Can Beauty Products Really Detox Your Skin?

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
Every single day, we buy into detox teas, juices and workouts in a bid to become healthier, but there's just one thing. Unlike the liver and kidneys, which work to cleanse the body of nasties, dermatologists argue that our skin is not a detoxifying organ. Yet for every newly launched skincare product that plumps and hydrates, there are now two or more that 'detox'.
So what's the deal with skin-toxing? Is it even a thing? Are we buying into something that is simply false? Refinery29 got the experts involved.
Believe It Or Not, Toxins Can Actually Penetrate The Skin...
"The skin can absorb a small percentage of what it is exposed to," explains international facialist and wellbeing expert, Abigail James. "We use the skin to administer drugs such as hormones and nicotine, so there is definitely scope to allow other toxins (such as bacteria) to penetrate through the skin."
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But whether beauty products have the ability to eliminate said toxins when applied topically seems like a bit of a stretch to some specialists.
"To 'detox' simply means to rid the body of toxic or unhealthy substances," says Rabbia Aslam, skin expert and clinical director at HC MedSpa, "and while there are 'detoxifying' face masks, cleansers and treatments, toxins are flushed out through the body's internal system. A beauty product does not play a part in this."
Dr. Natalie Blakely, skin expert and founder of Light Touch Clinic agrees: "I haven't come across any skincare products that have the ability to actually pull out toxins from the skin, and while I like a good face mask, I don't believe they can make detoxifying claims. Products can be relaxing, hydrating and cleansing – but that's about it!"
So yes, that overnight detox oil you recently added to your skincare routine may not do exactly what you want it to...
Is This What Beauty Brands Actually Mean?
Essentially, products won't 'detox' skin in the true sense of the word, which can be pretty misleading when stocking up your beauty cabinet. Oil, dead cells, hair follicles and makeup tend to collect in pores and cause congestion, which results in breakouts and dull, dehydrated skin – but they are not poisons or toxins, so does 'detoxing' simply mean to unclog?
According to Dr. Blakely and Abigail, 'detoxing' in the beauty sphere is the equivalent of giving your skin a deep clean and, even though it is an organ, it is different from the liver and the kidneys in the sense that it doesn't have the ability to expel poisons.
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"There is some skincare on the market today which makes outrageous claims, and they are hugely misleading and confusing to the general public," Dr. Blakely says. "But I would say that detoxifying the skin should be about cleaning it properly." If we've learnt anything, skin that is free from such nasties is subsequently clearer and more radiant, which leads us on to...
Effective Cleansing
'Detoxing' sounds pretty gruelling but Kirsti Shuba, cofounder of Katherine Daniels Cosmetics believes that a deep cleanse needn't be aggressive on the skin. "I'd definitely recommend double cleansing to really rid the skin of that harmful layer of things that can settle on top," she says. "The Deep Cleansing and Skin Rejuvenating System is a great tool – it gives the skin a supreme clean."
And if you're a city dweller, cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Samantha Bunting recommends a cleansing brush. "Given that so many women are prone to breakouts, redness and sensitivity, routine use of devices like cleansing brushes can be problematic. However, if you are running or cycling outdoors in a city environment then it may be useful to incorporate a cleansing brush to remove sunscreen and makeup," she says. "Cleansing brushes may assist the removal of the micro-particles found in the air in polluted urban environments which ultimately can trigger hyper-pigmentation. This is because they are small enough to penetrate the skin."
"Products containing ingredients such as volcanic mud – like the Revitalising Mineral Mask – really balance oil production and remove impurities from pores before they can cause any damage," says Alicia Falero, head of education at Gazelli Skincare, and we should also be spending our money on products containing white clay, green clay, charcoal and algae, which have the ability to dislodge grime, according to Abigail.
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It's also important not to underestimate the effects of exfoliation if you're serious about stopping aggressors in their tracks. "I'd recommend opting for an enzyme exfoliator as opposed to an exfoliator that uses scrubbing particles – they shouldn't be abrasive." After something specialist-approved? "The ZENii Salicylic Acid Exfoliator, £45, is really great," says Dr. Blakely.
Instead Of 'Detoxing', We Should Be Protecting
Instead of putting the focus on purging, our skincare needs to work like armour so that 'toxins' such as pollution and airborne bacteria are unable to collect on the skin in the first place – and antioxidants are the best shield.
Sunday Riley C.E.O. C+E antiOXIDANT Protect & Repair Moisturiser, £60 available at Space NK
"While beauty products will not eliminate toxins, they can aid protection via the skin," says Rabbia. "Products that have antioxidant properties will protect against some free radicals – mainly pollution, and in some cases, UV rays," which Dr. Blakely seconds.
So what should we be looking out for? "Vitamin C, found in many moisturisers and serums, can combat free radicals and help reduce your risk of cell damage and subsequent disease," Rabbia says. Moisturising Vitamin E is also great at shielding your skin from environmental aggressors (such as pollution) that attach themselves to your skin and cause damage in the long run.
It's Time To Go Back To Basics
Instead of stocking up on the overnight detox oils and the painful peel-off masks that have taken Instagram by storm (you know the ones – er, ouch), Dr. Bunting believes that really, we should be putting the focus on 'detoxing' our skincare regime.
"I think [detoxing] taps into a popular concept and has marketing appeal," she says, "but the only detox that is of use for the skin, in my opinion, is getting rid of pointless steps in the skincare routine. It's about eliminating products, for example those which are heavily fragranced, as they can be potentially harmful."
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