Does Your Skin-Care Routine Need a Product Diet?

Does Your Skin-Care Routine Need a Product Diet? featured image
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

When it comes to good skin, is going on a skin-care product diet the way to go? We asked the experts to weigh in on the trend and when it’s time to reduce what you’re using.

Gone are the days of 12-plus step skin-care routines, and in their place come straightforward, streamlined regimens that are a back-to-basics approach and void of unnecessary fluff. But, even if you follow a pared-down approach to tackling daily skin health, is there ever a time to go one step further and strictly narrow down what you use on your face for a short period? Some experts say yes.

Skin-care product diets started in Korea when dermatologists overseas began suggesting them as a way for those experiencing extreme redness, breakouts, and inflammation as a way of pinpointing the aggressors and safely weaning them out of their routines. The result: clearer, healthier, more glowy skin. And now the practice has made its way stateside.

Do you need a skin-care product diet?

The idea behind a skin-care product diet is that giving the skin a break allows it to rebuild its stratum corneum while decreasing irritation and inflammation. “Multistep product routines increase the risk of breakouts, allergic reactions and skin irritations,” says Louisville, KY dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD.

An overload of unnecessary ingredients can trigger inflammation and break down the protective barrier, affecting the skin’s balance and pH levels, resulting in blemishes, redness, rashes, and sensitivities. In addition, using too many unnecessary actives for too long can damage the skin. “One theory is the prevalence of rosacea may be increased from the multiple ingredients people are using, which causes skin sensitivity,” says New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD. “It is best to keep a regimen to a few effective products.”

But if your skin is healthy and clear, New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD says product dieting isn’t necessary. “It’s only something to consider if you are experiencing a problem or not responding to the products you are using,” she forewarns. “Otherwise, in my opinion, there’s no reason to do it.”

How it works:

Most of us don’t live our lives following a stringent food diet every day, and the same goes for product dieting—it’s not a long-term solution. Instead, a less-is-more approach is a more sustainable option. Dr. Buss Cassis likens product dieting to a modern-day version of an elimination diet. “It is the same idea,” she says. “By eliminating certain products and identifying the problems, you can see what works best for you and then slowly add them back into your routine, if necessary.”

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: If you have a skin-related problem, stop using everything, minus a bland cleanser and moisturizer, says Dr. Day. “That means no products with fragrances, sulfates, acids, or exfoliating agents.”

Step 2: Thoroughly clean your makeup brushes and take into account every potential source that may be irritating your skin. Skin-care products aren’t the only reason for upset skin—diet, genetics, age, and things like menopause also affect the skin.

Step 3: Keep a list of every product eliminated and slowly add them back one at a time. “Do it in order of what means the most to you, so if it’s a brightening product, start with that and go from there,” Dr. Day advises.

Step 4: Every two weeks, add in something new and assess how the skin handles the integration of an additional product. Anything irritating will be noticeable—eliminate it from your routine.

Step 5: “On average, it takes four to six weeks to see a difference in the skin from changing the products in your routine,” Dr. Levine shares

3 reasons for going minimalistic

More than just a fleeting trend, these reasons are justification enough for bringing it back to basics.

  1. Product interaction is one reason why it’s never a good idea to pile on everything that exists in your medicine cabinet. “Some ingredients work against each other or interfere with the absorption of other products, which leads to lesser efficacy,” Dr. Levine says.
  2. You may think you’re doing something good for your skin by piling on a dozen products, but that can make it worse. Dr. Levine says that most barrier damage results from harsh products, which leaves the skin void of its natural oils. “With the barrier stripped, the skin can’t properly safeguard itself against harmful external aggressors or pollutants, making it more susceptible to damage and premature aging,” she adds.
  3. Aggressive exfoliation is never your friend. “Chemical and physical exfoliation is excellent for getting rid of dead skin cells and promoting cell turnover. But overdoing it causes red, irritated skin and increases the risk of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Buss Cassis. “It takes time to figure out what is best for your skin, and a board-certified dermatologist can help determine the best ways to exfoliate.”

The skin diet shopping list:

The key to generating a positive result comes down to using just three products—cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen. Look for ones with succinct, easy-to-pronounce ingredient lists, no harsh actives, fillers, synthetics, or artificial fragrances.

Cleansers are the cornerstone of a good routine, and a clean slate sets the tone for what’s to come. Opt for a gentle one that is free of alpha- or betahydroxy acids and other exfoliating agents. Oil cleansers work, too, especially if double cleansing (yes, it’s allowed on a diet).

Unless your skin is inherently dry, bypass super-thick creams for lighter ones. Press ‘add to cart’ on anything with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E. When skin lacks moisture, it cannot perform regular cellular functions.

Left to right: OLEHENRIKSEN Strength Trainer Peptide Boost Moisturizer ($48), Glow Recipe Plum Plump Hyaluronic Cream ($39), Boscia Plant Stem Cell and Ceramide Barrier-Defense Moisturizer ($42)

Daily sun protection is a given whether product dieting or not. “There are some products that you never want to give up, like SPF, which is essential for protecting the skin,” Dr. Day shares. Swap absorbed sunscreens for mineral versions, which are less irritating to sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Left to right: Tower 28 SunnyDays Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Tinted Sunscreen Foundation ($30), Glo Skin Beauty C-Shield Anti-Pollution Moisture Tint ($47), Glytone Age Defense UV Mineral Sunscreen Serum Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($38)

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