Betrayed by the Cleanse
Raise your hand if you‘ve been fooled by a detox
Our obsession with flawless skin is nothing new. A clear, glowing complexion has been in demand for millennia. Even the Roman poet Ovid weighed in on products: Libyan barley, raw eggs, and stag antlers are some of his more bearable suggestions. This preoccupation has reached a fever pitch with the influx of K-beauty products now available in the Western market, which has us all searching for the perfect cream or serum that will eradicate our acne once and for all, while simultaneously making us so dewy that if the sun hits us just right, we could start a fire.
However, most of us are victims of our toxic environment: living in heavily-polluted cities, or spending too many late nights out with one drink too many can leave us with dull, congested skin. Or the worst offender: terrible popular advice that many of us hold as gospel. I’m sure you’ve all heard about coconut oil being the end all for perfect skin, and if it works for you, great. But for many, coconut oil does nothing more than sit on top of the skin and clog pores. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for popular, but imprecise, skincare advice.
It comes as no surprise that one of the most popular concerns in skincare is the “detox.” That one miracle tea, mask, or juice cleanse that will magically rid our bodies of all toxins, revealing preternaturally beautiful skin. I know, because I was trying them all. At 24, my skin, which had been blemish-free even during high school, began to break out horribly. I was developing the kind of acne that you might expect to see on a teen in the midst of puberty.
Desperate to retain my favorite physical feature, I went to a spa that charged an entire income tax return. There the esthetician looked at my skin under an illuminated magnifying glass and told me that my skin was congested, dehydrated, and other cringe-worthy adjectives. She informed me that I was over-stripping my skin with harsh cleansers, flooding my skin with too much oil, and completely throwing off its pH balance. She was amazed that I hadn’t broken out sooner. I told her about the skin detox teas I was trying and all the water I was guzzling on the daily. She flatly informed me that I was wasting my time.
My esthetician put me on a new (ridiculously priced) routine, and I’m happy to announce that I’m seeing improvements in leaps and bounds. I only wish I would’ve known all of this sooner, as it would have saved me from so many expensive treatments. So, I’m taking it upon myself to de-mystify the detox and clear up some common misconceptions, and most importantly, find out what does work, so you can get the kind of skin that Ovid would have killed a stag for.
The number one thing you’re going to see touted as the cure all for problem skin is water. Unfortunately, water will not give you perfect skin and it’s time to lay this myth to rest. Dermatologists and estheticians will vouch for me here; water will not magically clear your complexion, it’ll just make you pee a lot. I know the beautiful girls who run fitness blogs on Tumblr told you that good ol’ H2O is their secret, but the reality is genetics probably play a bigger role in their faultless skin than they're willing to admit. Upping your water intake may make you feel better and add to your overall health, which could lead to you looking better, but the truth is unless you’re very dehydrated, water is not going to fix much.
Cleanses, like detox teas or juice diets, won’t do it either. Detox products usually just send you on urgent bathroom trips, and that’s about it. Your liver and kidneys are already pushing out as many toxins as they can, so the cleanse you bought at the health food store down the street is just going to irritate your bowels. You might lose a few pounds, but you’ll also become dehydrated, which will make you look and feel worse.
Also, don’t fall for products claiming they only need to be used once or for one week to see significant results. I’ve seen everything from bath salts to pills advertised to deliver results this quickly, and it just doesn’t work like that. If your skin is congested and full of blemishes, it’s not going to be saved by doing a single treatment, or applying some “miracle product” one time. Your skin is an organ, and the skin you can see and touch is made up of layered dead skin cells. There is no way to improve a dead cell. To see improvement, you’ve got to wait for the cells to renew themselves, and travel from the lowest level of the epidermis up to the top. These changes in the skin can take up to 30 days, and even longer once we’ve reached middle age. But don’t get discouraged that results may take a few months. You’re giving your skin time to recover and lavishing it with attention, and constant TLC is the most important part of a purifying skincare routine.
So after the bubble has been burst and you learn that half of what you’ve been taught about how to care for your skin is a lie, it’s time to start fresh with what does work.
Antioxidants are a great start, since antioxidants help fight inflammation caused by free radicals, increase collagen production, and can even help with hyperpigmentation. Antioxidants can be found in tons of products, from moisturizers, to sunscreens, even serums and some foundations. They can act as your skin’s first barrier from damage, and can help prevent certain skin issues from getting even worse.
If you’ve already got something going on with your skin that you want rectified (or if you want to get serious about preserving what you’ve got) you may want to consider retinol. Retinol is a form of Vitamin A and is often considered the Queen of Skincare, since she can do just about anything. Retinol speeds up cellular turnover, helps diminish acne, plumps fine lines and wrinkles, and increases natural collagen production. There are tons of over the counter options, ranging from Neutrogena to Perricone, but if you’re insured to see a dermatologist, getting a prescription for a retinol can be one of the best things you do. Some scripts can cost you as little as $7, whereas the over-the-counter (OTC) products can range from $50 to over $200. Don’t think just because one product at Blue Mercury is really expensive that it is somehow more effective. At the end of the day, the OTC treatments are just replacements for the good stuff a doctor can prescribe.
And don’t be afraid of acids. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) sound harsh and scary, but once you start using them, you’ll never go back. AHAs help detach the dead skin cells that make your skin look dull and lackluster, exposing dewy, fresh skin. Look for products containing glycolic, lactic, or mandelic acids, as these are the most popular AHAs. BHAs help clean out congested pores, making them great for someone who suffers from constant or stubborn acne. The most common BHA is salicylic, often ranging in intensity from 0.5% to 2% over the counter. BHAs can be drying, so make sure to moisturize well after using them to ensure that your skin doesn’t overproduce sebum to compensate leading to more pimples.
When putting new, powerhouse products into your routine, don’t be too concerned if you go through the dreaded Purge. I didn’t believe purging was a real thing until I started using a certain cult classic toner. If I thought my skin was bad before, I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. My whole chin was littered with small, clogged bumps, and when one left, it felt like two more took its place. But after three weeks, the clouds cleared and I was greeted by the clearest skin I had seen in months. Even people at work noticed, commenting on how clear and glowing my skin had become. However, don’t confuse a purge with a reaction. Purging will often look like several small blemishes that come to a head relatively quickly, and will usually be present on a part of your face already prone to breakouts. A reaction, on the other hand, is when the product itself isn’t compatible with your skin. This can result in redness, itchiness, hives, or pimples on parts of the face that you usually don’t breakout. To test if the product will give you a reaction, place a bit of it behind the ear or in the crook of your elbow. Wait about 15 minutes and if nothing happens, the chances of you reacting to the product are minimal.
Just typing in detox into the Sephora search bar will return some great results if you’re looking for things to try, and you want to try some next-level detox products, you might want to take the splurge for Biologique Recherche’s cult P50 toner. It’s the product that gets whispered about by people in-the-know and has been called “Jesus in a Bottle” by others. It smells like burning wires and leaves your skin cherry apple red, but after that goes down, prepare to see the clearest, brightest skin you’ve ever had in your life. It’s full of acne fighters, brightening agents, and a very potent vinegar extract and if there’s anything on your skin that’s not supposed to be there, this will obliterate it with an accompanying delicious (masochistic?) cold burn. I’m completely obsessed with it and have been converting everyone who gives me ten minutes of their time. And if you’re very adventurous, try a tub of placenta cream! Yes, you’ll be slathering afterbirth all over your face, but you’ll also be glowing and fading those annoying post-acne marks. There’s not a ton of evidence suggesting that placenta is great for skin, but from personal experience and from asking many people with freakishly clear skin what they use, I’m willing to throw my money at it.
Certain lifestyle changes can help as well. Whereas excess water has not been shown to drastically improve your skin, evidence does suggest that cutting down on dairy and sugar will, as both can lead to inflammation and the overproduction of oil.
It’s a lot to take in, but once you find your footing in skincare, the benefits are many. But it’s time we take a step back from products that have little to offer other than taglines, and get involved with some tried and true ingredients. A super charged, consistent routine coupled with some minor lifestyle changes and patience and eventually you’ll be able to take that hungover no-makeup selfie of your dreams. Which is good, because if I’ve got to cut back on dairy and sugar, I’m definitely keeping my other vices.