A big trend in skincare hasn't been a product or secret ingredient. It's doing less —from skipping showers to eschewing shampoo, and now there are some brave souls who have quit washing their faces, calling it the "caveman regimen." They've bought into the idea that spending lots of money and time on facial cleansers, toners and moisturizers merely subverts the natural process, and that contrary to the idea that all those products are helping our skin, they might be hurting it.
As Victoria Loustalot wrote at the now-defunct XOJane, "The idea that our skincare woes might be linked to the expensive and excessive chemicals we slather on our faces every day isn’t the craziest theory."
Conceptually, the idea is that our skin is best when we let it take care of itself.
What is the acid mantle?
There is a protective layer of sweat, natural oils and amino acids that covers your skin and keeps out harmful things. This is called the acid mantle.
The ideal balance for the skin and this protective layer is slightly acidic. Depending on the source, the perfect level is somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5. (A pH scale ranges from 0 to 14; a pH of 7 is neutral.)
You can damage the acid mantle with too much hot water and scrubbing or by neutralizing it with alkaline cleansers. When it falls out of that healthy range, it can lead to problems like inflammation, allergies and breakouts, reports The New York Times. Issues with the acid mantle can also be linked to rosacea, eczema and psoriasis.
If you wash your face with soap and water, it feels squeaky clean. That film that starts to build up and make your face feel soft again is the acid mantle. That's why it's key to avoid products that take away that soft feeling. Because you don't want to feel too clean, experts recommend non-disruptive products like cleaning oils or those in a slightly acidic pH range.
The caveman regimen
Or you can stop washing your face.
Loustalot took the most extreme approach of the group, going without washing, rinsing, scrubbing, lotions or makeup for 60 days and she had good results — at first. "Almost immediately the annoying pimples that routinely cropped up around my chin vanished. Meanwhile, the rest of my face remained blemish-free. My skin no longer looked or felt irritated, and cutting my nighttime routine down from an embarrassingly long 20 minutes to zero was kind of amazing."
She says the first 30 days cleared up her skin, but that over time, dead skin built up on her face, and while she made it the full 60 days sans washing, things got a little gross. The uneven skin patches aged her 10 years by the end of the experiment, the opposite of what she wanted. (Most caveman regimen advocates suggest exfoliating gently with a washcloth and warm water every couple of weeks.) Once she had a good facial, though, her skin was glorious. Loustalot's conclusion: moderation. She is now using a very mild, all-natural oat cleanser and a simple oil once a day, and that works for her.
Inspired by Lady Gaga, Alexa Chung and Salma Hayek, who have all said that they don't wash their faces, Erica Tempesta stopped washing for 31 days (she rinsed with water, occasionally scrubbed with a washcloth and also used lotion, just no washing), and it cleared up her cystic acne. From her report, it sounds like she missed the routine of her cleansing more than her skin did.
Anthea Frances tried the caveman regimen too, reporting, "My skin felt awful and rough after a week or two, and I was about to abandon the experiment when, in weeks 3 and 4 all of a sudden it became much smoother, with fewer breakouts and a more even tone. I went out to a birthday lunch yesterday wearing just lipstick and a dab of cover-up on a couple of tiny blemishes and that was it. My skin tone was so much more even. It almost looked like I was wearing foundation." She only rinsed with warm water occasionally and avoided all products.
I won't be trying the caveman regimen, because my cystic acne cleared up when I eliminated dairy and started oil cleansing over a year ago, but what I do have in common with these women is dramatically improved skin once I cut out 90% of beauty products. Now I just cleanse once a day with coconut oil and then use a bit of good-quality serum and an eye cream in the evening. (If you're a twice-a-day washer, it's the morning wash you want to skip.) That's it — though I do like to exfoliate once a week or 10 days. I only wear makeup a couple times a week, but when I do it's natural, mineral makeup which comes off easily.
In my experience, when you use fewer products and wash less, your skin tends to look great, so you don't need much makeup, which is a win-win-win in my book, saving time, money and improving skin too.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was published on April 2015.