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5 Things You May Not Know About Skin Detox (the Real Kind)

woman doing facial massage for skin detox

The word “detox” can conjure a scary image in your mind. You picture juice cleanses and green-colored liquids, bottles of detox supplements and detox vitamins on the kitchen counter, or expensive procedures at some posh clinic that are way out of reach. While these things do exist, detoxing skin can actually be simpler, definitely less intimidating, and yes, more effective than you've been told.

Skin detoxing is sometimes misunderstood to mean purging the bad elements - specifically toxins - from the skin itself, but medical professionals are quick to point out this isn’t technically possible, simply because the skin doesn’t have the ability to remove toxins. In reality, what you really mean is either getting rid of toxins from your body so they don’t show up in your physical appearance (such as your skin, the biggest human organ) or having healthy skin clear of clogs and irritations, or, actually, both.

In the truest essence of the term, skin detox should mean an inside-and-out approach to achieving not just skin that just looks good externally, but also reflects good health internally. Want to detoxify skin right? Here are 5 things you may not know about skin detox, but should:

1. Our internal systems are the OG toxin fighters, but we can also help them

Scrubbing your skin to remove grime and excess sebum isn’t really detoxing the skin, just like doing a juice cleanse isn’t, but it doesn’t mean they’re not helping your great skin quest: just know the difference between taking care of yourself and actually detoxifying.

Our internal organs have the ability to remove many harmful substances - actual toxins - by themselves, and our lymphatic system facilitates the movement of lymphatic fluid throughout our body as a filtration system of sorts, helping our immune system function properly. By eating healthy - and yes, that may include green juices for some people - you avoid giving these systems more bad elements to process. For example, nearly 30% of respondents who had done a juice cleanse in a survey of more than 1,300 respondents saw improvements in their skin.

Gua sha for skin detox
Gua sha can come in different materials

A tool with roots dating back over 2,000 years in Chinese medicine - the now Tiktok-famous gua sha - has been touted in some research to assist proper lymphatic drainage function, particularly when the lymphatic fluid isn’t flowing properly, causing build-up and swelling and making one more prone to recurring infections. A gua sha comes in different shapes and materials, which, when used properly - from applying the right pressure to executing the right movement techniques - can not only increase blood circulation and prevent congestion but also deliver oxygen to the skin, according to The New York Times.

These help new cell growth, which is crucial to skin health, while also sculpting your facial features and reducing puffiness when used on the face.

2. Toxins can build up even if you don’t smoke or drink alcohol

Toxins, technically, are defined as some substance from a plant or animal that is harmful to humans. Unfortunately, they’re around us and we can be exposed environmentally or simply by using products with harmful chemicals, such as household cleaners, prescription and OTC drugs, gasoline, and yes, even cosmetics and skin care products.

Needless to say, drinking alcohol and smoking make it worse, as they significantly impact the amount of toxins in your system. In fact, any amount of alcohol ingested has been proven to be toxic, with the World Health Organization going as far as concluding that “no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health”.

All these simply mean that you are exposed to toxins, whether inadvertently or willingly, and will inevitably affect your skin, other organs, and overall general well-being.

3. Detoxifying isn’t a one-and-done process, and neither is skin detoxification

Detoxification doesn’t come in just one shape and size, and while some results can be felt early on in one’s journey, it doesn’t come as a one-and-done process. A commitment to detoxifying your skin is like any other health-building routine: it’s a process supported by frequency and consistency.

Your organs work hard to naturally detox your body every day, as explained by Dr. Adrienne Youdim, a medical weight loss and nutritional therapy expert, who says, “Our bodies have their own elaborate, elegant detoxification system…but that’s just the beginning.”

Skin detox with gua sha and lymphatic drainage
A lymphatic drainage facial massage with a gua sha can aid the lymphatic system

Licensed skin care professional, celebrity esthetician, and clean beauty industry leader Ildi Pekar explains her own philosophy when it comes to skin detoxification. “Real results are a combination of the skin care treatments you get from an esthetician’s office and what you do in between visits.” She says, “How your skin looks is 20% what we do to it during a visit and 80% how you treat it when you’re not in our treatment rooms.” Considered a foremost authority in lymphatic drainage facial treatment, she teaches a 60-minute virtual masterclass on it making it accessible to anyone even if they can’t make it to her Manhattan studios. “It’s not just a skincare routine - it’s a wellness regimen.”

4. Falling short on skin detox can explain symptoms you blamed on something else

Living a life surrounded by social media could make you vulnerable to explaining your real-life situations with a random plethora of things seen online. Maybe someone online had the same lethargy you were feeling, so you think you’re in early menopause (at 35 years old). That bloat you are feeling? It must be your breakfast this morning (a nonfat latte). Those new breakouts on your face? That's gotta be the new make-up brand (that you’ve been wearing for like, six months). Upon closer look, none of that really makes sense, and the real reason could be lurking within.

Every one of these things could just as possibly mean toxins are in your system, or that there’s a build-up in your lymphatic system and it’s showing up outwardly not just in your skin’s appearance but also in how you feel. Attributing symptoms to wrong causes could lead down a misleading path of "cures" that bring no relief if not potentially worsen your symptoms.

Toxins affect skin health and overall wellbeing

5. Skipping proper skin detox can have short and long-term effects

Today, you might notice fatigue, puffy eyes/bags under your eyes, and irritated skin. Tomorrow (and for many days thereafter), there’s the bloating that just never ends and the new skin growths around your eyes that seemed to have multiplied overnight.

For your skin alone, dermatologists and estheticians alike will agree that an overload of toxic materials can easily show up on your skin, causing skin eruptions, allergic reactions, pigmentation, and more severe skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and those are just for starters. The longer the toxins linger, the more pronounced the effects will be, making it even more frustrating to deal with them and find relief.

Understanding what skin detox really is can lead to a fulfilling path of healthy routines that bring about real results. Done right, it’s nowhere near as intimidating as it sounds, and it can feel as good as it’s supposed to because of an inside-and-out approach. By now, you know your body works hard to detoxify every single day, and that you have the power to support your body and help it in any way that you can.


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