Back to basics: Is skin fasting the reset your beauty routine needs?

Not eating for short periods is said to be good for your body and your general health. But can the abstinence trend be applied to your skincare routine too?

Holly Bartter, 32, is a former model and regular beauty and skincare content creator on TikTok.

After years of caking her skin in all manner of products, she’s pared back her skincare routine and says her skin looks better now than when she was 22.

“As a model, I hated having my face caked in heavy make-up – the more products I wore, the more products I had to use to remove the make-up,” Holly says.

“It was a cycle of different products, skin irritations, blemishes, pigmentation and then wearing even more make-up to hide the breakouts.

“International travel also took a toll.”

Holly says in the past six or seven years, she’s started skin fasting and allowed her skin to return to its natural equilibrium.

“I don’t wash my face in the morning, to preserve the natural oils,” she says.

“If I’m home and skin fasting, I don’t use any products at all, just a simple petroleum jelly‑based moisturiser in the evening; if I go out, I always use SPF50 sunscreen.

“Now that my skin is healthy, I mainly use a vitamin C serum and prescription vitamin A to help with skin anti-ageing.”

Holly says she doesn’t wear much make-up, if any; and she uses a gentle cleansing balm and warm water to clean her skin.

“My skin is less inflamed and sensitive and it never feels tired, red or itchy,” she says.

So what is skin fasting?

Just as intermittent fasting may be beneficial for everything from blood pressure and heart health to burning fat and reducing inflammation, skin fasting is being praised for its potential benefits.

It’s about letting your skin speak for itself.

“My philosophy is that you should skin fast all the time – not just for a few days or a week,” skin scientist and author of The Scandinavian Skincare Bible Dr Johanna Gillbro says.

Dr Gillbro says when we use a lot of skincare products, we can overload our skin.

“For example, the (typical) South Korean skincare routine uses about 10 products a day, which means skin is exposed to up to 500 ingredients a day,” she says.

“Skin can become congested and inflamed; you can also damage the protective upper layer, the skin barrier, and chemicals can then penetrate the skin, and some accumulate in the bloodstream.

“Skin fasting and reducing your skin’s exposure to ingredients and chemicals is a great philosophy.”

What’s involved with skin fasting?

Skin fasting is about not using any products on your skin.

You might fast once a week or once a month; how long you fast is up to you.

It might be time to fast when your skin shows signs of stress – pimples, dry and flaky patches, itchiness, redness, uneven pigmentation, or perhaps it just looks dull.

Perioral dermatitis is also an indicator that skin needs a break.

“This type of dermatitis was called ‘stewardess disease’ because air stewardesses who used a lot of cosmetics and skincare products would often experience it,” Dr Gillbro says.

“Classic symptoms are rashes around the nose, mouth and eyes, and skin feeling very tight and sensitive.”

Common causes of skin problems

Dermatologist Dr Anita Patel says while there is no scientific evidence behind skin fasting, many skin problems arise when the outer barrier is damaged.

This can be due to product overload, or using products with harsh ingredients.

“The skin barrier is made of building blocks of cells, corneocytes and lipids that are the skin’s natural fats; together, they form a protective outer shield,” Dr Patel says.

“A number of elements can disrupt that barrier – UV from the sun, excessive heating or air conditioning, pollution, harsh exfoliants and scrubs, and agents in some skin products, such as anti-ageing products that can increase inflammation and dryness.

“If someone has acne and is using a lot of products, or if a person has eczema or dry skin that isn’t improving, they may be using many different treatments and some of those products may actually make the situation worse.”

Possible downsides of skin fasting

Dermal therapist James Vivian does not support routine skin fasting but says a skincare “elimination diet” is helpful to work out what is causing a skin reaction.

“Remove any active skin care from your routine, wait for the reaction to subside and then reintroduce active skin care, product by product, to locate any potentially irritating products and ingredients,” James says.

“A downside of skin fasting is that you miss out on applying ingredients that are good for the skin – you can lose momentum in building skin health because after fasting, you may have to reintroduce ingredients like vitamin A and exfoliating acids.”

He says relying on skin fasting to “give your skin a break” can be a sign that you just haven’t found the right skin care yet, adding that skin fasting also isn’t suitable for people using prescription skin treatments for conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or acne.

How to start skin fasting

If you do want to skin fast, Dr Gillbro recommends reducing the number of products you use routinely, and taking a closer look at the ingredient lists on the products and cosmetics in your bathroom.

“Don’t cleanse or wash your skin in the morning – there’s no point in washing away what our skin produces naturally and that is good for us,” she says.

“If you can, leave your skin product-free and only use sunscreen if you will be outside.

“In the evening, if you have used make-up or sunscreen, or if you live in the city where there is pollution, wash your face using a cleanser with mild surfactants that dissolve dirt or make-up … this could be a cleanser for sensitive skin.”

What to do after skin fasting

If you have let your skin go au naturel for a day or two, try to reduce the amount of skincare products and cosmetics you use routinely.

Don’t cleanse skin in the morning but use a light moisturiser – choose one with no more than 20 to 30 ingredients including urea, glycerine, some oils and emulsifiers to bind and trap water – and sunscreen.

If you are using cosmetics, choose lighter powders rather than liquids, and opt for powder foundations and blushers that don’t contain water because once a product contains water, it requires more preservatives and additives, Dr Gillbro says.

Finish your minimalist routine by gently cleansing in the evening.

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Written by Sarah Marinos.