CAVEMAN BEAUTY: Can You Really Cure Acne by NOT Washing Your Face for 60 Days?

60 excruciating days. That’s how long I went without letting soap or water touch my face.
Publish date:
January 23, 2014

I have romanticized many, many things in my life, but the caveman era is not one of them. I don’t like anything hairy (remind me, sometime, to tell you about the extensive and intimate laser hair removal procedures I’ve endured); I’m not good with bats of either the sport or mammal variety; and I find inarticulate aggression alarming.

If I somehow ended up in a TARDIS, (something else I’ve never romanticized), and it transported me back to the dawning of the human species, I would die more or less immediately. My bony-ass carcass would wind up spit-roasted with only enough meat for a prehistoric amuse bouche, much to the withering disgust, no doubt, of our ancestors.

And yet. When I read about the caveman skincare regimen, I was intrigued. 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. Maybe all those chemicals really are doing more harm than good, stripping our skin of its natural oils, preventing balance, and fostering more pimples not fewer. I can buy that.

The caveman approach, though, goes further. It doesn’t just call for dropping the foams and the toners and the gold-flecked creams. Oh no. You’re supposed to stop washing your face altogether. No soap. No water. Nothing.

I admit this seems a tad extreme not to mention totally terrifying. Then again, I certainly haven’t shied away from running full steam ahead to the opposite end of the spectrum with an elaborate nightly skincare ritual, full-on years in the making. So why not swing the pendulum to the other side for a change? It’s the less is more philosophy, and particularly now, in the middle of the “new year, new you” hoopla, that sounds pretty good. Doing less, as the key to self-improvement?

Sold. I’ll take one for the lady team, and it give it a go.

Still. 60 excruciating days. That’s how long I went without letting soap or water touch my face. I can feel you cringing even from here, the past. You’re in good company. Every time I told someone what I was up to, an identical look of revulsion came over her face. Not one person tried to mask it. They were too horrified to feign politeness. But here’s the thing. It worked.

Well, at least at first, anyway.

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 twenty minutes to zero was kind of amazing.

The hardest part proved to be not wearing makeup. If you do enough Internet sleuthing you can find women who claim that wearing makeup while following the caveman regimen has been great for their skin, but that just sounds like horseshit even to me. (There’s a limit, after all, as to what I’m willing to buy into.)

For the first 30 days, I thought of the experiment like a skin cleanse. An invigorating detox. I felt like a liberated woman and was practically high on having finally broken free from the chains of the skincare and makeup industries. But then, unfortunately, in the second month, I slowly began to notice little things that gave me pause.

Since I wasn’t washing or exfoliating anymore, layers of dry skin cells were just hanging out on top of my face, day after day. (I can feel you cringing again. I’m cringing, too, at the mere memory of it.) My complexion turned ashen, and dime-sized brown splotches appeared around my eyes and on my forehead. For a while, I stopped looking in the mirror, because it had gotten just too depressing.

And then one Saturday I woke up, and I realized I looked as though I’d aged ten years in a month and a half. And that, kids, is the precise moment when I stopped taking one for our team and I started banging on the doors of the TARDIS to transport me out of the caveman era and back to the 21st Century ASAP.

In other words, I hopped online and started frantically calling New York City spas, looking for any esthetician, anywhere, who could see me for an emergency facial. Eventually, I found a lovely woman in Brooklyn, who said she could fit me in, but only if I came immediately. A $35 cab ride later, I walked through her door and begged for the most intensive facial she could give me, cost be damned. I’m sure to her, I was a beautiful vision on a silver platter. The perfect customer: primed to be suckered, vulnerable and crazed with the panic of premature aging.

It was worth it. The facial that followed was, to date, the single most phenomenal spa experience of my life. While this calm and patient esthetician worked her magic, I told her what I had been doing, or rather, not doing, and she replied something along the lines of, “Uh, yeah, I can tell.” (I was so far beyond embarrassment by then that her gentle sarcasm didn’t register until much later.)

She also told me that while the cavemen regimen was complete garbage, I had actually been on something of the right track. Less really is more, and most of the products we subject our skin to really are toxic and do way more harm than good. So I’d only been a little crazy!

By the time she was finished resuscitating my poor, neglected skin, she had persuaded me I needed to overhaul my entire approach to skincare. (Though, obviously, I didn’t take much convincing.) She recommended just two products: a gentle, ground-oat based exfoliating powder cleanser that I was to mix with water and an olive squalane oil moisturizer, a few droplets of which I was to apply morning and night. That’s it.

In other words, she was advocating for neither my previous all-out facial assault in which I applied half of Sephora’s entire inventory multiple times a day, nor the negligent, let’s give dirt permission to buy up every square foot of my face and build a few hundred soulless housing developments approach. But rather, a happy medium. Go friggin figure.

I tossed most of the potions in my medicine cabinet and started following my new, much simpler, much cheaper routine. My skin is no longer gray; the brown spots are ancient history; the pimples are few and far between. I guess Aristotle was right. Moderation in all things, indeed.