6 Signs You're Washing Your Face Wrong, Plus How To Fix It

The act of washing your face every day may seem like a pretty fool-proof task, but surprisingly, it’s something people do more incorrectly than not. And even when you arm your beauty arsenal with the best cleansers, masks, and toners possible, a careless routine can easily prove to be the culprit behind icky skin conditions like breakouts, irritation, and clogged pores.

“When you don’t wash your face correctly, you’ll definitely see clogged pores,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York City dermatologist and author of Skin Rules Trade Secrets From A Top New York Dermatologist over email. “When washing incorrectly, you can also see acne breakouts, and red patches from the irritants (parabens) present in makeup that isn’t properly washed off your face.”

Look: Washing your face incorrectly probably won’t severely damage your skin, but it’s something you don’t want to make a habit of. Besides, premature aging and rough skin texture isn’t something most people want to deal with. So, to create better washing habits you can actually stick to, these dermatologists are breaking down all the key signs (hint: failing to remove your makeup is one of them) to look out for. Here’s a few signs you could be washing your face wrong. 

1. You Still Have Makeup On Your Face

One of the key signs of washing your face wrong, is if lingering traces of makeup still remain when you're through. Soap and water isn’t strong enough to remove stubborn makeup, especially eyeliner and mascara, which tends to be waterproof. So, if you don’t remove eye makeup staples like these thoroughly, you can expect to see eye infections or styes more than you’d like to.

But aside from eye infections, the ingredients inside your favorite facial makeup products can also take a toll on your skin. “Makeup products like foundations, highlighters, and concealers may have parabens in them, which can cause the skin to breakout and sometimes lead to rashes and sensitivity,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. David Bank via email. “It is very important to make sure that all makeup is removed.”

But how can you tell if you are removing makeup properly from your face? Dr. Bank suggests that poorly removed makeup usually shows up easiest on a white towel, post cleansing.

Try: Superior Egyptian Cotton Face Towel Set, $20, Amazon

“You can tell if you didn’t wash your face thoroughly enough when you dry your face on a white towel, and you can still see makeup residue left over,” says Dr. Bank. “In order to make sure the makeup on your face is completely off, make sure to use makeup remover on your entire face, to gently remove any residue that can sit on your pores.”

And even though makeup remover wipes definitely come in handy, they aren’t a valid substitute to an effective facial cleanser. Some formulas leave an additional layer of residue on the face, which can ultimately contribute to any additional skin irritation.

Makeup removal wipes have ingredients that can leave residue on the skin,” says Dr. Bank. “It is important to wash your face with a gentle cleanser after removal, to help completely free your skin from any makeup or residue.”

Try: Yes to Cucumbers Gentle Milk Cleanser, $6.49, Amazon

2. Your Skin Looks Dull 

Poorly washed skin also tends to look dull and lifeless, as failing to exfoliate regularly leaves your pores clogged and inflamed.

“Not washing your face when you wake up will leave skin looking dull and lackluster,” adds Dr. Schlessinger. Cell turnover happens at night, so if you don't wash in the morning you're stuck with those dead skin cells all day. 

Try: Olay Exfoliating Renewal Cleanser, $13.59, Amazon

3. Your Pores Are Clogged

Clogged pores are another indicator of bad washing habits. And board certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Dr. Joel Schlessinger, finds that chronically clogged pores can lead to skin inflammation, redness, and irritation.

“Cleansing is important in order to remove all of the oil, dirt, pollution and other things your skin comes in contact with every day,” says Schlessinger through email. “Letting these impurities sit on your face for long periods of time can trigger inflammation and irritation, especially if you already have sensitive skin.”

4. Your Skin Texture Has Changed

When you wash your face, you are literally removing any dirt and impurities that can accumulate on your complexion. So, you can only imagine how skipping daily washings affects the health of your skin. Not cleansing your face properly can seriously alter your skin texture, creating a rough and uneven complexion that’s altogether unbearable.  

“By not cleansing, you’re allowing these skin cells to build up over time,” says Dr. Schlessinger.  “This leaves skin feeling rough and uneven, instead of soft and smooth.”

In addition to tough and leathery skin, those who don’t cleanse properly also can expect to see oiliness and pimples pop up, especially since overly clogged pores can definitely bring on the breakouts.

“People naturally have a certain skin type,” says Dr. David Bank. “If you are not washing your face enough, you could start to develop oily skin and or pimples.”

5. You Are Noticing More Signs Of Aging

Generally, aging isn't a bad thing. I'm all for embracing your wrinkles as they come. However, if you're seeing signs of aging earlier than anyone else in your family ever did, it could indicate that you aren't washing your face correctly. This is caused by failing to remove aggressors (think makeup and airborne pollutants) that can linger on your face throughout the day. And not only do these irritants clog up your pores, but they also contribute to collagen breakdown.

“Not cleansing enough will lead to breakouts and even premature signs of aging,” explains Dr. Schlessinger. “If you don’t wash your face before going to bed, the makeup, oil and environmental pollutants will seep into your pores while you sleep, causing breakouts and speeding up the aging process.”

Try: Peter Thomas Roth Anti-Aging Gel Cleanser, $29.95, Amazon

6. Your Products Aren’t Working Like They Should

Finally, because you’re not cleansing your skin of impurities, you’ll notice that your skin care products won’t work as well as they should. This is caused by the fact that skincare formulas won’t be able to absorb into your skin, if your face is riddled with clogged pores and inflammation.

“When skin is cleansed and exfoliated, products can easily sink into skin,” explains Dr. Schlessinger. “But when there are skin cells and other buildup on your complexion, your products can’t absorb, and you won’t see the results you want.”

How To Ensure You're Washing Thoroughly

To wash your face more effectively, cleansing twice a day is highly recommended by all the derms I spoke with. However, over-washing your skin (three or more times a day) isn’t helpful, and can make your skin more irritated than it already is. The only time you should consider washing more than usual is when working out, as sweat and oiliness can cause breakouts no one wants.

“You should always cleanse again at night to take off the makeup and impurities that gather on your face throughout the day,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “The only other time you would want to cleanse is after you work up a sweat at the gym.”

And while I won’t lecture you on the dangers of sleeping with makeup, it’s important to note that clear skin always starts with a foundation-free face. Failing to remove your makeup at night can really cause trouble for the overall health of your skin.

But even if you don’t wear makeup, cleansing two times a day is equally important. As we sleep our skin naturally rejuvenates itself, and promotes natural cell turnover. In not cleansing in the morning, your skin can become dull and lifeless.

“Sweat and oil can also accumulate on your skin as you sleep,” explains Dr. Schlessinger.  “Cleansing in the morning removes these dulling cells, oil and other impurities to keep your skin looking healthy and vibrant.”

Once you start washing regularly, I promise you'll start to see a difference. 

Images: Bianca Consunji (4)/Bustle; Shamin Nakhai, Lea Dubedout, Luke Pamer, Abigail Keenan/Unsplash

Must Reads