Does your skin ever feel like it’s holding onto anything and everything, like dirt, oil, toxins, a buildup of dead skin cells, and products that leave it looking dull and like your products are doing little if anything? When you want to create a clean slate, consider a skin detox, which is a longer-term deep removal of lodged toxins (substances and chemicals emitted from pollution, environmental factors, and even some products that irritate, inflame, and sensitize the skin) in and on the skin. As Julie Pipolo, licensed medical aesthetician and owner of Skin Westchester, explains, toxins destroy the skin’s natural lipid barrier and compromise its repair and defense mechanisms. “Once this process starts, the skin will react through accelerated pigment, excessive sebum, rosacea, and skin sensitivities on the surface,” she adds. That’s why it’s essential to do a skin reset now and then to purify the skin thoroughly.
The skin is the first line of defense against toxins, environmental aggressors, the sun, pollution, germs, bacteria, and more. For that reason, it is constantly fighting off free radicals, damaging toxins, and anything else that can potentially impair it, which is why antioxidants should be a staple in every skincare routine. But unfortunately, even some of the daily products we use on the skin can unknowingly be problematic. “This includes some deodorants, most perfumes, which are very toxic and filled with hundreds of hidden carcinogens, and even some oils that are loaded with synthetic fragrance,” says esthetician Amber Rose Johnson of Facial Lounge.
If you’re going to set your skin into a serious clean-out mode, there are a few things to know before you get going so that you can clarify the skin the right way.
- Our skin is our largest organ, and it naturally detoxifies itself. “The skin is very smart, and it is constantly turning over cells to produce new ones that replace existing skin cells. Cell turnover is vital in keeping skin smooth and healthy,” says Johnson.
- Go through all the ingredients you routinely put on your skin and stick with products that help to purify. Johnson says purifying agents are essential, as are eliminating toxins. “Use products without formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, parabens, synthetic colors and dyes, coal tar dyes: p-phenylenediamine and colors listed as “CI” followed by a five-digit number,” she advises.
- Incorporate specific cleansers, exfoliators, and masks that can help remove extra build-up on the skin’s surface, like dirt, dead skin cells, and sebum. Pipolo explains that these products are critical since the skin cannot physically purge environmental toxins through the pores. It’s also a good idea to switch up your daily cleanser to one that has detoxifying and impurity-removing benefits. We like using Sunday Riley Charcoal Smoothie Jelly Body Scrub from the neck down and Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser from the neck up.
- Give your skin the time it needs. Dr. Diane C. Madfes, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, recommends doing a two-week ‘washout period’ of your current skincare products as a way to detox the skin from the inside out. Regular skin cell rejuvenation takes about 28 days, and during this time, “the goal is to have minimal inflammation allowing the cells to regenerate properly,” she says.
The Best Detoxifying Ingredients
There are dozens of ingredients that have detoxifying properties. Still, some of the most tried-and-true ones include microalgae and, as Pipolo says, combats free radicals and protect against premature aging. Also, on her stockpile list includes volcanic zeolites, crystal silicates that remove dirt and impurities, and mushroom-derived ergothioneine, which protects against ozone, pollution, and free radical damage. “It also produces more energy in the cell to create more oxygen in the skin,” she says.
Another effective skin detoxifying DIY solution is a mix of apple cider vinegar and Aztec clay, which Johnson says is bentonite clay. “It’s important to add antioxidants to the skin, and you can do this quick body detoxifier once a week,” she says.
The Skin Detox Steps to Follow
During a skin detox, it’s essential to use fewer ingredients on the skin and follow a simple skincare routine that involves the following steps:
1. Cleanse: You don’t need to go aggressive here. Dr. Madfes says it’s best to use a gentle cleanser and wash twice daily to remove dead skin cells without stripping the lipid layer. “Proper cleansing is incredibly important because our environment has many irritants,” adds Pipolo.
One to use: Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser
2. Mask: To further cleanse the skin, incorporate a regular mask with some detoxifying or purging ingredients.
One to try: Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask
3. Exfoliation: Exfoliating the skin without harsh abrasive ingredients is a sure-fire way to remove a build-up of dead skin cells and product buildup on the skin’s surface. Dr. Madfes likes clays and charcoal to help reset the skin, but gentle exfoliating acids work, too. Pipolo says that proper exfoliation always needs to be done safely. “Again, not all skin is the same, so some need weekly exfoliation while others need it bi-weekly — it all depends on the skin.” Follow up with a lightweight hyaluronic moisturizer for hydration.
One to try: Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment
4. Spot treatment: If pimples or their contents make their way onto the skin’s surface and sit there, don’t be tempted to squeeze them yourself. Instead, apply a pimple patch or an anti-acne solution. Retinol is also vital for skin detox since it helps remove built-up oil and dead skin from within the pore.
One to try: Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum
5. Defend: One skincare product that’s rich in an antioxidant (or a couple) is key to help protect the skin against environmental damage during a skin detox.
Do Your Body Right
While many of the practices used to detox the skin on the face work well for the body, Merry Thornton, a board-certified physician assistant and founder of Element Medical Aesthetics, recommends dry brushing as a way to improve lymph flow. Although dry brushing, which is the act of using a dry loofah or brush and rubbing it on the skin, has been used for hundreds of years to exfoliate the skin and release fluid within the body, Thornton calls it a quick and easy-to-perform routine.
The motion of dry brushing increases circulation and promotes the flow of oxygen-rich blood, which helps facilitate proper cell growth and organs that function healthily. “Dry brushing also improves lymph flow to detoxify the body and exfoliates dead skin cells, resulting in smoother skin,” Thornton says. Just keep dry brushing off the face since the bristles are too aggressive for the delicate skin on the face. Instead, you can try a facial steamer and facial massage to help increase circulation and bring oxygen to the skin.
How to do it:
- Thornton says to use a dry brush on dry skin before showering.
- “Use light, smooth strokes, or you can use circular strokes if you prefer,” she shares.
- Start with the arms and move down toward the heart.
- Then, go towards the ankles and move the brush back toward the heart — go all the way up to the buttock.
- Next, Thornton recommends brushing downward to brush the abdomen and back.
- “After brushing, take a shower and follow with a moisturizer,” she adds.
The key to getting the best results is not to over-exfoliate, so dry brushing just a few times per week should suffice. Also, avoid brushing over the same area repeatedly, which can cause irritations to the skin.
Working up a good sweat is hands down the cheapest and most natural detoxifier of the bunch. “Sweating is amazing to clean the body and skin, and steam is great for opening up the pores,” says Johnson. “Start by dry brushing, then take a shower, and finally, go into an infrared sauna,” she says. “This will naturally help your body detoxify.” It’s important not to put any lotions or products on your skin on the day of steam, making it less effective. Bear in mind that even though some studies say sweat can reduce heavy metal levels in the body, the evidence is somewhat inconclusive. Pipolo adds that removing toxins through sweat may dehydrate skin, as water is lost more than anything else, so drinking plenty of water afterward is vital.
Smart Lifestyle Choices
Just like when doing a detox for the body that flushes out toxins, you want to make smart lifestyle and diet choices, and the same goes when you’re doing a deep, detoxifying cleanse for the skin. Johnson says good gut health is vital since the gut biome directly reflects the skin. Dr. Madfes says it’s essential to help detox the skin by cutting out alcohol and processed foods for two weeks as well — instead, she suggests incorporating antioxidant-rich foods and plant-based proteins. Fruits, vegetables, and whole foods are naturally rich in antioxidants. In contrast, processed food, red meat, dairy, and gluten are pro-inflammatory foods, and eating those while detoxifying the skin can make all your efforts null and void. “Consuming superfood antioxidants give the cells all the nutrition they need to help the skin function properly.”
Pipolo agrees and takes it one step further, advising her regular clientele to “scale back on excessive physical activity and avoid dietary choices, both of which can create additional irritation or inflammation during the purge — and, please, no smoking!”
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.