Should you be skin fasting? A deep dive into beauty’s new minimalist mood

 (Shutterstock / DimaBerlin)
(Shutterstock / DimaBerlin)

Every morning is the same. As soon as my alarm goes off I diligently head to the bathroom to embark on my 10-step, 20 minutes long, skincare routine.

Prepping the skin first with a cleanser, toner and essence; layering up with eye creams; acids (hyaluronic, salicylic, azelaic) that promise to prevent future blemishes and heal past ones; before lastly sealing with moisturiser and SPF. At night, I’ll simply swap my sun cream for an anti-ageing retinol and twice-weekly throw in a sheet or LED face mask for good measure. It’s fair to say, if not entirely obvious, I am a skincare maximalist. These days I appear to be in the minority, according to the latest TikTok trend doing the rounds. Enter: skin fasting, a low-key practice garnering over 346.7k views on the video sharing platform.

“’Skin fasting’ refers to the idea of not using any skincare at all for a certain period of time, to allow the skin to ‘recover’ from the overuse of products”, explains Dr Natalia Spierings, consultant dermatologist and author of Skintelligent. It’s a routine, whether you choose to engage just at night, for a few days, a week, or a month that has proven popular in Japan for over a decade. Much like the idea that your hair will clean itself over time if not washed, skin fasting is all about detoxing the skin, encouraging it to replenish itself without the need for chemical intervention.

Skincare deprivation is recommended for those with sensitivities or who have experienced dryness, itchiness and redness. “Overuse of certain potent ingredients such as retinol and acid chemical exfoliants can disrupt your skin’s barrier; stripping its natural moisture and causing irritation”, says Emma Wedgwood, founder of Emma Wedgwood Aesthetics. “Skipping products containing ingredients that irritate your skin gives it an opportunity to produce the natural oils it needs to remain balanced and hydrated”.

Dr Spierings adds, “it is amazing how problems that have persisted for months – whether it’s perioral dermatitis (inflammation around the mouth), grumbling spots (irritated follicles that never seem to go away), general redness, the appearance of acne, dry skin or dullness - seem to clear up within days of cutting down or stopping skincare products. It’s not because they are allergic to them, it’s purely irritation.”

“I had really rubbish skin for three years,” 25-year-old Madeline tells me. “I was using everything and spending so much money and having all sorts of reactions, which made my skin even worse. I relented and had a horrifically expensive 15 min appointment with a dermatologist and she told me to stop using anything and go back to basics. So, I cut out everything and now use a gentle moisturiser and nothing else and my skin is now so much clearer.”

This less-is-more approach is certainly kinder, too, on the bank balance (the average woman in Britain spends nearly £500 on beauty products a year). Still, even with this monetary saving in mind, I was somewhat dubious to partake in a week-long skincare cold turkey experiment. From 10 products to merely a splash of water on my face morning and night, I feared for the state of my combination skin.

Beauty maximalist Ellie Davis gives skin fasting a go (ES)
Beauty maximalist Ellie Davis gives skin fasting a go (ES)

While my skin looked parched at first, with some initial flaking, it seemed to balance itself out, feeling more hydrated over the coming days. Dr Spierings assures me this is perfectly normal to begin with. “Dryness can be caused by the top layer of skin becoming disrupted by aggressive or exfoliating products, which allow irritants into the skin and water to leave. We tend to treat with more product, cause more disruption and get into a cycle.” Friends and colleagues even complimented me on my “glow”, even without my antioxidant-rich serums.

My real problem area is my chin, the location for addictive sugar intake and hormonally-induced breakouts. I’d long held the belief my daily skincare cocktail was keeping this in check, until now. While remnants of an old breakout didn’t miraculously heal during this period, some redness was reduced, and I was surprised that no new spots appeared throughout the fast without my trusty exfoliant on hand.

That said, whether it was simply something I noticed due to the close critical analysis of my facial features, the lines on my forehead appeared to deepen in just seven days of not using any vitamin A (retinol), nor SPF. I wanted to dive headfirst into the fast and remove every single product from my routine but all the dermatologists I spoke to stressed this is the one item you really do not want to erase.

“If you’re going to be outside in the sun, protect your skin from UVA/B rays as these can cause ageing and skin cancer,” says Dr Spierings. “Use a mineral sunscreen as it’s less irritating, avoid sun exposure or physically protect with a wide brim hat or sunglasses”.

All-in-all, while I did miss the calming ritual of coating my complexion in lotions and potions, I could certainly see the appeal of skin fasting. Whilst I won’t be emptying my entire bathroom cabinet for good, I’m vowing to now introduce more days where I strip things back to just a gentle cleanser and mineral SPF when my skin feels overloaded or irritated.

So far, so good.