How your skin responds when you go makeup free for a week, month and a year

One day of wearing no makeup can give your complexion a chance to perform better, and one year sees it hydrated, smooth and radiant. 

We’re a few weeks in to the joy that is self-isolating and physically distancing ourselves from others, we’re slowly getting the hang of working from home and taking this opportunity to indulge in some beauty gains including self-care and turning our usual commute time into the luxurious wellness routines we’ve always dreamt about.

By now it’s likely you’re going bare-faced and you could even be reaping the rewards of wearing no makeup already. Here, our experts take us through what happens when you switch foundation for face cream for one day to one year, so you can take your new low-maintenance routine back into the real world post-coronavirus.

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A day

You’ve heard about letting your skin ‘breathe’, but what exactly does that mean? According to Skin Therapist Robyn McAlpine a day free of makeup is ideal for skin health, and gives skin the chance to recalibrate. “Makeup (like primer or longwear formulas applied to the skin) can be occlusive, these ingredients disrupt skin and are linked to dryness, oiliness, redness and congestion,” she explains.

Occlusives act as a barrier over skin which can interfere with its reaction to humidity, weather and pollution which can make your skin unable to react to the climate it’s in.

“When we wear makeup our skin’s inbuilt communication system is hindered. Our cells cannot as easily adjust to humidity levels and what’s happening in the environment around us and this has an impact on how your skin functions,” says McAlpine. “A day without makeup allows for our skin to get a glimpse of what it needs to do to perform at its best.”

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, it affects more than just the surface of the skin. “Makeup in general introduces ‘chemicals’ straight into the bloodstream from the skin, some of these ingredients can alter hormones resulting in acne, blemishes, blocked pores and blackheads,” explains Chinese medicine practitioner Irene Prantalos.

“These effects really depend on how a person cleanses and cares for their skin. A day of not wearing makeup will mean the skin is naturally rejuvenating as it always does during sleep,” she says.

Don’t be surprised if your skin might look worse. The rejuvenation and detoxification process means skin may start to ‘purge’, leading to breakouts and inflammation.

A week

From here it really depends on your own unique skin and the amount and type of makeup you regularly use. You may notice an imbalance in your skin as it starts to ‘detox’. “Signs of imbalanced skin conditions may show up as signs of an unbalanced sebum production. Irritating cosmetic ingredients perhaps contained in makeup can sometimes mask certain skin issues or may have kept them at bay,” explains Skin Expert Amy Erbacher.

On the other hand, skin will start to look better. “If you have congestion, a week without make up can be the turning point in clearing up underlying congestion and allowing recent breakouts to heal quicker,” says McAlpine. “Makeup ingredients can be quite occlusive and clog and congest our skin. Going a week without adding any extra stress on our cells through makeup that might not be skin-friendly will have your skin beginning to function in a healthy way.”

If your skin is prone to irritation or inflammation you may start to see it clear up as it comes into less contact with potentially aggravating ingredients found in your makeup kit – or brushes.

A month

Your skin cell life-cycle ranges from 28 to 35 days, meaning that it takes about a month for new, refreshed skin to come to the surface. This is where you’ll see real results – and all of our experts agree. “It’s a great chance to see your true skin issues and to see the natural balance of your skin health,” says Erbacher.

“Over this period of time, the cells gradually move through the layers of the epidermis until they reach the top. It is within this period of time the most benefit will be seen in the first month,” explains Prantalos.

McAlpine also agrees, “This is where your skin can do a complete 180. Without the interference of congesting makeup ingredients, you will see improvements that you never realised could be linked to your makeup. After a month you will have a smoother skin texture, a more balanced oil flow and less redness and irritation,” she says.

If you’re prone to conditions like rosacea you’re likely to notice your complexion has calmed down, thanks to a healthier skin barrier function. “Over-cleansing would have been likely as you’re wanting to remove makeup, which can lead to stripping the skin and a compromised barrier,” says Erbacher. Opting for gentler cleansers and less washing means your complexion can strengthen to protect any hydration-loss and from external triggers.

A year

Healthy skin means you’ll have no reason to wear makeup – instead, you’ll want to show it off. But aside from what your skin looks like, you’ll be able to understand why it looks the way it does. “By this time you’ll understand and be more confident with your skin condition and overall skin health,” explains Erbacher.

“Hopefully you’ll have implemented a good skincare regime (clean, hydrated and protected) which helps maintains a healthy stratum corneum. Time away from daily makeup application means you can understand your skin and observe how it behaves and its triggers.”

Your complexion will begin to do a lot of the heavy lifting itself here, too. “Skin can focus on recalibrating and the natural skin cell life-cycle instead of the interruption from unhealthy makeup ingredients that disrupt this natural system,” says McAlpine. “Your skin will be much better at regulating oil flow, balancing out skin hydration and even be able to better regulate its own natural exfoliating cycle, too.”

From a TCM standpoint, your skin will continue to rejuvenate itself – but your lifestyle is a big factor in how it looks and feels, too. “There are many elements that impact its health such as your diet, emotions, change in hormones, exterior environment (weather, pollutants, topicals), illness and so on,” explains Prantalos.

“If a person is relaxed in their emotions and has an anti-inflammatory diet and exercises regularly you will notice the skin start to glow, the texture and the tone will become smooth and there are less likely to be comedones (blocked pores) which means clearer looking skin.”

Don’t be put off by never wearing makeup again, though. “The most important thing with makeup is on the days you do choose to wear it, that you’re ensuring to thoroughly cleanse it from your skin at the end of each day before going to bed,” says McAlpine. “The heavier and fuller the makeup coverage, the more effort is required in removing it. The less over cleansing of the skin, the better which means improved skin health overall.”

Our experts: Amy Erbacher is one of Australia’s leading skin and wellbeing practitioners’ and has a skincare line of the same name. Irene Prantalos, Chinese Medicine Practitioner, accredited Acupuncturist and Founder of Salubre Skincare and Clinic and Robyn McAlpine is the founder of Skintifix , author of Skinside Out ($69.10, at Booktopia) and a Dermaviduals Ambassador.

More essential coronavirus reading:

Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.