Caring for your skin involves cleansing, certainly, but many people are missing the mark, data suggests. More than half of people say they often skip washing their face before bedtime, according to a 2017 survey on 1,000 adult men and women from the skin-care product brand CeraVe. The brand also says that 80 percent of Americans make at least one skin-washing mistake.
As you’ll learn, a face-washing routine is important for the health of your facial skin. Here’s what you need to know about how often to do it, if you can ever skip it, and how to cleanse correctly.
Why It’s Important to Wash Your Face
“Ultimately, face cleansing is critical to maintaining healthy-looking and healthy-feeling skin,” says Aanand Geria, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Verona, New Jersey.
Your face is, well, how you face the world, and as a result, it collects dirt, oil, and other debris that can — if not removed — lead to irritation and other skin problems. “Overall, the skin would be dirtier, drier, greasier, and older-looking without daily face cleansings,” he says.
How Often to Wash Your Face, According to the Experts
In general, wash your face twice a day. “I tell patients that it’s important to wash your face in the morning and at the end of the day,” says the Philadelphia-based board-certified dermatologist Nazanin Saedi, MD. Doing so removes impurities that may have settled on skin throughout the night and then removes dirt, impurities, and any makeup or products used during the day.
As Dr. Saedi mentions, however, there are no set guidelines. Talk to your dermatologist about what might be right for you, because it can depend on your skin type and any skin conditions you may be managing.
Although she recommends washing your face twice a day even for patients who have sensitive skin or skin conditions, some dermatologists advise only once a day in certain circumstances.
Dr. Geria recommends washing your face twice a day, too. If you have dry or sensitive skin, he says you can cleanse at night to remove dirt, but then rinse your face with warm water in the morning. Likewise, if you have an active flare-up of rosacea or eczema, you may opt to do a once-a-day wash at night to limit irritation.
Again, everyone’s needs are different, and if you do have rosacea, eczema, or another condition, your dermatologist can help you develop a skin-care plan that includes proper washing. They can also advise on how that plan should be modified during flare-ups.
If you were just at the gym, in a hot yoga class, or outdoors for a hike and were sweating heavily, you should wash your face, advises the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
The Right Way to Wash Your Face
Think about your skin type, makeup habits, and daily activities, says Geria. That can inform the type of products you use, as well as how you wash your skin. For example, if you wear makeup, you may want to use a makeup remover, such as micellar water or a makeup-removing balm on tough-to-remove lipstick or eye makeup before washing your skin.
Next, follow these steps from Geria:
Wet your face with lukewarm water.
Apply a gentle facial cleanser in a circular motion with your fingertips, paying extra attention to your T-zone and jawline.
Pat dry with a clean towel.
In addition, Saedi suggests washing your face for 30 seconds. (In some cases, even longer may be more appropriate.) Ultimately, you need time to properly remove dirt and oil.
Cleansers today are specially formulated to more closely mimic the pH of the skin, so as not to overly dry out your skin or compromise the skin barrier, research notes. One problem that the CeraVe survey uncovered is that half of people use bath wash or hand soap on their face. These soaps can strip your skin of moisture and cause irritation or itchiness (which you may feel as ‘tight skin’), the aforementioned research explains. That’s why it’s important to use a cleanser designed specifically for the face.
Choose the cleanser that fits with your skin type. For instance, if you have dry or sensitive skin, opt for a gentle or creamy cleanser. Oily skin benefits from a gel or foam cleanser, Geria advises. If your skin is dull, an alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, wash (such as a glycolic-based cleanser), can “help remove dead skin cells on the surface and give your skin a glow,” adds Saedi. Avoid harsh scrubs, which can irritate skin, she advises.
If you’re traveling or are in a pinch, you can alternatively use a cleansing towelette, Saedi says. (Keep these at your bedside table if you often forget to wash your face and don’t want to get up to do so.) A word of caution on these towelettes: Research published in the November–December 2017 issue of Dermatitis found they often contained irritating ingredients, such as fragrances and preservatives. Stop using them if you notice any skin reaction. Consider switching to a fragrance-free brand or one labeled for sensitive skin.
What Could Happen if You Don’t Wash Your Face Twice a Day?
The consequences depend on your skin type and condition. If you have acne and don’t wash your face regularly, your breakouts may become more frequent or get worse. Washing your skin twice a day is “especially important for those who have acne-prone skin, as facial cleansing removes grime from the skin and pores, which [if allowed to build up], leads to clogging and breakouts,” Geria says. Research published in the February 2018 Journal of Dermatological Treatment on the right skin-washing regimen for acne is shaky at best, but the available studies do point to fewer acne lesions for twice-daily washers.
One caveat: More washing isn’t better when it comes to acne, says Saedi. “If you wash your face more than twice a day, then you are stripping the natural oils in your skin, and, as a result, you will end up overproducing oils.”
Even if you don’t wear makeup that day or don’t leave your house, you still shouldn’t get into bed without a wash first. “Dirt, oil, and other unwanted debris can still buildup on the skin throughout the day,” Saedi says. If left on, these factors can clog pores, too.
That said, like anything in health, what you do most of the time matters most. If you skip a day of face washing because you’re not feeling well, had an especially late night, or just forgot, it’s okay. You have not ruined your skin. And you probably won’t notice a thing. “Ultimately, missing one day of washing your face won’t significantly affect the overall health of your skin,” Saedi says. Just get back into your routine tomorrow.
Dermatologists often recommend washing your skin twice a day (once in the morning and once at night) to remove dirt that has accumulated on skin as well as makeup. What’s right for your skin, however, depends on your skin type and skin conditions, so talk to your dermatologist.