Back in March when all of this craziness was just starting, I was mindlessly scrolling Instagram (the way all good stories start these days) when I saw about 15 different influencers posting things like: “Social distancing = letting my skin chill until further notice,” and “at least my makeup-free face will be able to ~detox~ during quarantine!” and “the upside to weeks of isolation? Not wearing makeup and giving my skin a break.” I loved the idea.
Because even though I know my face is a pretty insignificant thing to think about in a pandemic, I also think it’s normal to wonder how our skin will change as a result of all this bare-faced social distancing. So I decided to do a little experiment with myself: I wouldn’t wear any makeup for two whole months (!!!) to see if going makeup-free would make my pores smaller, my breakouts less frequent, and my redness and melasma a little less noticeable.
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Fast-forward two long months full of banana bread, CNN alerts, and zero makeup, and guess what? My skin literally looked exactly the same. Same pores, same breakouts, same redness and melasma. My no-makeup experiment had zero impact on my skin. Umm, WTF? So I went to the experts, hands in the air, and got some answers on the whole “clean skin” thing.
Truth: Bare skin doesn’t automatically mean healthier skin
I know this sounds crazy, but most makeup isn’t intrinsically “bad” for your skin. “So many foundations and even blushes and highlighters have skincare benefits now,” says dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD. “Hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, niacinamide, SPF—some makeup ingredients can actually do wonders when it comes to hydrating, smoothing, and clarifying your skin.”
Makeup also forms a protective barrier on your face, kind of like an insurance policy against pollution and dirt. And its iron oxides (the stuff that gives most tinted moisturizers and other products their color) are one of the best ingredients out there for shielding skin from the inflammatory effects of blue light (aka the visible glow emitted from phones, tablets, and laptops that leads to inflammation and premature aging), says Dr. Marchbein. Also important: Most face makeup contains some sort of SPF, which is clutch for protecting your skin from the aging effects of UVA and UVB rays.
I know that sounds like a lot of…layers, and you’re probs saying, “But doesn’t my skin just need to breeeathe?” Okay, but skin doesn’t actually “breathe,” and for the record, it doesn’t “detox” either (that’s your liver’s job). It can get dry, congested, or irritated though, which is why it’s so important to use makeup that’s designed for your skin type and free of oils, fragrance, and formaldehyde, says dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD.
So if you’re wearing the right kind, makeup can actually help your skin—during the day, at least. At night, having anything but clean skin can be hugely detrimental. “That’s when skin renews and regenerates itself, and makeup impedes that critical process,” says Dr. Rabach. So pls remember to wash it off before bed (check out my favorite cleansing oils and face washes, below).
If you just can’t bring yourself to consistently wash your face and remove your makeup—and I get it, I really do—then it’s true that for you, going bare during the day is going to be better for your skin in the long run.
The bad news, as my experiment proved, is that going makeup-free isn’t a one-size-fits-all secret recipe for glowy-ass bb skin. The good news is that if you want to continue to live your best life in a full beat on your couch, go right ahead. And TL;DR: Just make sure your makeup is formulated to work with your skin type—and you ALWAYS wash it off before bed. Now you have one less thing to wonder about during these wild times.