I Quit Wearing Makeup and My Skin Became Terrible

Those "makeup detoxes" that promise glowing, bare skin? Yeah, that didn't work for me.

(Image credit: Marie Calire)

Just before Thanksgiving, I made a big life decision: I quit wearing makeup.

To be precise, I became a freelance, work-from-home writer, and with that came no more need for makeup. I didn't necessarily want to part with my beauty arsenal: I'm a cosmetics junkie, raised by a grandmother who would tell my mother to put on makeup just to take out the trash ("you never know who you'll meet at the end of the driveway!" she'd remind my mom) and taught me the life motto "a little powder and paint makes you what you ain't.

No matter how bad I might have felt, it always seemed better when I put my "face".

And so since high school, I've applied a litany of products every single day—no matter how bad I might have felt, it always seemed better when I put my "face" on. My most recent routine was a layer of Dior Star foundation—that's the one designed for taking perfect selfies—a quick dusting of Lancome finishing powder, cream NARS blush in Orgasm, light eyeshadow, a swipe of liquid eyeliner and plenty of mascara. But putting on all those luxurious–and let's face it, expensive—products when I'm not interacting with anyone but my dog all day seemed like a waste. So I ditched my powder and paint.

It definitely felt weird, but I had read that "makeup detoxes" were good for you. My skin would reward me for giving it a break from the daily dose of colored chemicals by becoming glow-y and blemish-free. I was looking forward to radiant skin—no products required.

That is not what I got.

My skin rebelled against being naked almost instantly. Gnarly blackheads started popping up. Zits fused together like Pangea in reverse, creating small continents on my forehead and chin. And when each one subsided, the red patches they left in their wake seemed to take an extra-long time to heal (which was glaringly obvious without my trusty cover-up). I saw no other explanation for what could be causing this sudden plummet in my skin's quality—I still washed my face twice a day, applied an SPF moisturizer each morning and was even trying to topically treat the acne. My pores had spoken. They missed their makeup.

My pores had spoken. They missed their makeup.

Confounded as to why I didn't experience the type of skin that would inspire an immediate series of no-makeup selfies, I consulted some experts. It turns out, quitting cosmetics isn't the magic cure-all I'd been led to believe. "Makeup is not a demon," said Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. She explained that my beloved Dior Star foundation contains titanium dioxide, which can work as an anti-inflammatory protectant, fighting the redness and irritation my new breakouts were loudly demonstrating. And it gets worse—dermatologist and psychologist Dr. Amy Wechsler also pointed out that I might be getting lazy with my twice-daily face washes because of my bare skin. "[It's possible] you were cleansing better when you were wearing makeup because you were getting the makeup off," she said. Oh. Got it.

But the changes were more than skin-deep. "You're going through a makeup withdrawal," said Dr. Harold Lancer, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. It sounds silly, but there's a very real thing going on: "If you're accustomed to wearing makeup and you stop—there's a subconscious emotional component to not wearing cosmetics, which triggers testosterone production," said Lancer. The stress and insecurity of not wearing my daily defense layer, Lancer explained, caused my body to make more testosterone, which caused oil gland congestion, blemishes, and clogging. Not to mention, that this wasn't the only new stress in my life—after nearly a decade of going to an office every day, suddenly switching up my schedule and working from home was probably more jarring than I realized.

If you're accustomed to wearing makeup and you stop—there's a subconscious emotional component to not wearing cosmetics, which triggers testosterone production.

Routines are emotionally comforting, and makeup was one of mine. But Wechsler, Jaliman, and Lancer all agreed that I don't need to go back to wearing it to get my skin under control. The ritual is the important part, and I now have the opportunity to create one that allows me to take better care of my skin in the process. Lancer prescribed me a three-pronged morning regimen that consists of cleansing, moisturizing, and applying a skin perfector from his line, which should give me the structure I've been missing from my morning makeup. And—hopefully—glowing, gorgeous, all-natural skin.

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Sara Gaynes Levy

Sara Gaynes Levy is a writer and editor in New York City covering health, wellness, and women's issues. Her work has appeared in _The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, New York Magazine and many others.