Let’s be real for a second: Remembering to cleanse at least once a day is quite the accomplishment. I’ve been on top of that. But it wasn’t until roughly 100 dermatologists, facialists, and skin-care gurus told me to double cleanse that I became a staunch proponent of the practice, which involves—you guessed it—washing your face twice in one go.
It may sound extra, but trust me: It’s not. There are plenty of reasons why pros advise for the added suds. “I think you should always double cleanse if you live in a city,” says Jené Roestorf, biological scientist and founder of Luxe Botanics. “Each cleanser performs a totally different role.”
So it’s not just about using the same product twice—the key is to use specific cleanser types for different purposes: the first to sweep away makeup, the second to get rid of skin-provoking agents that are deeper in your complexion. The idea isn’t new, either—double cleansing has been around for ages. “Centuries ago, geisha used a double cleanse to unburden the skin at the end of every day,” says Victoria Tsai, founder of Tatcha. “They used a botanical oil, like a camellia or rice bran oil, to melt away makeup, and then used a gentle exfoliant, often made of rice, to polish away the thin layer of wax that lies beneath. The result was a skin-care ritual that not only safely removed their makeup, but purified and nourished their skin to a soft, ageless glow.”
Since your skin acts as a barrier, protecting you from all sorts of gunk in the air throughout the day, it’s really important to make sure any semblance of makeup or dirt are all washed away before you hit the hay. “Your skin does accumulate debris throughout the day from sunscreen, sweat, environmental pollutants, and more,” says Tsai. “Purifying and polishing are the key first steps for any skin-care ritual.” The result of that extra step? Your complexion’s primed and ready to soak up the rest of your products. “Any skin-care treatments or moisturizers will not be able to do their best work if applied over layers of debris,” adds Tsai.
However, not all skin types need to do this every single day. “I’d be reluctant to encourage this daily to any patient with sensitive skin who needs to maintain their natural oils,” says Robert Anolik, MD, a New York dermatologist. “These natural oils are natural hydrators and help protect your healthy skin barrier. So double cleansing in that case can be performed a few times a week based on what the skin can handle.”
That first cleanse is essentially aiming to remove debris and makeup, and most pros recommend using an oil or micellar water for this. “The first cleanse most commonly uses a micellar water that more easily picks up oils and makeup and dirt so that a more typical cleanser can better wash the actual skin,” explains Dr. Anolik. “The oils and makeup and dirt can serve for some as a barrier to the real skin surface, so double cleansing is a great option for routine makeup and sunscreen users, which is almost anyone.”
Roestorf and Tsai are team oil, since “oil picks up gunk and pulls it out,” says Roestorf. “Using an oil-based cleanser first will gently purify the skin,” explains Tsai. “Because like dissolves like, it will melt away carrier oils from makeup, excess oil on the skin, and pollutants without stripping the skin of its natural moisture.”
First step cleansers
The second cleanse is where you can get more creative, and choose between creamy cleansers, exfoliants, or just a regular ole gel cleanser of your choice. “A gentle daily exfoliant as a second cleanser lifts away dead skin cells and debris to promote cell turnover,” says Tsai, who recommends looking for a non-abrasive enzymatic formula which lets you exfoliate on the reg without harsh scrubbing or drying out your skin.
Milky cleansers, on the other hand, are good at restoring and supporting your skin’s health. “Creamy cleansers are replenishing and leave your skin barrier in tact,” says Roestorf. “While the oil cleanser breaks everything down, a cream cleanser will remove any leftover residue and then replace the skin with everything it needs for its strong barrier.” You can also opt for a cleanser that’s more tailored to your skin’s specific needs—Tsai says to look for active ingredients to help balance oil or address dryness and redness. Usually, those with oily skin should reach for a foamy or gel cleanser, those with dry skin should opt for something creamy or milky, and those with normal skin can try gels, milks, and creams to find what works best for them. So, yeah: In the name of skin care, it takes two.
Second step cleansers
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