Washing your face seems pretty simple, right? Splash some water on your face, rub in a little cleanser, and rinse. But to get the most out of your daily cleansing routine, it takes a little more care and consideration. It’s not only how you wash your face that makes the difference, but when, how often, and what type of face wash you use.
“Proper facial cleansing prevents acne breakouts, can improve skin health, and may even reduce skin inflammation,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. To make sure you’re putting your scrubbing to good use, here are some face-washing faux pas to avoid.
Mistake #1: Forgetting to wash your face before bed
Washing your face at night is a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to caring for your skin, and it holds true even if you don’t wear makeup. “During the day, natural oils and sweat accumulate on the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “We are exposed to the environment, which means that dirt and pollution build up on our outer skin layer.” Not removing all of this dirt and gunk at the end of the day can cause skin irritation, inflammation, and acne breakouts.
Mistake #2: Skipping the A.M. cleanse
You might think cleansing your skin before bed is all you need to wake up fresh-faced, but another rinse in the morning is a good idea. Germs from your pillowcase can move to your face as you sleep. But even if you wash your pillowcases often, an A.M. cleanse is best practice. “While you’re tossing and turning at night, bacteria from your saliva and oils from your hair are easily transferred to your face and eyes,” explains Rachel Nazarian, M.D., dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York and New Jersey. Even a quick rinse in the morning is enough to freshen your skin and allows for the best absorption of the other skin-care products you apply.
Mistake #3: Turning up the water temperature too high
Hot water is no friend to your skin, especially an area as sensitive as your face. It might feel good in the shower or when you just came in from a cold winter day, but you’re messing with the way your skin protects itself and possibly causing damage. “Extreme temperatures, such as hot, steamy showers or hot water, can cause dilation of blood vessels and breakage of delicate tissue,” warns Dr. Zeichner. “Further, the hot water naturally strips skin of the necessary oil barrier that helps maintain skin integrity.” This means your skin will dry out faster and become more itchy and flaky over time. Instead, use lukewarm water to wash your face.
Mistake #4: Using your face cleanser to remove makeup
You probably know the perils of falling asleep with a full face of makeup (i.e. acne and dullness). Another thing to note: Your cleanser shouldn’t double as your makeup remover. “Many makeup brands are smudgeproof or waterproof, so basic cleansers will not remove them thoroughly,” explains Dr. Nazarian. For this reason, it’s important to use a gentle makeup removing wipe, micellar water, or oil-based makeup remover before you wash—especially when removing long-wear makeup.
Mistake #5: Using ONLY a makeup wipe to clean your face
Cleaning your face with a cleansing cloth is not good enough, experts warn. “The cloths are formulated with many preservatives that allow them to be shelf-stable and sit in your bathroom without growing bacteria and fungus,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Although they remove makeup and dirt, they also leave behind a residue.” Use them first to remove makeup if needed, then rinse away residue and residual oils and bacteria with a gentle cleanser.
Mistake #6: Using the wrong cleanser for your skin type
That cleanser your best friend keeps raving about that’s totally transformed her skin might not do the same for you. This is why so many skin-care companies create product lines for every skin type and skin concern.
- If you have sensitive skin, stick to a hydrating, gentle cleanser.
- If you have oily skin or are acne-prone, Dr. Zeichner recommends using a foaming or salicylic acid-based cleanser to remove excess oil and dirt.
- If your skin tends to be more on the dry side, you’ll fare better using a cream cleanser that can help your skin’s top layer retain more moisture.
Mistake #7: Reaching for a bar of soap to wash your face
If you’re lucky enough not to have sensitive skin, you might reach for a random bar of soap, lather up and start your day. But these harsh cleansers strip the natural hydrators from the skin, which can leave your face inflamed and red from broken blood vessels, warns Dr. Zeichner. Instead, he recommends using gentle cleansers that respect the pH balance of your skin. If you want to keep it simple, Dr. Zeichner prefers Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($13 for 8) and organic products like Promise Organic Nourishing Coconut Milk Facial Cleanser ($8). “Neither will irritate skin and are gentle enough to use twice a day,” he says.
Mistake #8: Reusing dirty washcloths
It might seem like a pain to have to toss a washcloth in the hamper after just one use (especially if you have to hike to your Laundromat to do laundry). But experts say that reusing the same washcloth over and over again is spreading more bacteria and mold to your face. Instead, invest in a cheap set of basic white washcloths, like this set of 24 from Amazon, that can last you through an entire week’s worth of washing (including day and night).
Mistake #9: Wiping your face off with a shower towel
When you hop out of the shower, do you wipe your face and body with one towel? Even though your entire body is freshly washed, you don’t want to spread the bacteria from your body to your face (different microorganisms live in different areas of your body). Instead, have a separate cloth for your face.
Mistake #10: Scrubbing and lathering for too long
The length of time you lather does not correlate to how well you cleansed your face. You want to aim for about 20 or 30 seconds, but any more than that could do more harm than good. Overscrubbing, especially when using an exfoliating wash, can quickly lead to irritated and red skin. Jerome Garden, M.D., director of the Physicians Laser and Dermatology Institute in Chicago, recommends wetting your face with lukewarm (not hot!) water and using your fingertips to apply cleanser in a circular motion. Once you’ve built up a nice lather, rinse, and carefully pat dry with a soft, clean towel. “Make sure to wash the T-zone and U-zone (around the jawline), as these are areas people tend to ignore,” he adds.
Mistake #11: Exfoliating more than once or twice a week
This rule is especially important if your go-to cleanser is a scrub. “Exfoliating can help remove dead cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin to improve skin radiance,” says Dr. Zeichner. “But overscrubbing can lead to microscopic tears in the outer skin layer leading to inflammation and irritation.” Generally speaking, most people do not need to exfoliate more than once or twice per week.
Mistake #12: Washing too often
Ideally you should be washing your face twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, with the exception of after workouts and excessive sweating. “Washing your face more than twice a day to remove germs is not a real necessity for people, unless they are prone to skin infections,” explains Dr. Garden. “Not only does too much washing lead to dry, irritated skin, but it can actually lead to the skin paradoxically producing too much oil.” Bottom line: If you didn’t wear makeup, work up a sweat, or use heavy sunscreen, stick to the twice-a-day routine.
Mistake #13: Washing your face after using a mask
Most face masks and peels instruct you to wash your face before using their product. This is because skin treatments require a completely bare and cleansed face so that the ingredients can fully penetrate. “You don’t need to cleanse again after you’ve washed them off your face—sheet masks included!” says Ellen Marmur, M.D., dermatologist in New York City. “Masks are able to deliver key ingredients 300 percent stronger than serums, so let your skin enjoy their hydration and repair benefits long after you’ve taken it off.” Translation: Let the ingredients sit there and do their thing.
Mistake #14: Misusing a toner
For some reason, many of us are still confused about the role toners play when it comes to cleansing. “In the old days, toners were used to rid the skin of extra oils and were mainly alcohol-based, but now toners come in all kinds—some dry out the skin, some remove makeup, and others deliver a thin layer of moisture like a primer,” says Dr. Marmur. “Take the time to know your toner and how it fits into your cleansing routine.” Start out using your toner only once a day to make sure it doesn’t cause breakouts or dry out your skin before upping your use to twice daily after cleansing.
Mistake #15: Not moisturizing right after cleansing
When you moisturize makes a big difference. In fact, experts recommend applying moisturizer right after washing your face. “If you wait even a few minutes, the surface cells dehydrate and are actually harder to moisturize,” says Dr. Marmur. “Moisturizers provide key nurturing ingredients to your skin, leaving you with a clean and hydrated surface.” If your daytime moisturizer doesn’t have a SPF, apply a sunscreen on top. “The SPF will help protect all the hard work you’ve been putting into your skin care,” says Dr. Garden.