How Not Washing My Face Cured My Acne

See any pimples here as I apply lipstick? NOPE.

See any pimples here as I apply lipstick? NOPE.

I’ve had acne since I was a kid. It started with blackheads, it continued with terrible cystic acne as a teenager (Thank you for your help during those key years of 2000-2003, Differin) and really hasn’t ever completely let up. Until this past summer when I got suuuuuuper lazy and basically stopped washing my face.

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I’ve tried all sorts of things to cure my acne, from Retin-A to Mario Badescu drying treatment. I’m 27 and I’d pretty much just given up, deciding that ok, fine, persistent acne is just part of me because it’s encoded in the genes my oily-skinned Italian ancestors handed on down the line. I have large pores, they get clogged, that’s the deal. You can’t change your genetics, right?

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WRONG. Well, sort of wrong. This summer, I decided to try the oil cleansing method as laid out by one of my fave crunchy beauty bloggers, Crunchy Betty. The idea behind it is that you wash your face with oil, essentially using oil to cancel out the oil and dirt on your face. It worked pretty well for me and I liked it, but then after a few weeks, I got really lazy with it (all that waiting with the hot washcloth on my face seemed to take up a lot of time I could be spending laying in bed with my iPad and pinning crafts I’ll never do), so I just kinda…stopped. I stopped doing the oil cleansing method at night, I stopped washing my face at night, and I stopped washing it in the morning.

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And then I had no pimples anymore! Well, basically no pimples. My blackheads are apparently here to stay forever and ever! But poppable pimples? Whiteheads and the like? They’ve taken a leave of absence. I can only think it’s due to the fact that I’m not really washing my face anymore, as that’s really the only thing that’s changed about my skin care routine. I still use moisturizer, rose water, and remove those clinging-to-life-like-Kris-Kardashian-clings-to-fame blackheads with my trusty comedo-extractor. I thought that not washing my face would make me feel all dirty and medieval, like someone from Monty Python And The Holy Grail or something, but overall, it’s pretty cool.

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I’m not the only person who has found that not washing their face seems to be a good thing for their skin. Some people have dubbed this the “Caveman regimen” and it’s gaining popularity among natural beauty devotees, including Fashionista.com’s Nora Crotty. Apparently, even Salma Hayek is a fan of limited face-washing. So, if you think I’m crazy, just know that I am not totally alone in letting the day’s gunk happily accumulate on my face.

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I should mention that I do actually wash my face with African black soap in the shower a few times a week, especially when I’m getting close to having my period. I’ll also exfoliate with a washcloth or a Salux cloth weekly and use a face mask a few times a month. But forgoing the whole cleanse in the morning, cleanse at night thing seems to have really made a huge difference in my acne. I couldn’t be more surprised; After about 15 years of washing and washing, applying creams and gels and visiting the dermatologist, all I had to do was just back the hell off? Wow.

Now, if you wear makeup, this super lazy approach to skin care might not actually be the best choice for you. You do need to remove makeup, after all. I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, and since I’ve been working from home for the majority of the past two years, I don’t really ever wear it now, unless I’m going out at night. (Even then, my look is pretty low maintenance: mascara, a bit of concealer, a fancy bright lip). Of course, if and when I do wear makeup, I will wash my face or use a makeup remover, then splash my face with water. Still, if you’re a lady with a very low-key makeup routine, leaving your face the eff alone might just work for you!

I don’t know that my face will continue to thrive in its mostly-dirty state. In a few months, I might need to change up my routine, and it may be that cleansers and acne products might make a reappearance into my life and medicine cabinet. But for now, I’m really enjoying this low maintenance, hippie-esque approach to keeping my face clean (or really, not so clean).

Have you tried not washing your face? Did you feel dirty or did you discover clear, glowy skin like I did?

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    • LynnKell

      I gotta find a way to keep wearing makeup and stop washing my face… I have eczema-prone, dry skin and winter is coming, so letting go of my face wash might be a good strategy

      • http://www.ambiencechaser.com/ Elizabeth Licata

        Yeah. I don’t want to stop wearing makeup, but my skin is very dry. I only wash mine at night, to get rid of any makeup.

      • acdashw

        Coconut oil and a washcloth! Removes the makeup without any detergent-y anything. Weirdly, I still have to moisturize right after or my skin feels dry, but my skin is the driest. I also don’t wash it unless i’m wearing makeup.

      • Nadine Diamante

        Me too! What I do, I just wet my face, dampen a wash cloth and use it to rub off my make up. After that I just rinse with water. Been doing it for a week, and it’s been great :)

    • Krusticle

      Okay, Carrie, I need someone to tell me how effective that Proactiv Blackhead Dissolving Gel works. Get on that, please.

    • mere

      I’m 24 and have similar sounding skin – especially the years of cystic acne. I’ve never met a dermatologist I was happy with, the most recent one tried to get me on a daily antibiotic. I was so upset by that experience I’ve yet to try and find a new derm. Anyway, I’m amazed at how great your skin looks! My complexion is really awful and if I go out in public sans makeup people think I’m deathly ill (wish I was exaggerating). I’ve been using coconut oil recently to remove makeup and will add vitamin E oil to try and heal my acne-scarred up face, but I do think I’ll try washing less frequently and see if it helps!

      • Key

        Be careful with that vitamin E. It can clogg up your pores and cause more acne than necessary. I used it at night and my skin would feel soft but I would get bumps that seemed to sit under my skin with no head….FYI thats the vitamin E if you ever get breakouts like that.

    • Ally

      I did the same thing! I don’t even really wear makeup anymore since there isn’t much to hide. I just figured it was some weird phenomenon but it turns out that all the chemicals, cleansers, lotions, serums, etc were just making my super sensitive, acne-fied face a lot worse than it should have been. I even took a cycle of accutane at the highest dose. Stopping everything (out of frustration, coupled with laziness) was the best accidental skin success I’ve had yet.

    • anna

      giving my skin a break defintley helps when things are getting too rough down on my chin.

    • Muggle

      I had bad acne, too. I still have it, but if I really started washing my face and applying expensive creams and using cleansers my acne would be really bad again. Hormones helped me the most, though, my acne went from absolutely horrible to a few pimples along my jaw and much more manageable as soon as I turned 18.

    • DeanaCal

      I totally had the same experience. I now wash my face approximately twice a week with home made soap that I made myself, and the other days it’s just a one minute steam with a hot damp washcloth

      The other day I found an old concealer stick in a purse I hadn’t used in a while and took it into the bathroom to try it out. Guess what – I realized I didn’t have anything to conceal!

    • themaintrain

      I’ve always been complimented for having the clearest skin. Ppl want to know my secret. First of all, I don’t wear make up. But the secret is “Water and a White Wash Cloth”. That’s it. I don’t add anything to my skin. Nothing! And my skin doesn’t get clogged with make up or moisturizers I don’t add on in the first place. GL to anyone struggling with skin problems. :)

    • Desiree Evans

      As an esthetician, I totally understand why this would work. Sometimes acne prone skin gets over exfoliated, over dried, over treated, over EVERYTHING-ed. Sometimes, all types of skin need to just be left alone. Water, and an occasional ‘product’ cleansing can suffice nicely.
      Good job.

    • MammaSweetpea

      I don’t wear face makeup, like concealer and such. If I do put anything on, its mascara, eyeliner and lipgloss. I used to wash my face after a long day at work, especially in the summer when I’m sweaty. I also washed my face the next morning. But I have combination skin (dry and oily areas, that seem to overlap each other, very frustrating), and I realized that washing my face so often didn’t make it feel good. So if I wash at night, I don’t wash in the morning, just rinse off with cool water, not warm. Or vice versa. In terms of acne, I’ve never been overly prone to it, just mainly around the time of my period, and stressful times.

    • http://www.fantabulouslyfrugal.com/ FantabulouslyFrugal.com

      I stopped washing my face at night nearly a decade ago now. I used to have terrible acne and went to dermatologist after dermatologist. Finally, the last one I visited told me I was using too many products on my face and that in the morning I should wash my face with Dove Sensitive Skin Soap and not wash my face at all. I took her advice and I’ve had great skin ever since! She told me that my face was reacting to all of the chemicals I was putting on it and causing more acne instead of curing it.

      • tiaa

        Not washing your face for a week, with a soap? or water?

        bcoz i think it will darken my skin tone plus my face will look disgusting and dirty..

        isn’t?

      • joko

        me too..

      • Ally

        Can you clean your skin with a Dove bar soap? :o Won’t the soap irritate your skin? I’m very curious..

    • Mouche Bonneau

      Me too! I don’t wash my face in the morning anymore and I’ve got no pimples now. Of course, I don’t wear any foundation or blush or concealer, so that might be part of it too. But even in high school when I wore no makeup I still had pimples, so it must have something to do with letting the natural face oils do their work.

    • Laura

      I’ve been plagued with acne almost all my life and have been told by my dermatologist that, it doesn’t have a lot to do with what I eat. At age 51, I’m currently amazed that giving up all dairy (e.g., milk, butter, cheese, sour cream) has cleared my skin of blemishes. Wish I had known this a lot earlier. Would have saved me a lot of heartache.

    • tandan

      I’ve just started not washing my face about 4 days ago and i now have alot of dry flakey skin and red patches around some areas that look kinda scabby. Is this normal? I have not broken out at all in any acne or zits but these red marks look like i have . Did i scratch out or irritate the dry skin? Anyone else have a similar experience?

      • annie

        Wash your face with luke warm water every morning/night and put a face moisturizer on afterwards. The reason why it’s dry and patchy is because you haven’t been moisturizing your dry skin.

      • Allie

        Same thing happened to me. That’s why I continued to wash my face. It was the only thing that kept it smooth.

      • http://chasesfreebies.com/ Chase

        That is because you haven’t given your skin enough time to regulate back to a normal PH. The more you wash the oilier your skin will be. It takes at least 2 weeks for your skin to find a happy medium. Face wash is nothing but poison.

    • tbh

      Do you wear sunscreen? Sunscreen (especially matte sunscreens) absolutely does not come off, even with washing. I use a cleansing oil to remove it. I’m sure everyone agrees that sunscreen is a must even if you don’t wear make-up, moisturizer or any other product.

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    • Crystal

      I stopped using face wash a year ago after not being able to afford to buy it when I ran out. Best thing I ever did. At first my face felt dry but now my skin is the clearest and softest its been since I was 11 years old. I still make sure to use a makeup removing cloth to remove makeup before I go to bed but now that I’ve stopped using a cleanser everyday I rarely feel the need to put any moisturizer on my face, other than sunscreen.

      • B

        Do you use your hands on your face at all? I mean, do you massage it a bit with water in the shower or something to get off any grime? Does water temperature make a difference to you?

      • lawngrrl

        I was in the habit of not washing my face for a while, and yes, in the shower I just massage a bit with water as if I’m washing. I went back to cleanser for a while because I felt my skin was looking “dull” but now I’ve just been breaking out like crazy, so I think I’m going back to just water washing. I wash my face with hot water in the shower, but afterwards I’ll splash with cold water from the sink to help close up the pores.

    • lomboz

      A few weeks back I stopped washing my face and my acne started to
      improve. I never really paid much attention at the time until a friend
      pointed out that my face has become a lot clearer. But after a few more
      days I had to wash my face because it felt dirty. I just waded my skin
      with warm water, this just as before aggravated my skin and the acne
      became worse.

      I’ve only started to get acne in my adult age, and have tried many face
      washes, creams and many home remedies. But not has had such a great
      effect on my skin than simply not washing it. I have now not washed my
      face for 3 days and myself have noticed a massive improvement

      Has anyone else ever come across this?

      Acne Relief

      • -

        When you do clean your skin, is it with tap water? Try washing your face with bottled water when you really have to for a week or so. Check out your local water supply, is it hard/soft? How clean is it? When I stopped washing with tap water I probably reduced my acne by at least 50% in a day or so. I still get small ones after a week but nothing like before.

    • Aims

      I get spots when my period is due, after washing my face constantly and trying to avoid my makeup I found every morning I woke up with more… Even after my cycle! So I gave up and so did the spots, I found sleeping in my make up (which isn’t ally and mostly god my about 5:00) and simply cleansing in the morning was the best way forward.. Spot by spot my clear face came back.. Now, no spots when due . Unfortunately the odd one rarely tears it’s ugly head and I have a top tip: if your a popper like me you’ll get those annoying crusty heads that are screaming PICK ME OFF. Avoid picking then and revealing sore tacky skin that foundation will not cover up, instead… Grab a nail file and flatten that sucker down! A dab of foundation and everything’s fine. A day or two later that plaster type flake will be ready to come off! And sorted.

    • Savannah

      I always would skip out on washing my face, like I washed it maybe once or twice a week, but I started to wash it more and more because my friends thought it was gross, and now I’ll get a zit if I skip one face wash! I think I’ll try slowly easing out of it.

    • Colombian

      After years and years of painful, awful looking inflammatory acne, all it took for me was a serious dermatologyst, who told me to stop washing my face. I felt disgusting for the first couple of weeks, but I looked like s#!t anyway, so I kept it on, and a couple of months into it all the acne I had had disappeard and I have had no acne since. This was when I was 23, I’m 31 now. I never wear makeup, so that’s not a problem for me. I exfoliate 2 times a month, and wash my face whit a cleanser if for some reason I wore a lot of suncreen, and that’s it; other that that, just water in my morning shower.

    • Allison

      My skin felt do dirty, dry and flaky when I trie this causing me to scratch it and cause more pimples. I looked really ugly without my face being washed.

      • Amy

        Yes you need to go trough that. Give it time

    • ruggie

      Ive never had acne and people would always ask me what I used to keep my skin so clear? And I would say nothing. It may sound gross but I only let water splash my face with water in the shower other wise I have never used anything and have never had an acne problem. Otherwise I just use lotion on my face.

    • Tiffany

      I am turning 26 years old soon and I have been suffering from pimples since grade 5. Depressing much? Yes. Low confidence much? Yes. I used to wear BB cream on daily basis, but I have given up on it now. All I do is wear a bit of eye concealer (I have had black circles all my life, regardless of how much I sleep) and a little bit over my pimple – the red ones. I don’t think I can live without a facial cleanser at all, especially when I work in the ER for 12 hours straight. Guess that means I will give this a try in terms of not using any cleansers in the morning and only after a shift. Hopefully it will work! I have been to A dermatologist and spent so much money on products, and nothing has helped my skin at all!

    • Agnes Pasztor

      Great article! I had septo-rhinoplasty in December and a cast on my face for a week after that – since I had to keep it dry I basically gave up washing my face for that week. I was shocked to find that my skin was glowing, soft and thoroughly clean-looking, I even thought this was some side effect of the anitbiotics I had to take due to the surgery. I had bad acne since I was twelve and Roaccutane only helped to decrease it, not cure it. Since that I forgot to look into this miracle but now my skin is problematic again as always was and it just popped into my mind to look if anyone else had similar experience with not washing their face. I’m glad I did! I’ll just have stop again :) Thanks!

    • Sarah Oneil

      I think that might be my problem now. I started to wash every night and might be to much? I will probably go back to every other day. I don’t wear makeup much unless my husband and I go out so not quite sure yet if it might be the makeup I am using too…

      • Sarah Oneil

        I do have a question for the Arthur of this article though…do you use moisturizers? If so which one(s) have you tried? And are they ok to use every day? Not sure if that may be my problem either

    • beaminup

      Hi,
      I just found your article by Googling for “Not washing reducing acne” because I was curious if others had tried and experienced what I have. I have also not been washing my face and have found that my face seems to get less pimples and I would also say less blackheads. My reasons for reducing the amount of showers and face washing I do is that I got tired of the dried out feeling I have when I wash my face everyday and I also got tired of the flaky dry skin on my nose and forehead. I thought I would let some of my natural oils come back, and stopped washing and showering. I shower at most once a week often times less, using a wash cloth to wash areas that obviously need washing more frequently. I wash my hair everyday. If I have dead skin build up on my forehead I found that using just a wet wash cloth seems to work better than a soapy one.

    • Morgan Michael

      I just stumbled across this when I googled something. I have cystic acne which is fairly new to me (the last year year or so) and the usual round of black and white heads. In the last 6 months or so I have started wearing liquid foundation every day because my acne had gotten so bad I was extremely self conscious about it. I had been washing my face with just a foaming cleanser, then stepped it up to a foaming cleanser and an exfoliating scrub every day. I also used a scrub pad thing in the morning or night (whichever I didn’t take a shower that day) to wash my face. My acne just got worse and worse. In the last 2 months I’ve started only washing my face once a day with a foaming cleanser meant for sensitive skin (in the morning), still wearing liquid foundation and at night all I do is wipe my face clean with cotton balls and water. This has made the biggest difference in my acne. I only get the occasional pimple (of which are much smaller and heal faster), my blackheads have pretty much stayed the same on my nose, but they’ve never been god awful. My cystic acne has shown the most improvement. I still have a few that I can feel the knot under my skin, but no new ones have shown up and the swelling/redness has drastically reduced. The scarring left from the old ones has also begun vanishing. I know this was a long post, but is semi related to yours and I hope that it might help someone that just doesn’t think there is any hope for. Also, I’ve noticed that I’ll break out in a single day if I don’t wear any foundation – I don’t know why this is, but not wearing it makes my cystic acne flare up so badly.

    • sw8dishgirl

      yeah, my face gets wet in the shower. that’s enough. im just lazy. I soap “down there” and under my arms. I have a few freckle looking spots on my face, from poor digestion, but I don’t have any BIG pimples. My face actually looks better than ever, nice to know why!

    • Elizabeth Santiago

      I must say…I never used to wash my face perhaps once a week and a facial mask once or twice a month…my face use to be so clear and smooth…I then broke out a bit from using old foundation and my mom started recommending all these things I should use on my face.telling me I should clean my face twice a day….my face has never been this horrible…I’m ashamed to even come out of my house
      I was doing my research figuring out if I should just go back to what I use to do and I seen this….
      I thought I was the only person in the world but now I know that this I must go back to!!! Thanks a million

    • Courtney Renee

      i use to spend so much money on pro active and stuff that never worked for my acne , then one day i just stopped. i have natural oily skin and greasy hair so i noticed it helped to dry my skin out a bit , all i use is dove soap on my face in the shower , it seriously helped. my face is pretty much cleared up besides one or two pimples, of course my nose is still covered in blackheads but i’d rather deal with that then a complete break out lol

    • Sammi

      I never really ever washed my face and I’ve always had really clear skin except the select few pimples here and there every couple months. I played soccer in high school and I lived in Texas so I would sweat a lot. But my skin was absolutely clear and being in the sun a lot made it have a real nice glow. But I recently decided to try and get rid of my blackheads even though you cant really see them unless your close up so I bought a black head eliminating scrub and I am breaking out now and my skin is super dry and I only wash it at night. So I think no washing is the best, at least for me. And its definitely worth the money to try. If it doesn’t work well then nothing else has yet anyway so it didn’t really hurt except save you a couple bucks for however long you try it.

    • Ajoyi

      I totally agree with the not-washing face formula; it works for me. But remember to moisturize. My face has done better when I just dub it with warm wash cloth in the morning shower and at night before I go to bed, then apply ponds.

    • sensitive skin

      Carrie Murphy looks wonderful! If that’s how you look without washing your face, then you look great! Your skin perfect! I’m not gonna washing my face as often because it’s really dry & sensitive & I’ve barely just started washing my face twice a day & it’s drying out really bad! & now it’s starting to look like a freakin road map! When I wasn’t washing my face as often it looked better & less stressed. So I’m gonna leave my skin alone & stop messing with it.

    • Brandie Michelle Smith

      I, too, have struggled with sensitive skin. I was taught growing up that I needed to wash my face twice a day, use rubbing alcohol on my trouble spot ( worse thing ever! I wish I never listened!) and I even used accutane when my face went crazy from massive stress overload causing nodular acne. As I grew older and my face cleared with the accutane, I cut out washing my face in the morning. I wash it at night because I wear make up during the day. But my oh my it made a difference. When you wash it once a day instead of twice you’re not over drying it. On weekends I cut the makeup out unless I too am going out. It’s made a huge difference. I also cut out drinking except once in a blue moon because it was an automatic result that I would get a small break out the next day. Same with sugar, I cut that completely out of my diet. It’s amazing what happens when you pay attention to the small things and notice a trend.

    • sweetxsour

      I spent years finding the right acne wash, and after thinking I found it, I’m starting to think the caveman regimen is for me. I stopped using the acne wash for a few days, and my breakout started to clear. Then, when I started to use it again, pimples started popping up like crazy. Back to no face wash!

    • Rachel

      I totally agree- I am 20 and I learned a few years ago that washing my face only increases my chances of getting acne. Sometimes I’ll try it again just to test my theory, and I ALWAYS break out after. Other than that, I almost never get any pimples. I rinse my face with water in the shower, and I use a small Almay make-up remover pad to remove the small amount of concealer I apply under my eyes, but that’s all!

    • mcdonnellkate

      I never wash my face and rarely touch it. i used to wash it because i was told it was healthy for my skin but everytime i would use the stuff (clinique face wash kit), my face would creat pimples. so i got lazy and stopped using it. i rarely ever get acne and if i do, it’s very mild. i hardly wear makeup. maybe the occasional mascara. i’ve gone to numerous make up consultants and theyve all said i dont really need foundation because my skin is clear. i dont know how i lucked out with not having to wash my face, but i’m lucky

    • Nadine Diamante

      I still wash my face (I have to coz I put on makeup everyday) but just with WATER and it’s just amazing! So far, my skin has never been better and I have no breakouts! Though I still plan on using st ives facial scrub at least once a week, but thats it :)

    • http://best-acne-remedies-otc.com/2014/06/29/10-over-the-counter-acne-vitamins-what-vitamins-are-good-for-acne/ Melody Gramer

      The only time I wash my face is in the shower and I use the Cetpahil face wash as it is non-comedogenic. I am like you, I work from home and only wear mascara and a bit of eyeliner for makeup when I go out so I rarely need to wash my wash. I do not use any scrubs or moisturizers either. Moisturizers can cause acne and over-exfoliating our skin can make our sebaceous glands pump out more sebum (oil) to try to lubricate itself because it is getting too dry which can actually make our skin more oily!
      I never have acne because I eat a diet containing low glycemic carbs, zero sugar, essential fats, and a ton of water. The only time I get acne is around my period and I make sure to double up on the supplements like fish oil, evening primrose oil, and a hormonal acne supplement called Acnetame.
      What is your diet like? It could be a contributing factor to your blackheads.

    • anony

      As a teenager, I never had problematic acne–just the regular run-of-the mill pimple here and there occasionally. But I have always had deep blackheads in my nose. So one day around 21 I decided I was through with them and started getting “serious” with my face wash routine and using “serious” products. And my acne got worse. And I got more serious. And it got worse. And so on for a year, at which point my acne was making regular life miserable for me. Then I thought about it rationally and came up with several reasons why I should just stop. So I haven’t been washing my face or hair for 5 days and guess what? I look 75% better already. My skin looks way better and my hair now has volume and curl like it did when I was a little girl who didn’t like to bathe. My blackheads are getting much lighter too…

      I just rinse my hair and face 1-2 a day with water and massage the skin and scalp gently with my fingers. I thought I had oily skin because just 6 days ago if I put a tissue on my face it would come off soaked with oil. Yet as soon as I stopped washing my face, my skin isn’t oily anymore. Not dry either. It’s literally taking care of itself. I let the rest of my body take care of itself so what was so special about my face that I needed to intervene in the first place? Just that I was told my entire life to spend $$$ on products.

      Maybe not everyone, but I think for most people we’re trained to wash our faces since puberty and that is actually the problem. Even my blackheads are fading now that I’ve quit, which I’ve had forever (i.e. about as long as I’ve used acne “fixing” products). I think people eventually trial and error into finding something compatible with their skin but you know what’s even more compatible with your skin? WHAT YOUR BODY SPECIFICALLY PRODUCES EXACTLY FOR IT. For me, washing my face was much more helpful in satisfying my anxiety about having acne than healing the acne itself. Part of why I quit was because it looked like my skin wasn’t healing and I was getting acne in unusual spots and some would endlessly reoccur in the same spot.

      Fortunately, I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t like makeup on principle so that part is easy for me. But I do still put mineral powder on spots that are particularly red and/or obnoxious and under my genetic purple eye rings when I feel the need to look nicer. This isn’t having any adverse effects on my skin. Literally, my skin looks better everyday I don’t wash it and I use even less makeup. After the first night of not washing my face and to a lesser extent the next couple of days, hardened white/clear gunk was pushing out of my pimples almost completely on its own accord. There was an immediate improvement for me. I had been getting pimples in places I had never before and they were, of course, the ones that immediately disappeared. Overnight.

      The best thing about not using a lot of products is that you are psychologically trusting your body to be awesome and this is great for your confidence. Even though my skin isn’t 100% better, I feel 100% better about it.