What Actually Happens To Your Skin When You Ditch The Makeup?

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Most of us have experienced bad hair days before, but what about bad skin days? Skin conditions like acne, redness, and hyperpigmentation can take what feels like eons to heal. And like magic, they always seem to flare up right before a date or a photo op. "Acne is unpredictable. It does what it wants, whenever it wants," dermatologist Rick Fried tells The Washington Post. That's where the power of makeup comes into play. Full-coverage beauty products are a lifesaver for those times when our skin acts like the enemy. Plus, there are few things more satisfying than seeing an angry spot fade with just a drop of foundation.


Despite how well makeup works to cover up the occasional breakout, it isn't without its faults. Wearing even the lightest layer of concealer on hot and humid days can feel like a chore. And no matter how much you love skincare, it can be arduous to double cleanse after arriving home exhausted from a night out. What's more, few of us can recall the last time we took a prolonged hiatus from wearing makeup entirely. According to a Civil Science survey, nearly half of all women in the U.S. wear cosmetics daily. Still, we're all curious to know: what happens to your skin if you stop wearing makeup?

How to ease into a makeup-free routine

If you're used to wearing foundation or concealer every day, you may be curious about how to go makeup-free in the first place. After consistently wearing makeup for long enough, it can certainly feel a bit awkward to go bare-faced. Fortunately, you don't have to dive into the makeup-free lifestyle all at once. For instance, you can alternate the days you choose to wear cosmetics. Maybe you always go out on Friday nights after work – obviously, that would be a perfect day to wear full glam. But when you have fewer commitments on your plate, you can comfortably opt for a makeup-free or a minimal makeup look to let your skin take a break.


Also, take time on your "days off" to purify your skin using products such as masks, serums, and even spot treatments, if necessary. "[Your skincare routine] should protect, energize, and facilitate the skin's renewal and health, so your skin looks perfect with or without makeup," a spokesperson for REN Skincare told Refinery29. By establishing a consistent plan early on in your makeup-free journey, you can prepare your skin for any potential bumps in the road.

Going cold turkey on makeup

Ready to go cold turkey? For a start, simply shelve your primer, foundation, and concealer. You'll also want to put your eye makeup routine on hold to achieve the best results. Of course, you may want to observe how the removal of each product affects your skin, especially if you typically wear a full face of makeup. In that case, remove one item from your routine at a time, beginning with cover-up. "Minimize the amount of foundation you use. You'll slowly start to see that, yes, you can look and feel great without heavy concealing and foundation," makeup artist Kerrin Jackson tells The New York Times.


The goal of your journey is to reduce your cosmetic usage to nearly nothing in order to assess the skin's reaction. Don't be concerned that you'll have to go completely bare-faced, however — it's perfectly fine to continue using lip products for a bit of color. While some lip formulas can lead to the occasional blackhead or whitehead, they're generally considered harmless in regard to your complexion. Furthermore, it's okay if you need something else, like a light coat of mascara, to get you through the quitting process. The most critical products to skip are foundation and concealer, as their absence will significantly affect your skin's overall appearance.

Start fresh for your makeup-free journey

Why not start things off with a clean slate? Even the strictest skincare adherents can benefit from the thorough cleansing that a good facial provides. "Steam and extractions work together to open and clear blocked pores, helping to prevent future breakouts that can occur as a result of not managing buildup," esthetician Ali Tobia tells RealSimple. To find a worthwhile facialist, look for reviews of reputable clinics or spas in your area and schedule a consultation to find the most appropriate treatment for your skin type.


In the event that you can't make it to the salon or derm's office, try exfoliating and masking at home. Although extractions and peels are best left to the professionals, you can always use an over-the-counter facial polish, like Dr. Brandt's Renewing Age-Defying Face Exfoliator. Dr. Brandt's exfoliator is clinically proven to soften and smooth skin. And, according to Dr. Brandt, it may even "replicate in-office microdermabrasion procedures." Make sure you aren't combining exfoliants or peels with other active ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide or retinoids, as they can make your skin more susceptible to irritation. Those with sensitive complexions can use a soft buffing tool, like Honest Beauty's Gentle Konjac Sponge, with their favorite cleanser. For an authentic, at-home facial experience, you can also incorporate a soothing mask, like Mountain Rose Herb's French Green Clay.


Most importantly, you don't want to switch up your skincare routine too much over the next few weeks. Stick to the basics, using a gentle cleanser, exfoliant, and moisturizer, so you can best judge your skin's reaction to going makeup-free.

Results won't happen overnight

One thing you'll want to keep in mind is that you might not see major changes to your face straight away. Your skin only regenerates new cells roughly once a month, hence why pesky irritations like pimples seem to stick around forever despite interventions. "Going without makeup [for a few days] gives your skin a chance to breathe. Going without makeup for a month will allow the natural skin cell cycle to happen without interruption from unnecessary ingredients in makeup," Dr. Kristin Baird tells RealSelf.


Therefore, you'll have to wait at least a few days to get an accurate representation of your skin's response to losing the makeup. And while it's possible to speed up the rate of skin cell turnover with active ingredients like retinoids, you'll want to hold off until your skin has gotten used to its new routine before incorporating them. "[In new retinol users], it's common to see acne get worse before it gets better, as retinoids can cause a mass 'purge,'" Dr. Karen Hammerman tells Glamour. In any event, it's easy to get frustrated by the waiting game, but don't feel tempted to give up just yet. Patience is key, and your dedication to the process will pay off over time.

Your skin might not react the way you'd expect

Dreaming of dewy, filtered-looking skin after parting ways with your foundation? Don't be discouraged if you notice that your skin actually looks worse at first. "Some people may experience breakouts when they stop applying their everyday makeup. It doesn't happen to everyone, but it's normal for your skin to take a few days to acclimate," product chemist Eddie Omar tells Refinery29. Your skin is expelling built-up debris accumulated over time, and the condition will resolve itself within a few days to weeks.


It's easy to calm your skin down if you're noticing symptoms of purging. Try incorporating a medicated cleanser or a spot treatment in your routine, like Derma E's Sulfur Spot Treatment with Tea Tree Oil. It contains a perfect cocktail of ingredients to remedy pimples, like colloidal sulfur, salicylic acid, and aloe vera. You don't need to go overboard in treating your acne, as aggressive overwashing can worsen blemishes and lead to inflammation.

Some skin experts suggest that stress is one of the biggest reasons you break out when quitting makeup. "If you're accustomed to wearing makeup and you stop — there's a subconscious emotional component to not wearing cosmetics, which triggers testosterone production," Dr. Harold Lancer tells Marie Claire. Talk to your dermatologist or esthetician to explore advanced solutions if you still struggle with breakouts after the first few weeks of going makeup-free.


Dropping makeup can encourage a healthy skin barrier

If you're into skincare, you've probably heard of the skin barrier. The skin barrier, or stratum corneum, is the layer of skin that sits closest to the surface. Its job is to protect the underlying layers, maintain moisture levels, and minimize the effects of harsh environmental elements. As you might imagine, ingredients in makeup can disrupt the skin barrier's functioning. "By avoiding [wearing] foundation and blush, the skin is allowed to return to its natural oil balance and hydration. Overwashing the skin to remove the makeup can strip the skin of its natural oil balance," Nadia Kihiczak tells Women's Health.


If you've ever noticed that your skin is dehydrated, oily, or easily irritated by certain products, you may have a damaged skin barrier. It can also appear in the form of redness, discoloration, or peeling, sore skin. To heal inflammation, stick with a cleanser made for sensitive skin, like La Roche-Posay's Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser, and avoid using exfoliating ingredients like acids and retinol. "[Active ingredients] are very drying, and they really do deplete the normal, healthy barrier function," dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo tells The New York Times.

Cosmetic-related acne will be a thing of the past

One of the most exciting aspects of ditching makeup is the prospect of clearing your acne. You've probably heard that heavy makeup can lead to breakouts, especially if you end up forgetting to take it off before bed. "[Sleeping in] foundations and thick, oil-based primers are the worst offenders. They prevent the skin from renewing itself naturally at night, causing blackheads, acne, and dullness," Dr. Erin Gilbert tells HuffPost. But even with perfect removal practices in place, wearing makeup can lead to product buildup over time, which spells trouble for your pores.


On the bright side, dermatologists agree that going makeup-free is one of the best ways to help heal ongoing issues with breakouts. "Taking a break from makeup can help the skin repair itself. Removing physical blockages from the surface of the skin can help clear pores and improve any makeup-related acne," Dr. Joshua Zeichner tells NBC. Without makeup in the way, your skin has access to more oxygen. Plus, having a fresh face means you'll get more out of your skincare — clearer pores can even increase product absorption. Try natural, single-ingredient skincare products like tamanu or rosehip oil to address long-standing concerns stemming from acne, such as hyperpigmentation scars.

Your brows and lashes will thank you

Nearly everyone would love to have fuller lashes and brows. If you're big on using eye makeup or false lashes, you may have noticed that you've lost your fair share of lash and brow hairs over the years. This phenomenon is partly due to irritation and buildup on the lashline, and experts advise you to think twice before booking any lash-boosting procedures. "If the root of your lashes or brows is dead, there is no product that can bring them back. Certain beauty practices can kill them, so for healthier hair, I recommend avoiding treatments like lash lifts and extensions," Dr. Diane Hilal-Campo tells Vogue. Consider using overnight lash-strengthening treatments, such as Sky Organics' Castor Oil Eyelash Serum, as an alternative to lash fills and mascaras.


It's also worth noting that eyelashes are exceptionally delicate, and even the gentlest makeup removal can cause them to fall out. Sometimes, products like mascara and eyeliner can even lead to painful styes, an unsightly oil gland blockage that can swell the affected eyelid. "You also run the risk of developing eyelid dermatitis, or irritation from mascara rubbing against the eyelids while you sleep. Worst-case scenario, makeup gets into the eye itself, which can lead to conjunctivitis," Dr. Joshua Zeichner tells RealSimple. Moreover, liquid forms of eye makeup, like mascara and eyeliner, should be replaced every three months to prevent styes and other bacterial infections.

Shedding foundation can improve texture and reduce fine lines

Another benefit to removing makeup from your regimen? You could see fewer fine lines and smaller pores. From a physical standpoint, makeup settles into fine lines and textural imperfections, making even the tiniest creases appear more pronounced. After you apply a layer of makeup, it sinks into expressive, high-movement areas of your face, such as smile lines, leading to literal "cracks" in the foundation. "As the skin ages, it gets thinner, and [fine lines and wrinkles] can show beneath a heavy foundation application," makeup artist Sandy Linter tells Allure. Full-coverage products like foundation not only enhance the look of wrinkles but can also contribute to the formation of blackheads and milia, leading to dull, rough skin.


If you aren't diligent with removing makeup, you run the risk of damaging your complexion. Fine lines, dermatitis, and enlarged pores are just a few of the issues that can arise if you neglect your nightly cleansing routine. "When dirt clogs the pores, they expand and appear larger," Dr. Margarita Lolis tells Good Housekeeping. To avoid these and other problems, take time to thoroughly cleanse (or double-cleanse) every evening, regardless of whether or not you've worn makeup throughout the day.

Alternatives to makeup that help cover up imperfections

Some cosmetics are undoubtedly more detrimental to the health of your skin than others due to the oil-based ingredients they contain. This type of makeup is classified as comedogenic or acne-forming, and skincare experts advise against using them regularly. "If you are already predisposed to breakouts, makeup can make it worse — particularly oil or liquid-based foundations," Dr. Mona Gohara tells Self. Certain ingredients and product combinations can affect different people's skin differently, so take terms like non-comedogenic with a grain of salt.


Even if your skin has cleared up considerably after going makeup-free, you might see the odd spot pop up every now and then. In situations like these, you'll want an effective way to conceal blemishes without resorting to the use of makeup. For occasional acne, try Rael Microcrystal Spot Cover. These patches deliver targeted willow bark extract and tea tree oil to deep-seated blemishes, zapping them before they start.

If you're looking for highly pigmented coverage without the detrimental effects of foundation, you're in luck. There are lightweight yet full-coverage products, like BB cream, a K-beauty favorite that smooths large pores and imperfections using clinically tested ingredients. Dr. Jart+'s Premium BB Beauty Balm is a renowned foundation alternative that contains SPF 40 to protect the skin from harsh UV rays. Some users actually prefer BB cream to foundation, noting that it has a velvety, natural finish that wears beautifully throughout the day.


Remember to keep your brushes and tools clean

Makeup isn't the only cause of imperfections and breakouts — the tools you use to apply and remove cosmetics can also play a role in your skin's health. Life gets busy, and while not ideal, it isn't unheard of to reuse tools like brushes. However, this bad habit can pose serious problems for your skin. "Buildup of dirt and oils on your makeup brushes can cause acne breakouts and possibly rashes called dermatitis," dermatology specialist Cristina Monaco tells Elle. Even lightly used brushes hold onto a significant amount of bacteria, which can wreak havoc on your complexion. Plus, you're depositing the same germs from your brush onto the surface of your makeup, which can be challenging to disinfect. To avoid contamination and reduce the risk of irritation or acne, ensure you routinely wash your brushes with a mild soap like Johnson's No More Tears Baby Shampoo.


When you take off your makeup at night, chances are that you use reusable washcloths or pads to swipe off stubborn products. They work well, but there's one catch: you need to regularly clean them in order to keep your skin looking its best. Towels, like makeup brushes, are breeding grounds for pathogens, so make sure to throw them in the wash between uses to prevent breakouts and infections. One last thing: if you're serious about best skincare practices, don't use your fingers to scoop out skincare products like night creams. Instead, opt for a clean mini spatula or cotton swab to apply jarred formulas. This way, you'll save product and keep your skin clear.

How to continue wearing minimal makeup

Going bare-faced can be a liberating experience for many. If you love your skin's new look, you may want to continue the natural route well after your experimentation ends. Take note of what you learned about your complexion, and use this newfound knowledge to make adjustments to your regimen. More often than not, those who go makeup-free discover their true skin type may not be what they initially thought. "Most people are wrong when they guess their skin type. They're [unsure] whether they're oily or dry and if they have sensitive skin," Dr. Leslie Baumann tells Today


Whether or not you choose to keep up the makeup-free lifestyle, you don't need many products in your arsenal to promote healthy skin. Outside of staples like cleansers and moisturizers, you'll want to keep a tinted moisturizer or BB cream on hand for situations where you want more coverage. Above all, one thing's for sure: the right sunscreen is a necessary part of any routine, regardless of your skin type.