A facial cleanser is a super important component of your skin's health. You may already know the importance of cleansing daily to rid your face of makeup, oil, and impurities, but do you know how many times you should wash your face?
Washing your face may seem like a simple daily ritual, but for the skincare obsessed (hi, that's us), a lot of thought goes into how to wash (and dry) your face correctly — including how often you should wash your face to score a celebrity glow.
There's a reason for the fixation on cleansing: even when you go makeup-free, washing your face is vital in removing dirt and oil. When you skip it, you might see a dramatic rise in breakouts and oil.
But can you have too much of a good thing? According to skincare experts, overwashing your face is a thing — and it can be just as troublesome as not washing your face enough. Here's how often you should be washing your face and what to do if you overdo it.
How Often Should You Wash Your Face?
In an ideal world, you should wash your face twice a day.
Experts agree that two is the magic number: wash once in the morning and once at night.
"Bacteria builds up on your skin when you sleep at night, so you need to wash it off in the morning," says Debra Jaliman, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist.
Mona Gohara, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, agrees that the morning wash is essential, not only to give you a bracing wake-up but to prime your face for your morning skincare routine.
And of course, at night, you'll want to wash off every trace of the makeup, oil, dirt, and whatever other environmental pollutants may have landed on your face during your daily travels, so your pores don't get clogged, says Dr Jaliman.
No matter your skin type, you want to wash your face at least once a day — in the evening to remove any dirt, makeup, oil, and grime that's built up on your skin throughout the day.
Whether or not to cleanse again in the morning is up for some debate among skincare experts. "There isn't a need to rewash our face in the morning as there isn't anything to remove such as makeup or sunscreen," Athena Hewett, aesthetician and founder of Monastery skincare, tells Allure. "The natural oil our bodies produce is good for our skin — it provides a first defence barrier for the external factors of the day."
Twice-a-day cleansing removes the pollutants and irritants that our skin is exposed to 24/7 — even when we sleep.
Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami and founder of Dr Loretta skincare, doesn't quite agree. "Twice-a-day cleansing removes the pollutants and irritants that our skin is exposed to 24/7 — even when we sleep," she explains, citing indoor pollution, oils, and irritants that build up on your pillowcase as reasons why you want to wash your face in the a.m.
A good rule of thumb: If your skin feels dry or flaky in the morning, skip the wash to purify face oil instead. (FYI, the only reason you should ever need to wash your face more than twice a day is to remove something like saltwater after a swim in the ocean or a sweaty workout, Ciraldo says.)
How Often Should You Wash it If You Have Dry or Sensitive Skin?
Washing the face twice a day may prove to be irritating for sensitive or dry skin types.
If you tick that box, cleanse properly at night using a gentle formula and rinse with warm water in the morning. Hydrating cleansers are a good option for people with dry skin. These products typically don't lather and help moisturize while they cleanse the skin. According to a licensed aesthetician and Smart Style Today advisor Stephanie Ivonne, oil-based cleansers or ones with thicker consistencies should also be considered.
How Often Should You Wash If You Have Oily or Acne-Prone Skin?
The urge to over-cleanse is common in those with oily or acne-prone skin.
There's no need to wash the face more than twice a day. Doing so may dry out your skin.
When this happens, the skin does whatever it needs to do to retain moisture. This includes doing its sebum production work in overdrive, causing more oil and more acne than there was original.
If you fall into this category, opt for a cleanser containing hydroxy acids to remove excess oil. Medicated cleansers are also worth your attention.
How Often Should You Wash If You Have Combination Skin?
Combo skin types are seen as the lucky ones. In this case, you can take your pick of the cleansers on offer.
It's still advisable to wash twice a day and use a gentle formula that removes impurities; deep cleans pores, helps remove makeup, and leaves the skin feeling refreshed, clean, and hydrated.
Also, don't overlook foaming cleansers. These can remove oil and aren't too harsh on dry patches.
How Often Should You Wash If You Wear Makeup?
Makeup can clog pores if not adequately removed, causing breakouts.
Makeup wearers should wash their face in the morning, followed by a more thorough cleanse at night.
Either remove makeup before using a cleanser or double cleanse to ensure all traces are gone. We recommend using an oil-based cleanser for a clean, non-irritating feel.
How Often Should You Wash If You Exercise?
Any activity that involves sweating requires an extra wash to remove said sweat and dirt.
If you're out and about and don't have a cleanser to hand, try oil-free wipes, says Dr Yoram Harth, board-certified dermatologist and medical director MDacne.
They're "great for cleansing the skin [and] removing sweat and dirt until you can shower and wash again."
But If You Have to Pick Just One Time, Wash Your Face at Night.
If you're rationing your cleanser or, perhaps, worried that your skin is getting dry and flaky from scrubbing it too much, you can go ahead and take a break from washing in the morning (instead, splash some warm water on your face to hydrate your skin and start your day).
But don't skip the nighttime cleanse! The top layer of the epidermis regenerates itself overnight, and you don't want to obstruct that shedding process by clogging the pores with makeup, dirt, and oil.
She also points out that washing your face at night is a delicate part of your bedtime routine, which can help you fall asleep easier.
How to Wash in the Evening
Let's start by saying that you should be cleansing your skin every evening before going to bed. During the day, dirt and pollution accumulate on our skin's surface, and you need to cleanse off those particles so that they don't negatively impact your skin.
For dry, sensitive and normal skin, the best facial cleanser is a gentle one to wash off any build-up. The facial cleansing product should be fragrance and alcohol-free so as not to irritate your skin.
For oily and your-go-to-cleansing-routine-for-combination-skin skin, use a product that regulates oil production.
Again, we recommend using alcohol-free alcohol because alcohol can dry out your skin and cause your skin to produce even more oil, which is the opposite of what you want it to do. After cleansing, you can apply a face serum formulated for your skin type.
This is especially helpful if you live in a city and are exposed to free radicals, damaging the skin.
Use a face serum formulated with antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E, green tea, resveratrol or seaweed so they can help skin neutralize those particles and improve cell turnover during the night.
Lock everything in when you apply a face moisturizer at the end — for oily and combination skin, look for an oil-free product, and dry, sensitive and normal skin can benefit from a hydrating skincare product.
How to Wash Your Face in the Morning
Even though you cleansed your skin at night, you should also cleanse it when you wake up because sweat and oils have accumulated on your skin overnight. You may want to avoid this step or use a non-wash creamy facial cleanser for dry and sensitive skin.
Oily and combination skin can benefit from a facial cleanser formulated specifically for that skin type. Finish your morning skincare routine with a moisturizer with SPF to protect your skin before you head out for the day.
How Can You Tell If You're Overwashing?
If your skin has a "tight and dry feeling," you know you've gone overboard, says Hewett. "It can also feel sensitive or shows signs of sensitivity with reddish, dry patches."
Typically, this isn't so much about how frequently you're washing your face but which cleanser you're using. "Overwashing usually results from using a cleanser that's too harsh for your skin," explains Ciraldo. "I see this a lot with acne cleansers."
It's an easy mistake to make. If dirt and oil are behind breakouts, it seems like it would make sense to be extra diligent about removing them, right? Not so. "Drying products tend to make our skin overcompensate by producing more oils," Ciraldo explains. "The skin's oil levels and moisture levels are two different measurements, so oily skin can also lack hydration and be dry."
Washing should never dry out your skin or make it red or flaky.
If this sounds like your skin, you may use a cleanser that will exfoliate to help keep pores gunk-free but is also gentle enough that it won't strip skin of its natural moisture.
A face wash with salicylic acid is a good option — the salicylic acid gently exfoliates your skin. That being said, cleansing shouldn't lead to irritation. Washing should never dry out your skin or make it red or flaky.
What Could Happen If You Over- or Underwash?
A sign that you're not correctly washing is residue being left on your bedding.
Alternatively, wipe your face with a damp, light-coloured flannel. If dirty marks appear, better washing is in order. If you don't cleanse your face correctly, it can result in pore-clogging, leading to blackheads, whiteheads, and fiercer acne breakouts.
It's also likely to limit the effectiveness of any skincare products you use. You are saying that it is possible to wash too much. Irritation, tightness, or dryness is a classic sign of over-cleansing.
Oiliness can also result "as the skin tries to compensate for the drying," explains Dr Jasmine Ruth Yuvarani, an aesthetic physician at Nexus Clinic. Again, this can cause pore-clogging and may lead to sensitivity that calls for an extra gentle routine.
How to Alleviate Overwashing
If you think you might be overwashing, the key is to give your skin time to repair itself. Try going on a product cleanse and not using anything on your skin at all for a few days, save for one exception: a gentle cleansing oil. Cleansing oils don't disrupt our natural oil barriers, so you can't over-washed with an oil cleanser.
If you're a chronic over washer, switching to a cleansing oil permanently might be the key to keep things in balance. Cleansing oils don't disrupt our natural oil barriers, so you can't over wash.
(There is one thing you want to watch out for: When your skin is already sensitive from over-cleansing, the experts warn against using formulas with essential oils that can potentially be irritating, such as tea tree oil or peppermint oil.)
In the short term — when your skin is dry and tight, like, right now — a leave-on product like a face oil can help heal the skin, Ciraldo says. A skin balancing face oil is a perfect salve for dehydrated skin.
Make Sure You're Using the Right Products.
Your skin can get red and irritated from over-washing, so if you're cleansing twice a day, be sure to use a gentle, pH-neutral, non-sudsing cleanser for at least one of those.
"There are two kinds of cleansers, medicated and non-medicated," says Dr Gohara, who suggests you talk with your doctor about the best regimen for using any acne-fighting cleansers (which may contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide).
Dr Jaliman is a big fan of swiping your face with micellar water at night after you've cleansed.
"It's an effortless way to get off every last trace of makeup," she says.
"Even if you're washing your face and think you did a great job, you use the micellar water after, and you'll see there are still little bits of makeup."
What Should You Use to Cleanse?
If your skin has no special requirements and you don't wear makeup or routinely sweat, you may get away with a good, old-fashioned splash of water morning and night.
Just make it lukewarm — not boiling or cold.
However, Tim says, "everyone should use a cleanser that helps to exfoliate and remove impurities, but won't strip the skin of natural oils."
That especially applies to people with particular conditions like acne or dryness. What you use is up to you.
There are creams, lotions, gels, wipes, balms, and more. Avoid products containing potentially irritating ingredients like fragrance or alcohol.
Is This All You Need?
Cleansing is usually part of a skincare routine. A standard morning regimen begins with washing your face, followed by a moisturizer to hydrate and sunscreen to protect.
Before bed, cleanse the skin again and exfoliate once or twice a week to remove lingering grime and dead skin. Then you can apply a thicker night cream. Of course, you're free to add any number of serums and treatments but always start with a cleanse.
Use the Same 20-Second Rule You Use for Hand-Washing.
You know that song you sing to remind you to scrub your hands for a full 20 seconds? You'll want to sing an encore when you're washing your face to make sure you get every spot, suggests Dr Gohara. She recommends using a very soft washcloth, or just your hands, to protect the skin barrier:
"Never use anything too bristly or rough on your face," she says. Dr Jaliman even suggests buying a few baby washcloths (we like these from Burt's Bees) and making sure to throw them in the wash after each use.
Using cool to warm water (hot water can strip the skin of oils and make it feel even drier), start massaging the cleanser at the top of your face, then gently work your way around to your chin, doing two rotations while you sing your song, says Dr Gohara.
Then use a soft towel to gently pat dry, being careful not to rub too roughly, wipe with micellar water, if you're using it, then apply your moisturizer.
The Bottom Line
Try to wash your face twice a day — but don't forget to listen to your skin. If it's red, overly dry, or shows any other signs of irritation, something isn't right. In those cases, your best bet is to book an appointment with a dermatologist. Don't underestimate professional, personalized advice.