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What “Detox” Actually Means When It Comes to Your Skin Care Products

Ever wonder what detox means in skin care? We broke down this frequently used term.

“Detox” is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. Used when referring to everything from diets to spa treatments, it’s become another word for a cure-all, a quick fix and a step on the path to perfection.

In skin care, we see the term in bold print on the packaging of cleansers, creams and serums that promise to suck out all the bad stuff and leave us with clear, glowing skin. If you’ve ever reached for a detoxifying mask after a long flight, a stressful day, or an indulgent weekend and thought, “This will fix everything,” you’re not alone.

But because when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, we asked skin experts to explain what it means when a product claims to detoxify the skin—and what it doesn’t.

According to Fayne Frey, a New York-based dermatologist, in the medical community, detox has one definition and that is: “The medical treatment of people with serious life-threatening drug addictions.” So…nothing to do with the appearance of our skin.

As for the purging of toxins in our bodies, the liver, kidney and gastrointestinal tract have it covered. “A healthy body has very good ways of clearing out unwanted toxins,” says Frey. “There is no identified ‘toxin’ that is excreted in the skin.”

So can skin care even have “detoxifying” properties?

What skin care products can remove are things like dirt, pollution, free radicals, sweat, dead skin cells and sebum that build up on the surface of the skin as we go about our lives.

While the term is no doubt misleading, so-called detoxifying products are not totally useless.

Impurities like dirt, sweat, and excess sebum can clog pores and cause acne and pollution and free radicals that can be damaging and contribute to skin aging.

“Environmental exposure is something that almost all individuals contact on a daily basis. As such, it can be of great benefit to use products to protect and assist in the skin’s recovery,’ says Helen Knaggs, vice president of global research and development at Nu Skin.

The thing is, you don’t need a special product that has the word “detoxifying” stamped on the front to do that. If you use a cleanser, you’re already effectively removing much of the surface gunk.  

The Skinfood Rice Brightening Scrub Foam, for example, gently exfoliates skin as it cleanses, removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores.

To neutralize free radicals, antioxidants like vitamins C and E are rock stars and are conveniently found in many skin care products.

Green tea is also a powerful antioxidant and can be found in Dr Oracle’s A-Thera Toner, which also helps fight acne and diminish the appearance of acne scars.

Bottom Line:

When it comes to what detox means in skin care, it doesn’t mean a whole lot on a technical level. However, lots of products include ingredients that will help your skin rejuvenate itself and “detox” on a surface level.
Of course, we don’t blame you if you still find comfort in applying that detoxifying mask. Look for ones with ingredients like activated charcoal and kaolin clay, which Knaggs says help absorb those surface impurities.

+ What are your favorite antioxidant-packed products? Share your picks in the comments!

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