Fresh-faced Fasting


For some of us, our skincare and beauty routines are so deeply ingrained into our day that going without them would be akin to leaving the house without brushing your teeth. It’s not necessarily pure vanity; being comfortable in your own skin is hard and doing all you can to feel that way isn’t to be knocked. That being said, when the phrase ‘skincare fasting’ started cropping up across the internet, I was intrigued. I’ve always subconsciously viewed fasting as a spiritual act - a test of will, resilience and faith - that I’ve never really committed myself to. I wanted to change that.

The notion of a 'product fast' captured my attention more than any other trend of the moment. Its pared-back nature aligns closely with the Cowshed attitude to skincare, in that it empowers the skin's natural qualities and beauty. The working theory behind the trend is that an overuse of products can cause our skin to rely on external support rather than supporting itself. Essentially, the trend suggests we need to give our skin more credit. Considering that our skin renews itself every 27 days or so, with the upper epidermis shedding dead skin cells to reveal the new, I decided to give this theory the benefit of the doubt.

The act of fasting itself varies from source to source, with some advocating the avoidance of all products for 1-2 weeks while others suggest forgoing an evening routine once a week to allow the skin to regenerate independently. These polar opposite approaches highlights the versatility of the trend. It’s about finding a happy medium for your skin type and expectations. Certainly, by temporarily phasing out certain parts or all of your routine you can gain a fresh understanding of your skin and its needs. By switching out products from your routine, you can begin to identify the products that are pulling their weight and those that are riding coattails. With this in mind, I began the experiment...

In a week of high temperatures, early commutes and a strangely full diary I wasn’t brave enough to try the most extreme fast. I chose to ease my way in by cutting out an evening routine once in the first week and twice in the second. This may sound like a bit of a cop-out but my evening routine can be excessive to say the least. On the first night of the fast the thing that worried me was how am I going to feel clean without properly cleansing my skin? After a longing look at my cleanser, I used lukewarm water to wash my face: massaging the skin in an effort to wash away the grime of London and any residual makeup.

Post-pat-down my skin didn’t have much to say for itself. The threat of dryness was creeping in and the slight smear of mascara beneath my eyes had me questioning does micellar water count? In the name of fairness and scientific credibility I decided it did. On a normal night I would tone, use a corrective treatment for whatever problem the day has thrown at me - the SkinCeuticals Age & Blemish Defence has seen me at my worst - moisturise and then maybe apply an overnight mask. Instead, I just went to bed. It was slightly unsettling. As if I’d forgotten to put my alarm on for the morning or left a tap running in the bathroom; I did appreciate the extra ten minutes sleep though.

When I woke up the blemishes that had cropped up the day before were still in plain sight. The stained darkness under my eyes had lessened somewhat, though they felt much drier than usual - I only had myself and my mascara to blame for that. On the whole though, there wasn’t a huge difference. My skin wasn’t glowing but it wasn’t dull either. It got me thinking that maybe giving my skin a break wasn’t the end of the world.

Going into the second week I decided to fast Tuesday and Friday. Same as before, the process or lack-thereof felt strange. Somewhere between liberating and uncomfortable. Having learnt from my past mistake, I gave the mascara a miss and the no-cleanser wash was a lot easier for it. It still didn’t match up to my usual cleansing routine but I was beginning to understand why this could be beneficial for some people. If you happen to be over-cleansing, you run the risk of stripping the skin of its natural oils and causing dryness. The natural response to this is to slather moisturiser all over your face. Fasting-formalists would say this only exacerbates the issue as it stifles the skin, thereby preventing it from producing its own oils to moisturise the dryness.

I didn’t see any huge difference when I woke up in the morning, other than a slightly oily t-zone that I took as a good-ish sign. By Friday, the novelty was beginning to wear off. My skin wasn’t completely worse off but that didn't stop me from wanting to go to sleep drenched in brightening goodness. I held firm and my skin had little to say for it: some oiliness around my nose and some surprise dryness on my chin. Lucky me. Though, it is worth saying that it could have been a lot worse.

I ended my fasting experiment with a clear resolution: there are a few things I can’t go without. My cleanser is one of them and so is a face mask every once in a while. The act of the routine is also important to me. It helps me wind down at the end of a day. I don't know how much truth lies in the theory that the skin can become less effective when you use products. In my mind, the presence of an effective routine that is tailored to your skin type and concerns can only be a good thing. Even so, trialling the fast has made me feel more comfortable with toning down my routine from time to time.

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