‘I’m a Dermatologist, and This Is Why Double Cleansing Could Be Your Skin’s Saving Grace as You Age’

Photo: Getty Images/ Oleg Breslavtsev
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Sometimes, skin care can be confusing. Case in point: Retinol is widely known as the key to perfect skin, but it often makes things a whole lot worse before making them better.

Luckily when it comes to cleansing, things are a bit more straightforward. Ask any pro and you’re likely to get the same answer: The double cleanse is the gold standard of face washing. What's more, it can become extra-helpful for your skin as you age.

What is double cleansing?

Double cleansing is exactly what it sounds like: cleansing the skin not once, but twice. As board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, puts it, “The double cleanse aims to clean your skin as thoroughly as possible by using two different types of cleansers to get rid of the different kinds of dirt and impurities on your face.”

The first step generally involves using an oil-based cleanser, micellar water, or cleansing balm to help break down any oil, makeup, sunscreen, and excess sebum on the skin’s surface, says board-certified dermatologist Lindsay Zubritsky, MD. For the second cleanse, experts suggest using a water-based cleanser to ensure that the skin is completely clean and free of any residue and impurities.

The general thinking is that the first cleanse takes off any makeup, sweat, sunscreen, etc. sitting on top of the skin, while the second cleanse focuses on the skin itself. Both derms agree the method is a no-brainer for those who wear makeup and/or sunscreen regularly, as well as those with oily or acne-prone skin. They note that those with rosacea- or eczema-prone skin, or those with dry skin in general can certainly try double cleansing but should proceed with caution and monitor skin for any flare-ups. A favorite of dermatologists and beauty experts alike, the double cleanse helps avoid over-cleansing and stripping the skin’s barrier, while still effectively removing impurities that, if left on the skin’s surface, could lead to acne, redness, and irritation, says Zubritsky.

Another, albeit lesser known, benefit of double cleansing? It’s kind of a saving grace when it comes to skin aging.

How double cleansing helps combat visible signs of skin aging

Pollutants are a major contributor when it comes to visible signs of aging—in general, pollution weakens the skin, compromising its barrier and accelerating the risk of brown spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. Unfortunately, air pollution is just about everywhere, from big cities to the remote countryside. Dr. Zubritsky explains why double cleansing is key to fighting visible signs of aging: “If the skin is not fully and properly cleansed each night, residue from the day can trap dirt or bacteria on our skin, leading to irritation, dryness, free radical damage, and eventually collagen degradation, which can result in premature aging.”

In short, double cleansing ensures those impurities and harmful particles are completely removed from the skin. It also helps to protect and maintain the skin barrier, which, as Gohara says, is essential to keeping skin healthy and happy. Plus double cleansing can help your skin-care products work even better: A thoroughly cleansed base allows serums and treatments to penetrate the skin more deeply, giving them the chance to deliver maximum damage-reducing benefits.

Convinced two is better than one? Read on for eight of our favorite, expert-approved cleansers for the perfect double cleanse.

First cleanse

Naturium Purple Ginseng Cleansing Balm — $20.00

Formulated with a blend of purple ginseng, plant-based esters, and linoleic-rich oils, this cleansing balm melts away makeup without leaving a greasy film over the skin. Dr. Zubritsky’s a fan, citing its incredibly gentle yet effective nature.

La Roche-Posay Micellar Water Ultra — $18.00

Dr. Zubritsky also recommends a micellar water, like this one from La Roche-Posay. Incredibly gentle and hydrating, simply apply the product onto a cotton pad and gently swipe across the face to remove any dirt, oil, makeup, and pollution. No need to rinse off, just follow up with a second cleanse and you’re good to go.

First Aid Beauty 2-in-1 Cleansing Oil + Makeup Remover — $26.00

This unique oil-to-foam cleanser is filled with skin-loving ingredients like glycerin, calendula, and colloidal oatmeal to help calm and soothe skin while removing makeup and debris. Dr. Gohara says the gentle, hydrating formula is a perfect first cleanse.

The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm — $11.00

If you love the feeling of a cleansing balm but hate having to dig your fingers into a jar to scoop it out, this hydrating balm—conveniently packaged in a squeezable tube—is a no-brainer. It gently removes makeup and debris from the skin and doubles as a nourishing face mask. Simply apply it to clean skin and let sit for five to 15 minutes before rinsing and washing with your second cleanser.

Second cleanse

Peach and Lily Power Calm Hydrating Gel Cleanser — $28.00

This gel formula lathers into a soft foam to deep-clean the skin, and is formulated without any drying, harsh ingredients to keep skin soft and supple. With a pH of 5.5, it calms and soothes skin, making it the perfect second step in a double cleansing routine.

Byoma Creamy Jelly Cleanser — $12.00

Dermatologists love this ultra-hydrating jelly cleanser thanks to its unique formula, which features a barrier-boosting tri-ceramide complex, licorice root (which is rich in antioxidants), and green tea extract to nourish and brighten the skin. The formula is effective yet gentle and transforms into a creamy lather that’s ideal for a second cleanse.

SkinMedica Facial Cleanser — $40.00

With a healthy dose of panthenol (a calming agent that binds moisture to surface skin layers), SkinMedica’s foaming face wash hydrates and refreshes the skin without feeling too thick or heavy. Dr. Gohara is a fan of the water-based cleanser thanks to its effective, soothing formula.

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser — $14.00

For her second cleanse, Dr. Zubritsky opts for a gentle, hydrating cleanser like CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser. The powerful combination of hyaluronic acid and ceramides helps replenish the skin barrier and prevents overdrying.

For more face-washing tips, check out the video below. 


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