- Face washing removes dirt, sweat and sebum from the skin’s surface.
- It is recommended to wash at least once each day to maintain healthy, clean skin.
- For best results, follow a proper face washing technique and choose products appropriate for your skin type.
- Overwashing or using unsuitable products can lead to dry, irritated skin or even excessive oiliness.
While face washing is an essential part of an effective daily skin care routine, there is no single way to do so. How often should you wash your face, as well as the products and techniques you use, should depend on your skin type and individual needs.
Regular cleansing serves to brighten a dull complexion and remove impurities that may clog pores, ensuring fewer breakouts. Clear skin is better able to absorb serums or moisturizers far more effectively, and will therefore see more benefits.
Why We Wash Our Face and What It Does to Our Skin
The stratum corneum is the outer layer of the skin and is a protective barrier between the body and the external environment. This skin barrier also helps lock in moisture to protect skin from drying out.
Sebaceous glands beneath the outer layer of skin are responsible for producing sebum, or oil to keep skin soft and smooth. However, when excess sebum and debris such as dirt and dead skin cells build up on the skin’s surface, pores can become blocked. This causes bacteria to become trapped within and to multiply, resulting in inflammation and acne breakouts.
This accumulation on the surface skin can also lead to a dull or uneven complexion, and may cause the skin to appear aged. Removing this buildup will help ensure a bright and youthful complexion.
Cleansers are formulated to effectively care for any skin type and a wide variety of skin conditions through the addition of carefully selected ingredients. Cleansers that contain hydrating ingredients will help dry skin retain moisture, while those with strong ingredients will reduce sebum buildup and benefit oily skin.
Choosing the Right Product for Your Skin
For optimal results, it’s essential to find a cleansing product that suits your skin type. Overly harsh products can damage skin’s outer barrier, causing irritation and dryness, while those that are too gentle may not effectively remove accumulated debris.
Harsh products can also aggressively strip the skin of its natural oils, triggering an increase in sebum production and ultimately resulting in excessive oiliness.
Two types of popular cleansing products are facial cleansers and washes. Both typically contain surfactants; soaping agents that emulsify oil buildup and loosen particles of debris from the skin so they can be rinsed away.
Surfactants are safe for all skin types when used in moderation, however face washes contain high concentrations that can be irritating.
Most facial cleansers are designed to be gentle on the skin and can be used twice a day. They are available in several forms to suit different skin types.
These cleansers are usually formulated with soothing ingredients such as ceramides, glycerol, hyaluronic acid and petrolatum to fight moisture loss. These ingredients will prevent the skin from becoming dried out and irritated, and will be of benefit for dry and sensitive skin types.
Face washes contain higher concentrations of active ingredients and tend to be harsher on the skin compared to cleansers. These ingredients ensure a deeper clean suitable for treating oily skin. However, they can also cause irritation and moisture loss, which makes them unsuitable for dry or sensitive skin.
How to Wash Your Face Properly
In order to benefit from your cleansing product, you should start with a proper face washing technique. To help your cleanser reach deeper into your pores, start by removing any makeup or sunscreen by using a dedicated makeup remover.
Once your face is prepared, follow these steps to cleanse your face properly and thoroughly:
- Wash your hands
- Dampen your face with lukewarm water
- Apply a small amount of cleanser to your fingertips or use a clean, damp cloth
- Massage the cleanser onto your face using circular motions
- Rinse with warm water (or wipe away if directed by your product)
- Pat dry with a clean towel
When should you wash your face?
As a general rule, you should wash your face at least once a day, and in the evening, to remove impurities that have accumulated throughout the day.
You may choose to use a face wash or cleanser in the morning as well, especially if you wake up with excess oil or have been sweating. If your skin is prone to dryness, it may be best to simply rinse your face with lukewarm water.
Always begin your skin care routine by cleansing before applying products such as serum and moisturizer. Cleansing your skin first will remove any buildup of dirt or excess oil, allowing your skin to better absorb other products afterward.
How Often Should You Wash Your Face?
People of all skin types should wash their face at least once each day. Those with dry or sensitive skin may choose to do so only once to avoid causing irritation.
Dry, sensitive and rosacea-affected skin will respond well to gentle cleansers formulated with soothing, hydrating ingredients. For those with oily and acne-prone skin, wash twice daily with stronger cleansers or face wash formulas to clear pores.
|Pros and Cons
|Multiple times daily as required (e.g. to wash away sweat after exercise)
|Lukewarm water is gentle on dry skin and won’t dry it out
Water alone is unlikely to effectively cleanse oily skin
|Once or twice a day; limit to once per day if your skin feels tight or dry after use
|Will deeply and effectively cleanse oily skin
Often too drying or irritating for other skin types
|Once or twice a day
|Gentle; often suitable for dry or sensitive skin
May be too gentle to effectively cleanse oily skin
|Facial cleansing brushes
|Once or twice a week
|Effectively cleanses and exfoliates
Often too harsh for dry or sensitive skin
Skin type considerations
All skin types respond differently to various types of products. To avoid exacerbating any skin concerns it is important to select an appropriate product that addresses your particular skin.
Most of the face washes and cleansers available on the market are suitable for normal skin. As with combination skin, normal skin typically reacts favorably to washing twice a day.
People with dry skin should avoid facial cleansers that contain harsh, drying ingredients such as alcohol and soap. Instead, opt for a cream or oil-based cleanser containing moisturizing, hydrating ingredients such as glycerin or ceramides.
If you have dry skin, it may be best to wash your face with cleanser only once a day, in the evening, especially if you find your skin feels dry in the morning. You can also substitute a morning cleansing routine by simply rinsing your face with lukewarm water.
Those with oily skin should select a product that helps manage excess oil, but does not aggressively strip the skin; this can cause the skin to overreact and overproduce oil.
Face washes and noncomedogenic, gel-based cleansers containing salicylic and glycolic acids are suitable for oily skin. These ingredients will effectively break down excess oil. Those with oily skin will also benefit from washing twice each day, in order to remove oil buildup that occurs during the day and night.
Combination skin is often slightly difficult to care for, as it can be difficult to find a face wash or cleanser that removes excess oil from the T-zone without drying out other areas of the face.
Mild cleansers with moisturizing ingredients—such as those recommended for dry and sensitive skin types—can be effective for combination skin. Gel-based cleansers designed to minimize excess oil are also good choices or separate cleansers can be applied to the dry and oily areas of the face.
Those with combination skin should be able to tolerate washing twice a day; should skin begin to feel taut post wash, reduce to once a day.
Sensitive skin is especially prone to irritation, and should not be subjected to face washes or cleansers containing harsh ingredients such as alcohol, soap, artificial preservatives and fragrances.
If this is your skin type, opt for mild cleansers that are soap-free and have a balanced pH. Lightweight cream cleansers containing ingredients such as ceramides and aloe are excellent choices.
Face washing for particular skin conditions
Some skin conditions, such as acne and rosacea, will also benefit from a specialized skin care routine tailored to reduce the severity of symptoms.
It is important to treat rosacea-prone skin gently to avoid irritation. Suitable cleansers for rosacea are free of aggravating ingredients such as fragrances, alcohol and soap, and can be used twice daily.
As rosacea is characterized by skin dryness and redness, choose moisturizing ingredients designed to ease these symptoms. Opt for cleansers that contain hyaluronic acid or aloe vera to help soothe inflammation and hydrate skin.
Acne-prone skin is typically oily skin. This skin type is best treated with face washes and strong cleansers formulated with ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. These ingredients will effectively address oil buildup and break down accumulated debris, preventing pores from clogging and reducing breakouts.
Cleansers formulated for acne-prone skin typically contain ingredients such as salicylic and glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide, which help to reduce excess oil and clear clogged pores. These cleansers can be used twice daily.
Hard water vs. soft water
We don’t often think about the type of water we use when washing our face. However, it is known that hard (or unfiltered) water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium, which can leave your skin feeling dry and irritated.
If your skin feels dry after simply rinsing your face with water, hard water may be the cause. In this case, installing a water filtration system may help. If this is not an option for you, compensate by selecting a cleanser rich in moisturizing and hydrating ingredients.
Are You Overwashing Your Face?
If your skin often feels taut or uncomfortable after washing, you may be overwashing. Doing so too often, or using ingredients that are too harsh for your skin can strip it of its natural oils, leading to moisture loss.
If you experience these negative effects, you should simply wash less frequently. Choose a milder cleanser that contains moisturizing ingredients to counteract the dryness.
Washing your face regularly with products designed for your skin type is key to achieving clean and healthy skin. You should wash your face at least once each day to remove dirt, excess oil and other impurities.
The two main types of products used are cleansers and washes. Cleansers are typically gentler formulas; face washes are stronger and contain high concentrations of active ingredients.
People with dry, sensitive or rosacea-prone skin should select gentle cream-based cleansers with moisturizing ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides and aloe. Oily and acne-prone skin will benefit from face washes and noncomedogenic, gel-based cleansers that effectively remove excess sebum.
All skin types respond differently to the various ingredients used in cleansing products. Using unsuitable products can lead to dryness, irritation or excessive oiliness. If you experience these negative effects, reduce the frequency with which you cleanse, or select gentler products.
- Kanwar A. J. (2018). Skin barrier function. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 147(1), 117–118. https://doi.org/10.4103/0971-5916.232013
- Mukhopadhyay P. (2011). Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian journal of dermatology, 56(1), 2–6. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.77542
- Ananthapadmanabhan, KP; Leyden, James J. MD; Hawkins, Stacy S. (2019) Recent Advances in Mild and Moisturizing Cleansers. January 2019 | Volume 18 | Issue 1 | Supplement Individual Articles | 80 | jddonline.com/articles/dermatology/S1545961619S0080X/1/
- Gold M, Ablon G, Andriessen A, Goldberg D, Hooper D, Mandy S. Facial cleansing with a sonic brush-A review of the literature and current recommendations. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019 Jun;18(3):686-691. doi:10.1111/jocd.12906
- Bornkessel, A., Flach, M., Arens‐Corell, M., Elsner, P. and Fluhr, J.W. (2005), Functional assessment of a washing emulsion for sensitive skin: mild impairment of stratum corneum hydration, pH, barrier function, lipid content, integrity and cohesion in a controlled washing test. Skin Research and Technology, 11: 53-60. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0846.2005.00091.x
- Babilas P, Knie U, Abels C. Cosmetic and dermatologic use of alpha hydroxy acids. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2012 Jul;10(7):488-91 DOI:10.1111/j.1610-0387.2012.07939.x
- Ananthapadmanabhan, K.P., Moore, D.J., Subramanyan, K., Misra, .M. and Meyer, F. (2004), Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing. Dermatologic Therapy, 17: 16-25. doi:10.1111/j.1396-0296.2004.04S1002.x