You may think you know how to wash your face properly, but chances are you’re making at least one of several common mistakes. As nice as it would be to just turn on the water, grab a bar of soap, and get to work, that’s not exactly going to help you reach your complexion goals. In fact, some of the most common techniques could actually be hurting your skin.
Whether you’re just starting your skin-care journey or you abide by a 15-step routine, there are a handful of mistakes to avoid to ensure you’re getting the most out of your face-washing routine. These are are the top nine to be aware of, according to the dermatologists.
The biggest face washing mistakes—and how to wash your face properly
Be honest. How long do you actually spend washing your face? If it’s a quick 10 seconds, it’s time to up your time spent on skincare. “If all the prep—such as thoroughly removing your makeup—is already done, it should take 20 to 30 seconds to wash your face each morning and night,” says dermatologist Libby Rhee, DO. “Sometimes I recommend a slightly longer or more complicated cleanse depending on someone’s goals, like using a gentle exfoliating brush while cleansing, which usually takes around 60 seconds.”
If you’re not thinking of your neck as part of your routine, you’re missing a crucial step. “Many women use makeup on their necks to blend with the rest of their face. Because the neck has oil glands just like the rest of the face, it’s also subject to breakouts,” says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a triple board-certified dermatopathologist in Boston. If you don’t cleanse your neck, it could result in acne or even dermatitis neglecta, where your neck becomes a shade or two darker than your face.
Using an exfoliating face wash can do wonders for your skin, helping fight off acne and making your complexion silky smooth. You just can’t do too much of it. When you use harsh ingredients on your face too often, you’ll damage your skin barrier and cause your skin to wind up worse—not better. That’s why derms recommend starting with something gentle—like an exfoliating face wash—once a week to let your skin get used to it before going all in.
You probably think you know how to wash your face properly in the shower. Here’s the deal, though: Derms say the water is way too hot for your face, and that could be doing your complexion more harm than good. “We may love hot showers, but our skin does not,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Hot water can strip the skin of oils, leading to dryness, irritation, and inflammation.”
In a survey from the brand Cerave, 37 percent of the 2,000 adults polled said they considered their skin “clean” post-wash when it felt tight. That shouldn’t be the case, though. “After washing your face, the skin should feel light and soft, but not tight,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD. “There’s a perception that tight and dry equals clean, but it really represents post wash dryness, which is harmful to the skin.” You want your natural oils to stick around, not be stripped away.
Here’s a closer look at a dermatologist’s daily routine:
Okay, okay—I’m sure the first thing you do after working out is wash your face. Surprisingly, that might not be the best move for your skin. “Sweat is your body’s most natural cleanser,” says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, founder of NYC’s Marmur Medical. “Working out every morning and getting at least a sheet of sweat on your face is sort of the best thing you can do for your acne, your rosacea, your dry skin—all your dermatitis. For beautiful skin, sweating actually helps your body heal, it helps your body cleanse, it helps your body rev up those enzymes that need to create that radiant skin barrier.” But if you need to feel a little clean, just wash with cool water and a very gentle cleanser.
If you’re the type who washes your face the second you get in the door after a long day of work, you might want to switch up your schedule. “Sometimes you’re eating and wiping your mouth and touching your face, and your skincare stuff comes off,” says dermatologist Shirley Chi, MD. If you’re worried you’re not being careful enough, wait to wash your face right before going to bed.
It’s tempting to use a bar of soap to wash your face at night, but experts would prefer you didn’t. “Traditional bars of soap are an acid mantle’s worst nightmare. Your acid mantle is your skin’s protective layer. If you disrupt it, it will fight back in the form of irritation, a la dryness, redness, or acne,” says Emily Parr, founder of HoliFrog. “Our skin’s pH—which, for healthy skin, is between 4.5 and 5.5—is maintained by the acid mantle. Traditional soap’s pH is at about 9, and even pH-balanced soaps come in at around a seven, which is still too alkaline for healthy skin.”
Washing your face in the morning is just as important as it is at night. It might not seem necessary since you were just sleeping, but your skin gets dirtier than you think during those eight hours. “It’s hard to keep everything in your bed totally clean, plus you can sweat at night, so you wind up with impurities and pollutants on your skin,” says Alicia Yoon, an esthetician and founder of Peach & Lily. It’s also important for washing away potent ingredients you apply at night like retinol, which could cause sun sensitivity during the day.
Here’s your definitive guide to beauty devices for your skin. Then meet the balm that contains honey and probiotics for the ultimate natural face-washing experience.
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