Washing your face is one of those staple hygiene practices — much like brushing your teeth and taking a shower — that people should (in theory) be doing on the reg. But, with celebrities denouncing their daily body cleanse, it’s time to revisit the basics. And so Bustle asked experts the all-important question: How often should you wash your face, really?
To get to the bottom of the skin care practice, it’s important to first understand the purpose of cleansing. “In the most basic form of [face] washing, assuming we are using water and a mild version of soap, we are absorbing some of the natural oils created by our skin, and helping it shed the top layer,” says Dr. Orit Markowitz, New York City Board-Certified Dermatologist and Founder of OptiSkin. This ensures your face is clean and ready to soak up the rest of your skin care routine (hence why it’s always step one).
Face washing is the part of your regimen that rids your complexion of any gunk it’s accumulated, which is a foundation of having healthy skin. “Washing your face gets rid of excess oil, dirt, and other impurities that build up on your skin throughout the day,” says Dr. Michael Somenek, M.D., a double-board certified plastic surgeon. “It also helps unclog pores that are blocked, and provides your skin with the necessary hydration to prevent it from becoming rough, dry, and wrinkled.” In other words: It’ll help keep acne and fine lines at bay.
Despite being a key practice for a healthy glow, you can overdo it. Or you could be doing it incorrectly. More on dermatologist-backed rules below, including how often you actually need to wash your face.
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How Often Should You Wash Your Face?
While everyone can agree on what facial cleansing is for, how often you should do it is when opinions start to differ. Some skin care devotees are strict proponents of the double cleanse. Others do it a standard two times a day, while many people skip face wash in the a.m. Then there are those who allow a day (or longer) to pass without touching their cleanser at all. (Is that you, Jake Gyllenhaal?)
The consensus? You should wash your face at least once a day, but shoot for twice. Generally, the pros say your evening cleanse is more important than washing your face in the morning — and that’s because your skin is exposed to much more external pollutants. “The night wash is so important because of the dirt and grime and pollution that builds up during the day,” says Dr. Mara Weinstein, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist.
Though the morning cleanse is more of a feel-it-out situation, it can (often) be pretty damn important too. “Washing in the morning ensures your skin is clean,” says Weinstein. “There’s a hygiene issue where people don’t wash their sheets or pillowcases as often as they should. [Cleansing] also gets off any leftover residue from the evening before so there’s no leftover dirt or bacteria on the skin.” It also removes excess oil that built up overnight, she adds, which can happen if your skin is on the oily side.
The good news for those who dread the face washing chore? Your a.m. cleanse doesn’t have to be intense. “Let’s say your skin runs dry and you wake up feeling like your face is tight and dry,” says Weinstein. “Instead of doing a full cleanse, you can just do a splash of water or use micellar water or something else that’s very gentle and non-stripping.”
If you want your skin to really soak up your serums and creams, a morning cleanse (and an evening one, for that matter) is a good idea. “You should cleanse your skin in the morning prior to applying products, sunscreens, and medications,” says Markowitz. “It’s important to get the skin clear so those products can get in and do what they need to do.” If there’s any residual makeup, oil, or debris on your face, she says it can act as a barrier that prevents proper absorption.
What Happens If You Don’t Wash Your Face?
If you skip out on your face wash, you’re left with residue that sits on your pores — which can lead to unwanted skin woes. “The bacteria, pollution, dirt, dust exposures from the day, and makeup will build up and clog your pores, which can lead to breakouts,” says Weinstein. “If you have sensitive skin, it can cause redness. If you’re eczema-prone and you don’t cleanse, all that bacteria buildup can lead to infection.”
You also won’t have the best glow if you don’t regularly wash your face. “You may find that your skin is aging prematurely, drying out, or that your skin tone is dulling,” says Somenek. So if you want to have a bright, even radiance, you’re going to want to stay on top of your cleansing routine.
How To Wash Your Face
For your healthiest complexion, derms suggest abiding by the following best practices.
Use lukewarm water: Use the Goldilocks of water temperatures when cleansing, says Somenek. Too-hot water can damage your skin barrier, he explains, which can lead to dryness and irritation.
Use your fingertips: Weinstein recommends washing with your hands rather than a cleansing tool or washcloth. “If you’re using a good cleanser, use your fingertips in a gentle, circular massage,” she says.
Use the right cleaner for your skin type: Grab an acne-targeted cleanser if you’re battling breakouts, a hydrating face wash if your skin is parched, and a creamy cleanser if your skin is irritated, says Somenek.
Pat your skin dry: After you cleanse, Somenek suggests using an antimicrobial towel (since bacteria grows on the average towel) to gently pat your face dry. “Avoid rubbing it, which can irritate the delicate skin on the face,” he says.
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Dr. Michael Somenek, M.D., a double-board certified plastic surgeon
Dr. Mara Weinstein, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist