Growing up in South Florida (with three brothers, I might add), I never wore makeup. I played a ton of sports, which meant my waking hours outside of school activities were typically spent playing sports — sweating. Plus, the average temperature year-round and humidity rarely dipped below 80 degrees (again, lots of sweating). Even if I wasn’t running around chasing a soccer ball, I didn’t feel like foundation dripping down my face was a good look. When attending college in northern Florida, I only wore a little makeup for special occasions, like parties or going out.
Yet, fast forward to present day and post-grad, adult me — who lives in New York City — wears makeup regularly. If I’m staying home, running errands, or working out, my face is bare. However, if I’m working and attending events, going to meetings, or out with friends, my makeup regimen is in full force. It involves foundation, blush or bronzer, eyeshadow, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner, and mascara. In short, about five days a week my face is done up. Since I hadn’t gone makeup-free for a significant amount of time in more than a decade, I was curious if giving it up would change my skin.
Although the products I use aren’t super heavy, Howard Sobel, MD, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon in Manhattan, offered me some insight. “Even if you are using natural cosmetics, taking a break from heavy makeup from time to time can certainly give you a healthier, cleaner-feeling complexion.” That was convincing enough to get me to challenge myself and ditch my regular makeup routine.
In early October, I decided to give up makeup for 30 days. Hear me out: I’m not anti-cosmetics, and I certainly do not have a perfect complexion. As someone who applies pigmented liquids and powders to her face daily, I figured my skin could use a break from wearing a ton of products every day. Instead of lessening the amount of stuff I apply every morning, I made a pact to go cold turkey and completely abandon my makeup bag for a month. (See ya!)
Before embarking on my journey, I told (or warned!) friends and co-workers about my makeup-free commitment. Some weren’t surprised, given my affinity for month-long experiments. Nearly all were supportive, and some were perplexed. A few dropped their jaws with widened eyes and told me I was “brave.” (Thanks, guys, I think?)
Although I surely wasn’t setting out for a badge of honor — or any sort of verbal/emotional reaction from others — I was dying to know how leaving behind my makeup brushes, eyeshadow pallets, and pencils would impact my skin. And so, on that evening in early October, I removed my makeup one last time. My journey promptly began.
My Skincare Routine
It’s important to note that I was still sticking to my usual skincare regimen. Especially without foundation to cover up skin inconsistencies, I needed to be on top of my routine — which I personally think is pretty simple, anyway!
On most mornings, I cleanse using The Inkey ListTM Salicylic Acid Cleanser or Hop & CottonTM The Foam PartyTM, apply dapsone (a prescription topical for acne), and then add a moisturizer, usually either CeraVe® Daily Moisturizing Lotion or Hop & Cotton The Makeover moisturizer.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Week One, Day One: I started my challenge on a Friday and woke up at my usual time (7 a.m.). I soon realized I had an extra 30-minute window of free time, which would otherwise be spent applying my makeup. After that initial morning, I added an extra half-hour of sleep to my routine. I decided that in the name of boosting my results (and in lieu of all the cosmetics I’d usually wear), I’d add a beauty treatment to my regimen to keep my skin as pristine as possible.
Week Two: I visited Joanna Vargas in New York City for her signature Triple Crown FacialTM, equipped with microdermabrasion, microcurrent, and oxygen-infused therapy (no extractions). I walked out 60 minutes later with a smooth glow, and feeling like my cheekbones were a little higher.
Throughout my month, I carried on with my days (and nights) sans makeup. This included, but was not limited to, my time in the office, at meetings, out with friends at dinner or the movies, especially at workouts, and during dates with my boyfriend.
The one-and-only time I reverted back and used the contents of my makeup bag was halfway through my challenge. I wore a full face of products for a public-facing nutrition panel I was moderating. Although I don’t think it made a major difference in my demeanor or my presentation, for three hours I took a hiatus from my pact. (Side note: at this stage, my boyfriend barely noticed.)
Between weeks two and three, I started breaking out on the right side of my face. I wasn’t any more stressed than usual, and my skincare regimen was still strong. I had taken two hot yoga classes, though, and I can assume my skin was purging some toxins.
Week Three: If there’s one must-have product I missed wearing, it was mascara. To work around my “no makeup” rule, I went to Envious Lashes® in Midtown Manhattan and had custom lash extensions applied (which took about one hour).
When I left the salon, I instantly felt more put-together. My eyelashes aren’t thinning or light, by any means, but the application certainly opened up my eyes and made me appear more awake and alert.
Because I was having my lashes professionally done for the first time, I learned some general rules, including that I was not allowed to apply mascara to my new extensions. Seeing as I was restricting myself from makeup altogether, this proved to be a cinch.
Week Four: As my last full week of makeup-free life was coming to a close, there was one thing I couldn’t hide, no matter how on-point I kept my skincare routine: my pores. I wasn’t obsessing over them, but did want to try to make them less obvious.
I visited Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at New York City’s Schweiger Dermatology Group℠ for a round of Laser GenesisTM. The non-invasive treatment felt like a little bit of heat was being applied to my skin (but nothing crazy hot). The treatment, known for targeting light acne scars and evening skin tone, left my pores looking smaller in fewer than 15 minutes, with no downtime. I wished I had done it sooner!
During my 30-day challenge, I realized I still functioned as my normal, social self. I didn’t feel less confident or self-conscious without my makeup. Surprisingly, no one really cared about my lack of makeup either. I wasn’t shamed or made to feel uncomfortable even once. I never felt like I was being disrespectful by not putting on a face for an audience of friends or co-workers, nor did I have the urge to explain myself (unless someone asked me what stories I was currently researching and writing). Most signs pointed to a simple conclusion: maybe I didn’t need to wear makeup so frequently.
I ended up sleeping more (or having more time to get ready) before leaving my apartment. I realized that I actually looked at myself in the mirror fewer times during the day, coincidentally, and I had less inclination to examine my face in the bathroom mirror knowing I wouldn’t be able to cover any red marks with cosmetics. I also felt relieved at night knowing I didn’t need to remove all of my makeup before washing my face and rolling into bed. Sleep procrastination is a real thing, and when it comes to removing makeup, it often keeps me from turning in for the night.
To boot, I noticed I was touching my face less often — perhaps because I realized there wasn’t any barrier (except for my moisturizer and SPF) between my fingertips and my skin. With the exception of my breakout between weeks two and three, my skin was clearer than it had been in previous months.
Despite my personal findings, it turns out there are benefits to wearing makeup — especially for the component of sun protection. Truth be told: I rely on my IT CosmeticsTM Confidence in a Compact® Foundation with SPF 50 ($38), and I forgot to apply sunscreen many days during my challenge. “There are many cosmetic brands that use antioxidant-rich, healthy ingredients, as well as SPF that will help improve the state of your skin, while giving you a multitude of anti-aging and sun protection benefits,” Dr. Sobel explained. “It’s all about finding the right combination for your skin.”
While I briefly considered giving up makeup on a more regular basis (maybe not 30 straight days, but perhaps a few more times each week), I vowed to consider what I was putting on my face each and every day. I think a good jumping off point — and dare I say, my next challenge? — is to find products with better-for-me ingredients, so I can continue wearing makeup but lessen damage.
I also realized that regardless of what I’m applying, taking it all off and thoroughly cleansing the application tools are musts. For anyone who isn’t ready to go makeup-free for one month, or even for a few days, a less drastic change might be allotting a reoccuring time on the calendar to clean brushes and sponges. I cleanse my tools pretty often, but not every day.
Dr. Sobel had some immediate suggestions to encourage my epifanies. “Look for paraben-free, non-comedogenic products with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin C, which give you immediate healthy skin benefits that work to hydrate, brighten, and replenish the skin,” he told me. “Most foundation and tinted moisturizers now come with an SPF of 30 or higher, which is an excellent choice and will help keep your skin protected from the sun.”
While I’d rather be doing (mostly) anything but scrubbing makeup tools, he also agreed that it’s vital for healthy skin. “Most people don’t realize that you need to ideally clean your makeup tools on a weekly basis in order to prevent bacteria buildup, which can ultimately lead to problematic skin conditions,” said Dr. Sobel. “Makeup brush hairs and sponges are very porous and trap dirt, debris, and oil, therefore the more often you clean them the better, even if it’s only once a month.” (Discover more tips for cleaning your brushes here.)
As my makeup-free days officially came to a close, I pulled out the cosmetics bag I had briefly abandoned. As I rummaged inside, remembering times of yester-month, I put my makeup brushes to the side for a rinse. I quickly tossed away some of my products; some needed to be upgraded to items containing better ingredients. Others, I realized, I may never need to wear again.
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