrated, which makes sense because I previously packed on hydrating products and ingredients. Other than that, it just saved me some time in the morning and evening really.

The AEDITION: How did your skincare routine change after the detox was over?

Jenni: Because I’d completely stopped any form of skincare, I was able to try out a new regimen from nothing. My derm and I had a series of calls scheduled to check in with how I was doing as and when we added in new products or switched something out. I think it helped me to see what genuinely was or was not working for me while trying to move into my new skincare routine.

The AEDITION: Do you have any advice for people considering a skincare detox?

Jenni: I would advise getting help, particularly for starting to use skincare again after the detox. I found staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and eating fruits with high water content helped my skin to keep looking and feeling more hydrated without the topical hydration.

The Takeaway

No matter your skin type, scaling back your skincare routine for a period of time can be a great chance to better understand the state of your skin and its needs. Consulting with a board certified dermatologist or skin expert before, during, and after the detox will ensure your complexion emerges in tip-top shape.

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INDIA BOTTOMLEYis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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