What happens when you stop using cleanser?

Image: iStock

Cleanse. Tone. Moisturise.

There’s a very good chance your first real face-washing routine went something like this; maybe it still does. There’s been a lot of debate over the years about whether it’s necessary to use toner, with no real conclusion, but surely we all agree cleanser lives in the ‘every day’ basket.

Well, that’s not necessarily the case. Actually, there are quite a lot of women out there who take a simpler approach to keeping their face clean.

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Charlize Theron doesn’t “believe in overzealous cleansing”, so she only rinses her face with water in the morning. Salma Hayek swears by the same approach. Meanwhile, Alexa Chung and Lady Gaga have both admitted to regularly going to bed without cleansing at night.

Poke around online and you’ll find a wealth of articles claiming cleansers, and overuse of them, aren’t actually great for your skin — especially when they include ingredients like sulfate, which can be quite harsh on your face’s natural oils. That tight, ‘squeaky clean’ feeling you often get after cleansing isn’t a sign of effectiveness; rather, it can signal damage being done to your skin. Eek.

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Having read up on these kinds of reports, not to mention something called the ‘Caveman Regimen’ that’s basically a paleo take on skincare, One Daily Mail reporter decided to investigate what effect a cleanser-free routine would have on her skin.

For one month, 30-year-old Erica Tempesta was only permitted to wash her face with water, with the exception of a cream-based remover to take off her eye makeup. She was also allowed to use moisturiser.

Tempesta's face on the first day (left) and two weeks in (right). Images: Daily Mail


As you might expect, the first water-only wash was a pretty weird experience for Tempesta.


"Using my natural skin oils as cleanser felt disgusting, and I hadn't even worn foundation that day. My only reprieve was putting on face lotion, which made it feel like I was following my normal skincare routine," she writes. Shudder.

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Although Tempesta says she missed the feel of her creamy cleanser, it became clear quite rapidly that her new skincare regimen was paying dividends. Her skin tone became balanced for the "first time" in her life, she experienced less red patches, and her mum complimented her on how good it looked.

Tempesta three weeks in (left) and at the end of her experiment. Images: Daily Mail


When the experiment ended Tempesta decided to change her usual routine, going "back to basics" with Ponds Cold Cream and steamy washcloths.

"I am hoping that the cold cream will help my skin retain the balance it had achieved over the past month, but only time will tell," she writes.
"After my experiment, I realised that I had spent most of my twenties wasting money on cleansers, toners and acne treatments that were too harsh for my skin."

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Pretty compelling, isn't it? If the thought of forgoing cleanser for evermore is just too much (we can't blame you), it might be worth giving the 'warm washer and cream cleanser' technique a go.

Last month, The Glow spoke to beauty therapist Sharon McGlinchy about the best approach to face washing, and that's the one she recommended. Cream cleansers are a gentler option than their foamy cousins, and using a wash cloth to massage the cleanser in then remove it activates superficial circulation and both softens and loosens the dead skin cells on your face. It also feels a little luxurious.

These are some of our favourite delightfully creamy cleansers to get you started:

How do you wash your face?