As a beauty editor, I’m constantly being told one very hard and fast rule by makeup artists and skin care experts: Wash your face twice a day. This is quickly followed by the second rule, which is that you should never, ever, ever go to sleep with makeup on your face. While I’ve tried every skin care product from cleansing oils to at-home glycolic acid peels, I was curious about what would happen if I gave up washing my face — for three whole weeks.
To give you a bit of background, I have what’s considered a “normal” skin type (not dry, not oily). During the three weeks I skipped washing my face I also stopped wearing makeup. This way, it wasn’t like makeup was sticking around on my skin for three weeks, I just had a “clean” slate. When I was in the shower, I’d splash my face with water, and once a day I’d apply a moisturizer to keep my skin hydrated. There was no point in the 21 days when I used any kind of cleanser or face wash on my skin. As for what really happened to my face, read on below.
I didn’t break out: While I have normal skin and occasionally have acne, I only had one small blemish during the three weeks, and it only lasted about two days. I was hyperaware of my skin during the three weeks, so I made sure to keep my hands off of my face to avoid any excess bacteria and oils that could lead to acne.
My skin dried out: Partially because there wasn’t any exfoliation happening and partially because it’s summer, and all I used to “remove” dirt and sweat at the end of the day was warm water, my skin got much more dry while I wasn’t using a cleanser.
The texture was the biggest change: When you don’t wash or exfoliate your skin, a layer of dead skin builds at the surface, and after three weeks of that skin sitting on top of your face, the texture really begins to change. After the first 15 days, my skin was dry and rough, whereas on a regular basis, it’s very smooth and even. Even now, after going back to a regular cleansing routine for about a week, my skin still isn’t back to the original texture.
My skin stopped absorbing moisturizer: Due to the texture change, my skin stopped absorbing any kind of moisturizer I was using. Whether it was a gel, a cream, a serum, or a lotion — believe me, I tried everything — my texture had become so coarse that it wouldn’t even take in anything I was using to help put some hydration back in.
The biggest takeaway: Though I’ve tried just about every kind of skin care product on the market, after 21 days without washing my face, I learned that for my own skin, the most important product I can use is actually an exfoliator. Sloughing away that top dead layer is so important, and while I’ll still be using a daily cleanser in my routine, I’m much more in tune with how necessary it is to exfoliate on a regular basis. My skin didn’t break out, but the texture changed, which is what I’ll focus on with my skin care routine for the foreseeable future. The experts are correct. Wash your face twice a day, and never, ever go to sleep without taking your makeup off first.
Photographer: Rolando Robinson