We’ve all gotten used to washing our hands a gazillion times a day (and then moisturizing them all night long), but when it comes to washing our face, there’s still a lot of mystery involved. On the one hand, you want to clear off all the gunk that accumulates on your cheeks, chin, and forehead during the day, but you also don’t want to over-wash your face, which can lead to the same kind of raw skin we’re seeing on our super-scrubbed hands.
To get the best game plan for your daily face-washing, we talked to two top dermatologists, and here's what they say:
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 important, not only to give you a bracing wake-up, but to prime your face for your morning skin-care 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.
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, says Dr. Gohara (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 later 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,” Dr. Gohara explains. She also points out that washing your face at night is a soothing part of your bedtime routine, which can help you fall asleep easier.
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.”
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 in 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.
You should wash one more time if...
There is one exception to the twice-a-day rule, says Dr. Jaliman: If you're working out and your face gets covered in sweat, go ahead and wash off one extra time with a gentle cleanser. Or, you can just keep some cleansing wipes (like Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes) in your gym bag to remove what you can before you do your full bedtime cleansing routine.
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