For the last 14 days, nothing has touched my face – no face wash, no honey, no oil, no fingers (well, no picking or popping anyway), no makeup, and not even water.
I am doing the caveman approach to skincare!
What is the Caveman Regimen?
Most of you know that I advocate a simple skincare routine full of natural, non irritating, non drying ingredients. I believe strongly that most people’s commercial cleansers, moisturizers and topicals are actually working against them instead of for them and could be giving you acne instead of getting rid of it.
Well, the caveman is just taking the idea of gentle skincare to the next level – it’s the ultimate simple skincare routine. You essentially do nothing.
The Theory of the Caveman Goes Like This:
Your skin has something called an “acid mantle” that it develops when you hit puberty. It’s like this shell made up of sweat and sebum that protects your body from invading bacteria. It has a PH of approximately 5.5. Slightly acidic.
Problem is, we are constantly stripping our skin of this acid mantle by washing it and slathering it in stuff – especially with harsh, drying chemicals that have inappropriate PH ratings. For example, the reason you shouldn’t ever wash your face with bar soap, is because it is always highly alkaline. It messes with your acid mantle.
So at the very least, you want to be using something gentle to wash your face that has a slightly acidic PH – luckily honey, the thing I normally recommend, does. That is one reason I chose to use it in the first place.
So anyway, the theory goes that this acid mantle – the sweat and sebum that we are taking great pains to keep off our skin – is actually what protects you from bacteria invading your pores and creating acne. Problem is that for most of us, from the minute we see that first spot as an adolescent, we’ve been using some form of cleanser or topical to keep the acne at bay. Most of us have never given our skin a break since the time we were 13 years old.
In fact, maybe – and especially if you’re an adult with acne that just never stopped after your teenage years – you don’t even have acne anymore at all. You are just creating acne with all the irritation from your washing and products – or at least greatly exasperating it. And even gentle products could still be changing your acid mantle more than you’d want and leaving your skin unprotected.
The answer? Do nothing. Stop washing your face or putting anything on it. Let your natural oils and sweat build up and protect your face, and your acne will greatly decline or go away. Let your skin heal itself with absolutely no outside interference.
–> Okay that’s the theory.
Don’t ask me if the theories are correct, and I’m certain this isn’t going to work for everyone.
Acne isn’t that simple, and we know that the acne machine churns on the inside, not the outside. But there are many different steps in the formation of inflamed acne, and one, is the introduction of bacteria into a clogged pore. Another is physical irritation of that clogged pore, which causes your body to then respond with inflammation there.
So maybe if you cut out some of the latter steps in the acne formation cycle and let your skin work its own magic, you could greatly reduce or eliminate your inflamed acne even if you are battling internal factors.
Whether it really works or not, I’ve always been incredibly enthralled with the idea. This whole ‘caveman regimen’ is all the rave over on the acne.org message boards, which is where I believe the idea was born and I came across it. It sounds like a lot of people have had some success with it. Not everyone, but lots have.
It was actually when my acne was severe that I came across this whole idea. It excited me a lot, because it seemed to make such perfect sense. What IF I was just causing my own acne? What IF the answer was doing nothing? How amazing would that be? I mean, I only seem to have acne on the parts of my face that I’d been washing and slathering with benzoyl peroxide for the last four years. The skin on the rest of my body is so perfect.
I think it was wishful thinking considering how bad my acne was then (definitely some sizeable inside issues needing to be addressed there!), but the theory stuck with me and I wanted to try it more than anything.
Of course – then came the one major roadblock in my amazing plans for caveman domination and that was makeup. My skin was so bad, I absolutely couldn’t bear the thought of not covering it up. I simply couldn’t will myself to do it. And I wasn’t about to just wear a ton of makeup and not wash it off day after day. (Although this girl did that and it still worked)
So even though I chickened out, I am still grateful to the caveman regimen because learning about it was the reason I was able to give up topicals for good and stay committed to only ever using natural, gentle ingredients on my skin. It took me a while to figure out the best thing to use, but I finally came across honey to use as a cleanser and it was like a match made in heaven (with a great PH rating to boot).
How to Do the Caveman Regimen
With such a simple regimen, you’d think there wouldn’t be too much to explain, but of course there is actually a heap to discuss.
First of all – not everyone does the caveman the same. To many, the caveman simply means ‘water only’. Splashing your face with water once in a while, or water that touches your face in the shower, and nothing else. That one’s pretty simple to explain.
But the more hardcore cavemen among us (including myself) are not even letting water touch our faces. Not forever, but at least 30 days.
This is because it serves to eliminate absolutely all irritation. There are chemicals in your tap water, after all. And water itself is actually quite drying, meaning that you’re going to need a moisturizer afterward, and then we’re just backpedaling into the “do something” routine.
The other reason for quitting water is that when you stop washing or rinsing your face after having done it twice a day for years, you build up a bunch of dead skin on your face. The ‘dead skin mask’, they call it. This protects your skin as it heals, regulates its sebum production, and restores itself to its youthful appearance underneath.
Allegedly your skin renews itself every 28 days, so sometime after a good four weeks, you can remove the dead skin mask by very gently exfoliating with a wet muslin cloth (or even just scraping it off with a clean fingernail) and your skin should be as smooth as a baby’s bottom if all went to plan. Then you can rinse or wash your face with something gentle every so often and stop completely avoiding water.
Wait – wait.
Dead skin mask?
Yeah I know. I never said this was going to be pretty. But it’s not as bad as it sounds, or at least mine isn’t, here on day 14. It’s not really noticeable at all if you aren’t looking for it. It seems it would only be obvious if you disturb it (I hear you can see it if it gets wet or if you scratched at it or something). It’s not the type of thing that looks like you’re wearing this:
However, I do hear it gets worse as times goes on, and you do look a bit crusty and flakey by the end. I will certainly let you know when I get to that stage.
Despite all this, I’ve also heard that it is quite worth it – inflammation goes way down, if you do get spots, they are usually much smaller and go away quicker, and after you remove the skin mask, your skin looks way better – not oily, not dry, just perfect – and you don’t have to wash as much or at all.
Essentially the caveman regimen is the “no ‘poo” method for your face. It might be really oily, or it might be excessively dry for quite a few days. You could have a purging breakout or congestion. Maybe it won’t be great for a while… but then you will reap the rewards of a self regulating face that doesn’t over or underproduce oil, isn’t as congested, and looks a hell of a lot of healthier.
Again – this is only a theory, but it makes sense to me, and some people do clear their acne this way.
Logistical Issues with the Caveman Regimen
Aside from letting go of the psychological attachments we have to washing and products, the most obvious thing that is probably jumping to mind if you’re a lady is ‘but.. but……. no makeup?’.
Yes, that’s right, no makeup, and for me, this is the biggest logistical issue, by far. And I’m not even someone with really bad skin anymore, and I was never even the type who ever wore full makeup, only directly on spots – but the idea of absolutely NO makeup, through thick or thin, no matter what happens, still makes me feel a bit panicky sometimes.
The emotional impact of the choice to go without is a whole ‘nother can of worms, and I’ll save that for next post when I discuss how my caveman experiment has been going.
But for now – the answer is yes – NO makeup (well, except eye makeup. I still wear mascara. Just no skin makeup). While I did link to someone above who piled makeup on her face and never washed it and this was still successful, somehow that just seems like a bad idea. Although perhaps maybe it wouldn’t be too detrimental if you only put a tiny dab on a pimple just to cut down on that redness and didn’t wash that off. I’ve done that before when I was camping to no ill effect.
Either way, putting a bunch of makeup on when your face is all flakey and crusty is usually a really bad idea anyway. Tends to look a lot worse than if you just didn’t put any on, doesn’t it?
I’d like to point out here that if you are a guy, I’d think about giving this a try. I mean, if you didn’t wear makeup anyway, what do you really have to lose by trying this regimen? Then if it works you can let us ladies know so that maybe we’ll have an easier time letting the makeup go for a while if we know it is worthwhile.
So that brings me to the next question – if you’re a guy, how do you shave?
From my understanding, guys doing this regimen use beard trimmers and set them to the closest setting. Or just really get into the whole caveman thing and grow a full beard!
Another question that might pop into your head is – how do I wash my hair or shower if I can’t get my face wet?
Well, honestly, I personally have an advantage here in that I don’t really wash my hair much because of my dreadlocks, so I can just wear a shower cap and keep my head out of the stream and all is well. It sounds like everyone else just tilts their head back and does their best to keep the water off their face (I’d like to note here that shampoo streaming down your face can be a source of irritation, so this is great as it removes that as well!). But yeah… it sounds like if you get your face a tiny bit wet with splashes from the shower, it’s not going to ruin everything.
Having baths instead is another option. That’s what I’ve taken to doing, mostly just to shave my legs every once in a while to keep my boyfriend happy
Other Things to Consider Before You Start the Caveman
- The caveman is best paired with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Since acne comes from within (and can be exasperated from the outside), this no washing stuff is going to be the most effective if you are also eating like a caveman – or at least not eating processed garbage.
- The caveman regimen is also best paired with a ‘do nothing’ attitude toward your acne (I mean, aside from eating well and exercising, things every person should be doing regardless of acne status). This means that you also don’t spend hours in front of the mirror obsessing over your acne, you just do other fun stuff and ignore it. This lowers your stress levels significantly and will greatly improve your chances for success with this.
- I’m guessing the biggest improvements with this regimen are going to be with people who have been using the harsh chemicals, topicals, and irritating cleansers. Since I’ve been using a gentle, natural skin care routine for some time now, I don’t honestly know how much improvement I’m expecting for my mild acne problem (especially because I know it’s digestion related) – but you never know – maybe I’m wrong and doing nothing is the last piece of the puzzle. That’s why it’s called an experiment!
Extra Curricular Caveman Reading
Here are links to some of the popular Acne.org threads about the caveman regimen. Some are about the hardcore no water approach, and some are just about washing with water instead. If you’re interested in this concept, have a read through some of them:
Okay, tune in for the next post on Wednesday, where I will be talking about my personal experiences with the caveman regimen so far!
What do you think about the caveman regimen? Would you ever try it?
**Update** – Get the updates on my caveman regimen experiment by clicking on the following links: