What Happened When I Stopped Using Skincare

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Time for a beauty product horror story: Around this time last year, I was eating poorly, not drinking water, and not sleeping enough for a variety of highly personal reasons that I will gladly share with you in the comments section below. You know how everybody’s best skincare tips involve eating well, drinking water, and sleeping enough? Mine too—because my skin got very angry at me for not doing those things. To cope, I would keep 20-minute moisturizing masks on overnight, mix a variety of dubious luminizers together, including Vaseline, in the dead of summer to achieve an artificial J-Lo glow. None of it worked. With every test and treatment, my skin got angrier.

A few months of this torture passed and my dermatologist diagnosed me with a spectacular combo of contact dermatitis and rosacea. Something had to give. This is when I decided to give up using beauty products entirely. I came up with what I like to call a skin vacation, ditching all of my skincare and most of my makeup and replacing them with ingredients I could buy at the grocery store.

Like all great ideas, it came from my former babysitter. In high school I used to swim, and when my skin would get dry and reactive, Leza suggested coconut and olive oils—instead of fancy skincare—to remedy the problem. So when my skin troubles returned years later, I figured, why not try it again? To supplement the oils, I scoured the internet for pantry alternatives to cleansers, toners, and whatever else you might have in your medicine cabinet. Here's what I found, and proceeded to stick to for a couple months (that's how long I heard you should stick to a routine for):

  • Cleanser and Toner: Apple cider vinegar, which is naturally astringent. It can be particularly potent, but diluted with water, it’s magic.
  • Moisturizer: Coconut oil, head to toe
  • Exfoliator: Olive oil and sugar every other week
  • Sunscreen: Peter Thomas Roth UV Milk—lightweight and necessary, one of the only products I held on to
  • Makeup: None! I put a hard stop on any and all tinted moisturizers, foundations, or highlighters. I relied on a nice bold lip (Generation G in Zip) to pull my look together and distract from my blemish of the month.

After one week, my skin’s tantrum waned—no more bumps or redness. It took a week or two to adjust to the coconut oil, after which I noticed my skin was dewy and glowy again. And it was real! No strobing or luminizing needed.

Two months later, my skin was a clean, smooth canvas that was ready for me to slowly reintroduce beauty products. If I was going out or on a date, I used Tarte’s non-comedogenic tinted moisturizer for extra glow, or some Nars Bronzing Powder on my cheeks for color. My day-to-day routine was significantly cut down, but I was able to enjoy the products that I loved when the occasion was right.

Today, we’re doing great. I’ve discovered my skin is a minimalist, and two months of paring down turned everything around. I’m actually still on my skin vacation, because I like it here. I admit it's not for everybody—those with anything more than moderate skin problems will attest to this. Sometimes, the big guns are necessary, and I'm all for that. But for me, taking a break from skincare products worked wonders, and if you're game, it's worth a shot. My face and I are very happy together and we’ve never looked better. How romantic is that?

—Nadine Head-Gordon

Photographed by the author.

More first person: read about one skincare user's inability to commit to a routine, or another's quest for a pre-aging, post-acne regimen.

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