Here's how you should wash your face, according to your skin type
Get this crucial step right for healthy skin.
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Fact: Washing your face is the least glamorous part of your skincare routine. But it's the first step in creating a regimen that keeps your skin healthy. You may think it's as simple as sudsing and rinsing your face and going on about your day, but as it turns out, there's more to washing your face than that—it involves figuring out your skin type and choosing a cleanser with the right ingredients for your skin concerns. Think of cleansing your face as the initial step that paves the way for how the rest of your hygiene or beauty products will absorb or look. We spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman of Shafer Clinic to help you make the most of your face-washing routine.
How often should you wash your face?
You should wash your face twice a day (morning and evening), but the evening wash is the most important. "If you’re going to skip washing your face, nighttime is not the time to do it," Engelman says. "Washing your face at night removes all of the oil, makeup, dirt, bacteria, grime, and pollution that we accumulated on our skin throughout the day."
That said, it's still crucial to cleanse in the a.m., too. "The purpose of washing your face in the morning is to start your routine with a clean canvas and rinse away what you put on the night before, offering maximum absorption and effectiveness of your day products," explains Engelman. "Clean skin will allow active ingredients in your skincare products to penetrate better and work more effectively."
What are the steps for a good face-washing routine?
Whether you're all about a full face of makeup or prefer to go au natural, Engelman suggests a double-cleansing face wash routine. If you're unfamiliar, double cleansing consists of first using an oil-based cleanser (on dry skin and with dry hands) to lift dirt and grime, and then following up with a water-based cleanser to wash away any residue. Engleman says this extra step is beneficial for everyone, regardless of skin type. "Besides makeup, there are many environmental aggressors, like pollution and bacteria, which can cause rapid aging if left on the skin, so it is important to wash these impurities away [with double cleansing]," she notes.
When it comes down to how long you should actually be washing your face, Engelman says it ends up being roughly two minutes (think: a minute for each step). Move in gentle, circular motions and avoid pressing too firmly on the skin, as this can cause irritation in the form of redness and dryness.
Why should you use an oil-based face wash?
If you have oily skin and the thought of using an oil-based cleanser is enough to make you skip this step and go for a stripping face wash, hear us out. Your skin produces excess oil when it's stripped of its natural oils, which can occur from things like showering in steaming hot water or vigorous face scrubbing. When this happens, your skin goes into overdrive and produces more oil to compensate for the loss of the natural oils. The result? Excess sebum—a.k.a., oily skin.
So, how does this relate to using an oil-based cleanser as a first step? Engelman maintains that using a hydrating, oil-based cleanser eliminates impurities without drying out the skin (which prevents the above from happening). "Essentially, the oil only binds to the [excess] oils on your face and the cleanser rinses them away without stripping your skin of its natural oils," she explains.
Why should you use a water-based face wash?
The second step to double cleansing is to use a water-based cleanser to rinse away any residue. If you have flaky skin, Dr. Engelman suggests using an exfoliating gentle cleanser, as this will help remove dead skin cells that would otherwise contribute to a dull complexion. "If the skin is not in need of exfoliation, look for a gentle cream or gel cleanser [depending on your skin type] to wash away any residue," she says.
How do you choose the right face wash for your skin?
You want to cater your face-washing routine, and your skincare regimen in general, to your skin type. If you have a “normal” skin type, choose your cleansers based on how your skin leans (think: more dry in the winter and oilier in the summer). That also means you may change up your products depending on the time of year.
What is the best face wash for dry skin?
If you have dry skin, the right oil-based cleanser will help make the skin supple and pliable. Plus, Dr. Engelman says that, because oil-based cleansers leave behind moisture that's quickly absorbed, they help to reinforce and strengthen the skin barrier. Steer clear of cleansing oils that contain lemon or tea tree oil, as these ingredients can be overly drying in skin that's dry to begin with. Instead, opt for a cleansing oil that claims to be moisturizing, such as the Indeed Labs Watermelon Melting Balm, which is made with fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins A and E, and helps make skin appear brighter and more hydrated.
For your second step, use a rinse-off cream cleanser that's formulated with hydrating, non-stripping ingredients like shea butter and glycerin. La Roche-Posay's Lipikar Wash AP+ Gentle Foaming Moisturizing Wash contains both and is a fan favorite for its ability to protect and moisturize skin.
- Get the Indeed Labs Watermelon Melting Balm on Ulta for $24.99
- Get the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Wash AP+ Gentle Foaming Moisturizing Wash at Ulta for $14.99
What is the best face wash for oily skin?
As mentioned, oily skin will benefit from using an oil-based cleanser as a first step as well. Avoid ones that are "comedogenic"—meaning, they're made with ingredients that clog pores, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Engelman's personal favorite is the Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm. The turmeric and moringa extract work to remove things you wouldn't even think of (like sunscreen residue) while papaya enzymes deep-clean pores.
Water-based exfoliating gel cleansers, like SkinCeuticals' Simply Clean, are great for those with oily skin, as they wash the skin without stripping it of its natural oils. This one in particular contains botanical extracts and chamomile to soothe the skin and a fruit acid blend that gently exfoliates for a more radiant complexion.
- Get the Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm on Sephora for $34
- Get the SkinCeutical’s Simply Clean on Dermstore for $35
What is the best face wash for combination skin?
Combination skin is dry in some areas (like the cheeks) and oily in others (like the forehead, chin, and nose). If this describes your face, try oil-based cleanser Beekman 1802's Buttermilk Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm. It adds hydration to the dry areas of your face with a “triple milk complex" (which consists of goat milk, colostrum, and milk probiotic), and uses sunflower butter (a natural plant wax that melts away even the most stubborn makeup) to deep-clean.
For a water-based cleanser, Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser is a popular pick that Englemen recommends. It's affordable and doesn't contain harsh chemicals, making it ideal for sensitive skin (which many people with combo skin also have).
- Get the Beekman 1802 Buttermilk Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm on Ulta for $38
- Get the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser on Amazon for $11.48
What is the best face wash for acne-prone skin?
For those with acne, double cleansing is a way to ensure that your skin is rid of pore-clogging, acne-causing bacteria. The Neutrogena Ultra Light Face Cleansing Oil & Makeup Remover has a gentle formula containing mineral oil and soothing botanical extracts, and doesn't leave behind a greasy residue.
Engelman suggests looking for water-based cleansers that contain salicylic acid, as the ingredient works by killing bacteria, drying excess oil, and encouraging the skin to shed dead skin cells. It will also unclog pores that are prone to becoming inflamed. It’s found in Aveeno's Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser, which claims to be effective at healing existing blemishes and fending off new ones.
- Neutrogena Ultra Light Face Cleansing Oil & Makeup Remover on Amazon for $8.13
- Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser on Amazon for $6.37
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.