I first heard about skin fasting the same way I hear about most things that I “just have to try”: Instagram. One particular account on my feed caught my eye with a grand promise—apparently, a two-product routine had resulted in a complexion that was glowier than ever. My first reaction? Pure frustration. “You mean I’ve spent years accumulating dozens of acne-clearing, glow-enhancing products for nothing?” I asked myself. I was skeptical that it could really be as simple as throwing out my products, dealing with some breakouts for a few weeks, and coming out of the whole thing with miraculously clear skin.
While the skin-fasting trend is currently gaining momentum on social media, it’s not the first less-is-more treatment I’ve heard about over the years. To me, they’ve always seemed a bit dismissive of those that need to seek professional treatments for serious skin issues. There’s nothing more annoying than having someone respond to your skin woes with, “Well have you quit sugar? Or dairy? Alcohol? Have you been drinking more water? What about supplements?” At first, the concept of skin fasting sparked the same kind of irritation in me, so I was resistant. Curiosity got the best of me in the end, though, and I decided to do my own research. As it turns out, dermatologists often recommend it to their patients.
“I ask people to do this every day,” says dermatological surgeon Heather D. Rogers, M.D., founder of Doctor Rogers Restore. “Our skin is getting so much stimulation with active ingredients and occlusion from makeup that it needs a break.”
Rogers says she often instructs patients with irritated and inflamed skin to stop using all skin care products except for a gentle, hypoallergenic cleanser and moisturizer. “Once their skin has returned to normal, then we can slowly reintroduce products,” she says. For those with sensitive skin, she tends to prescribe fewer products and fewer ingredients.
Anthony Rossi, M.D., a dermatological surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, also often asks his patients to stop using so many products if they experience “irritation or new and unexpected redness or breakouts.” Rossi also mentions that even products which can be helpful for certain patients, notably retinol and retinoids, can also cause irritation or dryness. But while cutting out these extra steps can help, he emphasizes that you shouldn’t expect to see any effects for at least two weeks. “The epidermis of the face takes about 14 days to turn over completely,” he explains.
While the process has derm backing, that doesn’t guarantee that it will work for everyone. Lauren Jones, a 24-year-old photographer from Savannah, Georgia, tells Glamour she quit her multiproduct routine cold turkey after struggling with lifelong acne.
“I struggled with acne my whole life,” she says. “In the past few years, my acne has gone away, but I started to get these acne-like rashes on my cheeks. I went into a panic, “try everything!” mode.” When that didn’t work, she followed a tip from her esthetician, who recommended she start over with a different routine. “Before, I was using a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, oil, and a retinol,” says Jones. “My esthetician told me to use only cold water and my hands to wash my face. I did this for four weeks, then introduced one oil to hydrate for three more weeks.”
Unfortunately, Jones says, the minimal routine ultimately didn’t do anything other than to leave “build-up” on her skin. Multiple dermatologist visits and experiments led her to conclude that no skin care trend is a given fix. She finally landed on what worked for her skin type: a combination of diet changes, exfoliating scrubs, and face oils. “There’s so much pressure around skin and beauty that no matter what you’re doing, someone will think it’s wrong,” she says.
Skin fasting’s popularity isn’t without reason though, and while it isn’t a universal cure, it does work for many. Maxey Greene, a 28-year-old model based in New York, found immediate success with her trial run. “I started breaking out in my mid-20s and never had before,” she says. “I tried using every possible product on the market. Nothing helped, so I went to a dermatologist, and she said I was going way too hard on my skin. She said to stick to one simple product.” Following that advice, Greene restarted her routine with CeraVe’s face wash and moisturizer. “These are products you can find at drugstores, so I was shocked,” she says. “I’ve used only those for the last five years and my skin’s has been pretty great since. The only thing I eventually added was regular facials and an exfoliating toner.”
Greene says she “instantly” noticed a difference in her skin, and only started breaking out again when she started modeling and had to wear a lot of makeup regularly. She frequently recommends her simple routine to friends, who have also experienced dramatic improvement. “Everyone’s skin is so different, and it’s so hard to know what your skin needs without a professional,” she adds, noting that she would still advise others to seek a derm opinion.
The reminder that everyone’s skin type is unique is something that often gets lost in the barrage of Instagram trends like skin fasting. It’s hard not to fall for the alluring promise that one swap could potentially be the magic solution for everyone. As in the wellness world, it’s very easy for clear skin to become a test that hinges on the quality of what you eat, how much you sleep, and how many products you buy. Skin fasting can be helpful for some (and there are experts who agree), but it’s important to remember that one method is not inherently better than another. A 10-step regimen and a routine with minimal topicals are two vastly different approaches to treating skin, but they’re both equally valid options to explore.
Personally, I was terrified to take products out of my routine after dealing with hormonal and stress-related breakouts for months. What if I eliminated something and my skin freaked out? But at least my busy schedule was on my side for once; without even realizing it, I accidentally stopped using half of my usual products. Shockingly, my skin didn’t change. In fact, it improved. At first the change was subtle—I noticed that I was experiencing fewer and fewer breakouts each week. After a couple of months, the texture and tone of my skin had visibly improved. Now, about three months in, I use only three products: cleanser, toner, and moisturizer. That’s it. I was able to tell that these three products made the biggest difference, so they’re the ones I kept. When I have an occasional breakout, I almost always know what caused it—and it’s never the products I’m using.
As a beauty editor, I too have occasionally fallen victim to the idea that there is such a thing as a “best routine” and that not adhering to it somehow means failing. Our skin is constantly changing, and there’s nothing wrong with adding or subtracting products accordingly. Beauty products are most effective when they make us feel our absolute best—not when they meet a particular set of standards or the latest trend on Instagram. I used to think that my crowded bathroom shelf, with its dozens of products, made me feel more secure. Skin fasting made me realize I didn’t actually need all of that; I just needed some form of routine. Whether yours involves three steps or 13, the only thing that really matters is that it works for you.