This Is What Happened When I Stopped Moisturizing

After washing your face, have you ever considered your total and complete dependence upon moisturizer? Me too. So, in the name of science, I stopped moisturizing my dry skin for a week. Having been blessed with acne-prone skin, I’m not exactly the poster child for dry skin, but due to a combination of prescriptions — including not your momma’s benzoyl peroxide and the Hail Mary of topicals, a retinoid — my skin will wither up like a discarded snake skin if I don’t stick to a strict moisturizing routine. That’s twice a day, in conjunction with a careful cleansing and medicating routine, people. I may not be the poster child for dry skin, I am the poster child for following dermatologists’ directions to a T.

I’ve stuck to my routine mostly due to fear of compounding my skin issues, but since discovering the wonder of retinols I’ve grown bold. Is moisturizing really as critical as I’ve been told all my life? Well, since dermatologists agree, it probably is. But in the interest of potentially saving a few bucks not buying moisturizer in the future, I was willing to experience life without it. For seven days I became a skincare rebel who didn't use moisturizer. Yep, I completely eliminated moisturizer from my skincare routine. No masks, no eye creams, no nothing. In the middle of winter. I bet you can see where this is going.


Here I am with a freshly applied face for work before I eschewed modern trappings of skincare. I'm feeling good about my skin, because like a teacher's most badly behaved student playing the angel when its parent is around, my skin was on its A-game at the start of this experiment. With no dryness to worry about, makeup application was a breeze, and my skin looked and felt hydrated. I was not ready for what was to come.

Day One

The first day of the experiment felt strange, but didn't yield any significant changes. My skin felt tight after I washed my face, but as the day wore on I didn't notice any flaking or dryness. Although I haven't applied any makeup in this photo, I ended up using a CC cream coupled with foundation on a damp sponge, which applied like a dream.

Day Two

Day two ran its course exactly like the first day of my experiment: my skin felt tight, but my makeup applied normally and I hadn't developed any dry patches. At this point I was feeling pretty good, but seriously tempted to fall into my usual routine. I persisted.

Day Three

On the third day I decided to experiment a little and it was awful. I felt that using a damp sponge to apply my foundation was cheating, so I buffed it into my skin using a brush instead. Word of wisdom: buffing on dry-ish skin without moisturizer is a bad idea. My brush stirred up all the dry skin that was lying flat on my face into a flurry of flakes. I was able to calm them down with a satin setting spray, but this day marked the beginning of a downhill saunter.

Day Four

I know, that smudged lipstick is so distracting you won't notice it, but believe me: on day four, I walked around with a goatee. Of dry skin, that is. I applied my foundation with a damp sponge and then took this photo, but believe me that by day's end I was flaking something fierce. My skin felt uncomfortably tight throughout an entire day at work. I went to the bathroom and saw a wrinkle. It was at this point that I started complaining about the experiment to my coworkers.

Day Five

Determined to prove how cool and spontaneous I am, I took an impromptu vacation to the beach, where I discovered the power of natural lighting. Once again, my makeup applied well in the morning, but by nighttime my cheeks were flake city. My skin still felt like an overstretched balloon.

Day Six

On the next to last day of the experiment I could barely keep the smile off my face. Here I'm thinking of moisturizer. I'm thinking of it harder than I've ever thought of it before. Soon I would be free of the shackles of damp sponges and flaky flesh.

Day 7

Counterintuitively, my skin felt pretty good on the last day of the experiment. WTF skin? I didn't experience as much flaking, which made makeup application easier. Could my skin finally be adjusting to this new routine? Too bad. I'll need more than empirical evidence to pry moisturizer from my cold, dead (but well-hydrated), claws.


Aside from that curveball my beloved epidermis threw my way on day seven, the results of the experiment weren't a total surprise. I knew that I would experience tightness, and I expected my skin to flake — actually, I expected my skin to peel. As much as I complained about not moisturizing for a week, there was barely any difference between my skin on day one and day seven. The world did not end when I deviated from my skincare routine, you guys.

Would I consider cutting moisturizer from my skincare routine? Well, some dermatologists would like me to. In an interview with the Daily Mail, dermatologist Rachael Eckel claims that using moisturizer results in "the accumulation of dead surface skin cells, dryness, large pores, acne and sensitivity," and that only people with truly dry skin need to use them. On the other hand, not using moisturizer has been linked to dryness (duh), the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and more wrinkles.

For me, there's no question: I'll continue to moisturize my skin. Perhaps if I didn't use retinoids I would consider cutting back, but as it stands, moisturizer keeps my skin consistently hydrated. When it isn't in the picture, I have to work harder to maintain the appearance of my skin with makeup and extra products. My skincare routine works for me, so I ain't gonna fix what isn't broken. Now if you'll excuse me, there's an ultra-hydrating gel mask calling my name.

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Images: Rosie Warner (8)