I never even washed my face until I was in college, so you might be surprised to hear how involved—and more importantly, highly effective—my skincare routine has become. But before I delve into the routine that drastically changed my skin, I'll explain the transition and what motivated me to clean up my act. Until recently, I mostly experimented with a cocktail of drugstore and department-store brands at a variety of price points, from Cetaphil to Clinique and AmorePacific. There was no rhyme or reason—I just grabbed whatever was cheapest, smelled the best, or looked the most luxurious on any given day. And while I didn't necessarily destroy my skin by using these products, I did tend to put it through the ringer and was used to the occasional blemish, dry patch, and dullness.
When I turned 24, I knew it was time to start taking better care of my skin, but this realization hit hardest when fall rolled around and those aforementioned concerns worsened. I knew it wasn't just skin-deep; if things like birth control and environmental factors can throw off my system, surely I should be more thoughtful about what I lather onto my skin. As immunologist and founder of AveSeena Ebru Karpuzoglu, MSc, PhD, tells MyDomaine, many of the artificial chemicals in skincare products can disrupt the endocrine system, which is probably what stressed out my skin and made it look dull. So I decided to establish a routine that detoxed my skin by swapping out all my old things with predominately all-natural beauty products. Admittedly, I was also simply curious to find out if natural beauty products were even effective.
If you're on the fence about whether you want to detox your skincare routine and how to do so, read about my experience below. First, I'll explain how I got started and other lifestyle changes to consider, and then I'll walk through the products that transformed my skin for the better after two months of using them.
Before I settled on a permanent vanity lineup, I experimented with a bunch of testers. As Dr. Karpuzoglu advises, it's best to pinpoint your needs and start by eliminating ingredients you don't like: "As you become more familiar with your products, your skin will tell you what it likes," she shares.
And while some were just as affordable as the products I used before, I usually preferred the ones with a higher price point. But there was a good reason. "You will need lesser amounts because of the high concentration of botanicals in comparison to filler ingredients you'd find in conventional inexpensive products," explains Dr. Karpuzoglu.
OTHER LIFESTYLE CHANGES
Before I took a deep dive into my skin detox, I also wanted to consider other lifestyle habits that factor into the appearance and health of my skin. The most obvious factor is food. Full disclosure: I'm not a super-healthy eater. In fact, I eat out frequently and often indulge in decadent menu items. That being said, I am very careful about where my food is sourced to avoid harmful chemicals and additives and to be more sustainable as well.
And because I'm genuinely passionate about the experience of eating delicious food and trying new things, I decided not to make any drastic changes to my diet. As a compromise, I cut out soda and gradually cut back on sweets (going cold-turkey on dessert would be masochistic). So during this two-month skincare trial, I replaced all soda and juice with water and went from eating a dessert a day to a few times a week.
And now, let's get into the routine.
THE MORNING ROUTINE
MORNING STEP 1: Cleanser
The Detox: This cleanser is made with certified organic botanical ingredients as opposed to the foaming wash I used before, which had a ton of artificial chemicals in it.
Love It: The smell is amazing! It's sophisticated and subtle, yet it's vaguely reminiscent of bubblegum. Plus, I have very dry skin so this it was a perfect match for me, especially in the winter. The consistency definitely took some getting used to and I'd occasionally double-cleanse with a gel wash in the evening, but my skin has been a lot less irritated and patchy with this by my sink.
Leave It: It has a soft, milky texture that was sort of hard to get used to. I associated soap suds and foam with effectiveness, so I kept feeling like I wasn't really cleaning my face. You might want to consider something else if you have combination or oily skin or if you don't want to double-cleanse.
MORNING STEP 2: Serum
The Detox: This is also made with certified organic botanical ingredients, so I opted for this product instead of my previous serum that had some artificial chemicals in it.
Love It: Super lightweight and clear with very little scent, this serum is easy to use. I really loved using it in the daytime since I find that some serums feel too thick or creamy.
Leave It: While I can't really pinpoint the direct results from this product, it definitely added on another level of moisture and protection during the day. If you're looking for something a bit more targeted, you might want to consider something else. For example, you can try Sunday Riley C.E.O. brightening serum for color correction or Zelens youth concentrate serum for anti-aging concerns.
MORNING STEP 3: Jade Roller
The Detox: I used to use a chargeable device that heated up and had a purple light on it after I put on my serum to make sure it was fully absorbed. As you can probably tell, I thought it was confusing and suspicious. Therefore, I switched to this manual roller made of jadestone.
Love It: I put this tool front and center in my vanity, as it's easily the most aesthetically pleasing addition to my collection of products. It's also very soothing and cooling when I wake up a little puffier than usual. You're supposed to use it to promote lymphatic drainage and reduce inflammation.
Leave It: Though I used it a lot at first, it felt like an extra step in an already packed skincare routine, so I used it less and less as the novelty wore off. I do like it when I look extra puffy in the mornings, but if you don't have inflammation or dark and puffy under-eye bags, it may not be necessary. Or if you're someone who likes to get your routine over with quickly, you probably won't enjoy the extra step.
MORNING STEP 4: Moisturizer
The Detox: I used to use the same moisturizer both day and night but decided it was time to use something lighter weight during the day that still hydrated my skin. This one also has more natural ingredients. Though not totally organic and all-natural, it's free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
Love It: Super lightweight, pretty, and refreshing. My skin soaked it right up, and it made my face smell like a high-end spa.
Leave It: You'll probably go through this more quickly than other moisturizers since it's lighter and you'll pile on a bit more. But if you don't have dry skin, that won't be the case.
MORNING STEP 5: Lipcare
The Detox: I wanted to find a lipstick that gave me a bit more color without looking like I was actually wearing makeup. And aside from aesthetics, I was also looking for a product that moisturized, plumped, and protected my lips rather than dehydrating them. This one is made with biotechnology and plant-based ingredients.
First Impressions: It has a soft, barely-there vanilla fragrance and the natural coral hue is incredibly flattering. From the smell to the sleek packaging, I'm hooked. It's so much better than the other natural lip enhancers I've used over the years because it applies evenly and doesn't look overdone at all. It also contains 15 active ingredients to shield against environmental aggressors.
Leave It: You may need to supplement it with another moisturizer. I definitely did since I have large lips that get chapped easily. I'm a huge fan of Rosebud Salve. It's only a couple dollars more than drugstore chapstick and it has a much more flattering sheen that won't dry you out.
THE EVENING ROUTINE
EVENING STEP 1: Cleanser
The Detox: I've had my eye on this line of skincare products for a while, but I've been waiting to take the plunge and actually invest in the essentials. The formulas use the best of the best in biotechnology and plant-derived ingredients.
Love It: This will be a hero product for pretty much anyone. It's gentle and non-drying but actually feels like it's stripping your skin of all that makeup and environmental gunk you've accumulated throughout the day. I only use it at night and when I feel like double-cleansing before a mask or long day.
Leave It: There's a combination of antibacterial and antiseptic ingredients, so it may be a little drying for sensitive skin. I didn't find that it was after I piled on serum, oil, and moisturizer, but just something to keep in mind if you're on the fence.
EVENING STEP 2: Serum
The Detox: Sourced from nutrient-rich and plant botanicals, this serum features anti-aging properties without using any fillers.
Love It: It's super hydrating, and the name alone made me look forward to this step in my nightly routine. I worry that a lot of anti-aging products are either a hoax or they have harmful chemicals in them, so it's great to find a product that actually delivers results with natural ingredients.
Leave It: The price tag is pretty steep, but most anti-aging beauty products that actually show results tend to be expensive.
EVENING STEP 3: Oil
The Detox: I was curious to try a facial oil that targets signs of premature aging. Though not totally organic and all-natural, it's free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
Love It: I've never introduced a facial oil to my skincare routine before and wasn't quite sure what to expect. By the third night, it became a staple, and I definitely noticed a difference in my complexion and skin texture by the third week.
Leave It: The rich, deep blue-green hue might require a bib to prevent stains, but it'll be worth it. If you don't need to use a retinol-based product for anti-aging yet, hold off on this one.
EVENING STEP 4: Moisturizer
The Detox: I chose this cream because I found that the all-natural alternatives were either too light or too heavy. It also made the cut because it's free of silicone, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and dyes, unlike my previous lotion.
Love It: I usually steer clear of creams, and opt for lotion or gel instead because I prefer those light textures, but this product has converted me. Since my skin tends to be dry, especially in the winter, I'm better off using something thicker. And even though this cream is definitely thicker, it doesn't feel sticky, absorbs well, and keeps me hydrated through the night.
Leave It: If you have super-oily skin, opt for a lotion or gel.
EVENING STEP 5: Eye Cream
The Detox: I didn't use an eye cream before, so I decided to give this one a chance. It really is comprised of edible, plant-based ingredients, meaning there aren't any parabens, sulfates, petrochemicals, artificial fragrances, or preservatives.
Love It: The subtle gold flecks bring my skincare routine to a more glamorous level. It's gentle and feels refreshing around my eye area, which is more sensitive than the rest of my face.
Leave It: For some reason, when I use eye balms or creams before bed, I wake up with puffy eyes. So while I liked using this a lot right after I put it on, my eyes are a little too sensitive. It's a great eye cream for anyone who wants natural ingredients in pretty packaging, so go for it if you don't typically have reactions.
EVENING STEP 6: Lipcare
The Detox: I put away all my classic drugstore chapsticks and used this all-natural version instead.
Love It: It's super easy to apply since it rolls up like a normal chapstick, but it's even better because the wide shape covers everything with one swipe. I also find that most all-natural lip moisturizers don't actually work and leave me feeling even more chapped, but that was not the case with this one.
Leave It: Sadly, I left it in my car in the sun, and instead of simply melting, it straight-up evaporated. That's not a reason to avoid it, but all-natural products tend to be more finicky and have a shorter shelf life, so just take extra care to keep it in your bag with you or leave it on your desk where it can maintain a normal temperature.
BODYCARE AND TREATMENTS
The Detox: Technically I could've opted for something totally natural since that would've been easy with a clay mask. But I wanted to try something more high-end with active ingredients and that wouldn't dry me out as much, so I landed on this one. It doesn't contain harmful chemicals, unlike the ones I'd pick up from the drugstore.
Love It: It feels a lot less dehydrating than most sulfur and clay masks, which is great for my dry skin. It definitely showed results and stopped a few blemishes in their tracks.
Leave It: Use it sparingly if you have super-dry skin. I would say about once a week or every other week. If you have blackheads or severe acne, you might want to try something a bit more potent.
The Detox: As with all Drunk Elephant products, there are both naturally derived and synthetic ingredients that are safe and biologically compatible with skin. I was on the hunt for a great resurfacing mask that didn't contain harmful chemicals and chose this one.
Love It: Containing 25% AHA and 2% BHA, this resurfacing mask is truly transformative, but it's also pretty intense. It removes dead skin cells by breaking down the substances that hold them to the surface. In other words, it chemically exfoliates. Right as you wash it off, your face feels instantly baby soft. I usually do it on Sunday nights to start the week off with a fresh, even skin tone.
Leave It: If you really don't like face masks that give you a tingling sensation or you want something totally all-natural, this probably isn't for you. But other than that, I highly recommend it.
The Detox: I was looking for something that brightens up my skin and found that some of the all-natural options weren't strong enough. This one combines both natural and synthetic ingredients but only ones that are proven to be compatible with rather than harmful to the skin.
Love It: When I first used it, I treated it more like a flash facial and wasn't really noticing any results. But once I started using it more consistently (about every few nights on top of my Luna sleeping oil and under my La La Retro cream), I noticed that it really did make my complexion brighter and clearer. Also, unlike AHA masks, the lactic acid in this one hydrates while brightening.
Leave It: If you don't want to add an extra step to your evening skincare routine, then this is an add-on you may not need.
The Detox: I've never really been a huge fan of balms, but I decided to give this one a try after reading rave reviews. It's sourced from nutrient-rich plant botanicals, so I figured it'd be great for rejuvenating my skin when it's super stressed out.
Love It: I didn't come to realize the full potential of this magical blue balm until I came down with a really gnarly cold, at which point, it became a lifesaver. I consistently reapplied it to my chapped nose and the sharp fragrance was calming. It also had a warming effect, which was soothing and reduced some redness. I also brought it in my carry-on when traveling since I tend to breakout and dry up on airplanes.
Leave It: Again, in times of stress, travel, and sickness, it was lifesaving. But it felt a bit greasy when I applied it as if it were a moisturizer, and the aromatic scent was a little overpowering. Though it's expensive, you can use it super sparingly, which means it'll last you a long time. That being said, all-natural products have a shorter lifespan and the price tag isn't for everyone.
The Detox: I used to use random bath bombs and bubbles that left me feeling super dry long after the prune effect of the warm water wore off. This bath soak is pretty much the opposite since it's certified organic and intended to hydrate.
Love It: I went through this super-soft and luxe product pretty quickly at first. If you really like taking baths and want an all-natural product that still feels luxurious and doesn't smell like medicine, this coconut soak is great. I didn't notice long-term results, but right after I used it, it made my skin a lot softer.
Leave It: If you don't have a bath or a lot of room in your shower for more items, this isn't an absolute essential. It's more of an extra perk when indulging in a self-care ritual. Also, it dissolves into the bath water rather than foaming up, so don't expect a bubble bath.
The Detox: I have highly irritable skin on my limbs, so sometimes it's better if I just leave it alone. But after getting rid of my drying drugstore body exfoliator, I decided to give this all-natural option a try.
Love It: I was a bit hesitant to use a body polish, but it actually worked wonders. It's a lot gentler than most manual exfoliators and scrubs since the granules are super tiny, not sharp at all, and balanced out with hydrating coconut oil. I found it to be especially effective when I used it on my arms, gradually buffing out little bumps and imperfections. I'm also not usually one for floral scents, but this one is subtle and the coconut oil adds some warmth.
Leave It: This is an extra step in the shower, so if you're trying to save water or would rather just stick to a simple cleanser, exfoliating may not be right for you.
The Detox: I used to use any drugstore lotion that smelled good, and while it felt hydrating right after I applied it, it didn't last throughout the day. Sometimes I felt like it didn't really absorb and would just rub off. I decided to try an all-natural oil instead.
Love It: My skin definitely felt hydrated for a longer period of time than it did when I applied lotions and moisturizers. It was also easier to spread around and didn't leave any creamy residue.
Leave It: If you're anything like me, when you get out of the shower, you just want to go unwind for a while or you want to quickly get ready for your day. As such, moisturizing can be a time-consuming pain. If that's that case, I'd recommend something with a pump rather than a dropper if you want to apply your oil quicker. Also, since there are no artificial fragrances or anything, make sure you like the essential oil–based scent.
Illuminating Body Oil
The Detox: While I used the previous body oil as a more regular part of my routine, I was super intrigued by the illuminizing body oils that have been gaining some buzz lately. I also stopped using fake tanners a while ago because the chemicals freaked me out, and the all-natural ones usually stained my clothes. This one blends well with other products and felt like a boost for my skincare and beauty routine at the same time.
Love It: There's something about a bottle of pink sparkling liquid that just feels whimsical and happy. Though I usually prefer more refined, neutral packaging, this one was an exception. I only use it when I'm going out for the day or evening and want to give my skin an extra glow if it's looking dull. I also didn't want it to be too glittery, so I mixed it with my body balm from Aesop that smells like a grown-up version of an orange-vanilla creamsicle. The combination made my skin super soft.
Leave It: Don't load this on your legs if you're prone to razor bumps. Since I am, I just made sure not to use it if I just shaved my legs. Also, you might feel like a disco ball if you don't like sparkles. I'd recommend trying the non-illuminating body oil or a subtler version like this one from Skin Owl.
At first, I felt pretty overwhelmed about transitioning from a low-key and random routine to a highly involved skincare system every morning and night. I also was worried that using too many botanical-based products wouldn't be effective. But once I got used to these daily habits, I found that taking care of my skin was a soothing and pleasurable way to open and close my day (regardless of the fact that my bathroom storage capacity is definitely maxed out). In the end, I decided to detox my skin by using a majority of all-natural products but leaving some wiggle room as long as I steered clear of the most harmful suspects, like parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
Aside from feeling more hydrated and comfortable right after each routine, I started noticing little improvements in the clarity of my skin about two weeks in. By the third week, I felt like my skin looked a lot fresher and healthier than it had before. Now, two months later, I notice a drastic difference in the overall health and appearance of my skin from head to toe. For me, the switch from drugstore products to formulas with higher-quality and plant-derived ingredients has paid off. So all in all, I highly recommend a skin detox as well as natural beauty products even if you aren't detoxing.
This was originally published on January 9, 2018, and has since been updated.
Subscribe to our newsletter for more wellness tips, expert advice, and beauty product shopping guides.