The consequences of an improper cleaning routine, says Dr. Stephens, include the build up of bacteria, debris, and other impurities that your skin picks up throughout the day which can lead to breakouts. It's also important to know how to recognize if you’re over- or under-washing your skin as well as the best practices according to your skin type.
How often you should wash your face
Before turning in for the night to clock in some shut-eye, it's common to wash away the dirt, oil, and general gunk leftover from the steamy summer days. But can the same be said for what happens upon waking up each morning? Many people tend to skip the morning cleanse because, well, the only thing that's happened since the previous face-wash eight hours earlier (hopefully!) is sleep. According to Alicia Yoon, an esthetician and founder of Peach & Lily, that might not be ideal.
"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," Yoon says of pillows, which are often littered with bacteria.
There are also other environmental factors to consider: In the evening, for example, it's common to slather on potent ingredients like retinol and glycolic acid, and those things can linger on the skin into the morning. It's important to remove them with a cleanse because they cause sun sensitivity, which can result in an intense sunburn. Even if you're not using medicated serums, "if you're using oil-based moisturizers, you want to make sure that's taken off in the morning," says Yoon. This allows you to sweep on your foundations and concealers without the oils in the different formulas working against one another.
Generally, dermatologists and estheticians recommend washing your face both morning and night, but it’s also important to take your skin type into consideration as well as lifestyle factors.
How often you should wash your face by skin type
Sensitive or dry skin
“The act of cleansing the skin can further dry the skin out if someone has dry skin,” says Dr. Stephens. For people with dry or sensitive skin she recommends sticking to one cleanse at night, which should be sufficient to wash away the dirt, grime, and debris from the day.
Oily or combination skin
For people with combination or oily skin, Dr. Stephens emphasizes the importance of washing twice a day (morning and night) to ensure that you’re removing all the excess build up and preventing breakouts.
That said, regardless of your skin type, if you’re squeezing in a morning workout, it’s a great idea to wash your face right after to remove excessive sweat, bacteria, and dirt, says Dr. Stephens.
How to recognize over- or under-washing
Even if you think you’re doing your due diligence by cleansing your face morning and night, it is still possible to over or under wash your face. For instance, if you cleanse your face and then use a face towel to dry off only to find some makeup residue has stained your perfectly good towel, that’s a clear sign you may have under washed your face and all the gunk wasn’t properly removed.
If that happens, try double cleansing. “Double cleansing is when an oil-based cleanser is used before a water-based cleanser,” says Dr. Stephens. “This helps to remove makeup completely.”
If you’re washing your face too often, on the other hand, your skin will likely feel excessively tight, squeaky clean, or have dry patches, says Dr. Stephens. In this case, dial it back to the general recommendation of cleansing your skin twice a day, max.
How to properly wash your face
In case you need a face washing 101 refresher, here’s how Dr. Stephens recommends washing your face for best results.
- Wash your hands. (The first step is also the most important.)
- Next, using lukewarm water gently apply a skin cleanser designed for your skin type and skin concerns for about 45 seconds.
- Carefully pat your face dry with a clean towel. It’s important to dry your face with a clean towel that you specifically use for your face—or allow your skin to air dry if you don’t have one—to avoid reintroducing bacteria.
The best types of face cleansers
The type of cleanser that will best serve your skin will depend on your skin type. “The right cleanser can also help to improve your skin barrier or treat acne,” says Dr. Stephens. “Choosing the wrong cleanser for your skin type can strip your skin barrier of its natural oils, over dry your skin, or cause irritation and possible sensitivity.” In other words, the face cleanser you use is just as important as how often you should wash your face.
For oily and combination skin: foaming or gel cleansers
For people with oily or combination skin, Dr. Stephens recommends a foaming or gel cleanser which will help remove excessive oils that build up on the skin throughout the day.
For dry or sensitive skin: hydrating or milky cleanser
For acne-prone skin: cleansers with active ingredients
Acne-prone skin will benefit most from cleansers with active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. “I frequently recommend The INKEY List Salicylic Acid Cleanser,” says Dr. Stephens. “It's affordable and gentle yet very effective.”
Furthermore, you can also base the type of cleanser you use on the time of day. For instance, Yoon recommends gentle cleansers as opposed to heavy-duty ones in the morning, with fewer surfactants. That means you should leave your foams and bars for your evening wash and instead reach for either a wipe such as Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Wipes ($25), an oil cleanser like the Burt's Bees Cleansing Oil ($16), or an ultra easy-does-it formula à la the Lagom Cell Gel-to-Water Cleanser ($18) for a complexion that's primed and ready for sunscreen and whatever the day brings.
Take a closer look at a board-certified dermatologist's full skin-care routine with Mona Gohara, MD:
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