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Washing your face the right way

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

It's amazing to talk to my patients that are 80+ with beautiful skin and say they never really washed their faces except in the shower. This begs the question of whether you may be overthinking washing your face. Read more...



Washing your face

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Washing your face | Do we need to wash our faces every day?

I love when a parent sits in the exam room and tells me to tell their tween or teen that they have acne because they don’t wash their face! Although it’s true that removing excess oil, keratin, and sebum that builds up on the skin can help lessen and prevent acne, it’s definitely not the only cause. Hormones are the biggest culprit so I try not to blame patients' habits for this common issue. After all, it’s so disappointing to not see much improvement from washing your face alone.


Washing your face


The reality is that I see the full age range from newborns to patients over the age of 100. It's amazing to talk to patients that are 80 plus with beautiful skin and say they never really washed their faces except in the shower.

Often people forget that they are likely washing their faces in the shower. If you throw in another wash in the sink twice a day then you are likely getting three washes in. This may be a bit excessive. If your skin is on the dry side, reassess how many times you are truly washing your face and minimize it to what’s needed.

Do I need to use a toner after I wash my face?

To use a toner or not...

The key point to start with is that the word “toner” does not necessarily apply to one group of products or uses. What I have discovered is that the modern-day use of the word “toner” in skin care truly refers to a leave-on product applied post-cleanse with a cotton ball or gauze pad.

The “first generation” of toners, so to speak, played an astringent role. They were designed to pH balance the skin and degrease or strip away extra oil left on the skin after a routine cleansing. This is technically no longer needed as cleansers have evolved to address this concern without the need for an additional product.

Modern-day toners tend to have different ingredients to target different concerns. For example, several contain rosewater. This is an age-old ingredient that has anti-acne and anti-aging properties. Chamomile may also be used and thought to have calming qualities. And, some do have salicylic acid for acne.

Should I be exfoliating or scrubbing my skin routinely?

Scrubbing or exfoliating the skin aggressively can actually worsen acne. I understand the need for a little exfoliation from an occasional gentle scrub. However, routinely aggressively scrubbing the skin can be counterproductive and just lead to more acne.

How do soaps and cleansers work?

Probably the most important thing to consider is understanding soap and cleansers. You may not realize just how much work they do. Most cleansers are designed to do a few things. They are designed to clean, treat and leave some moisture behind. They differ from bar soap in that bar soaps are designed to clean as well but often have a higher pH which can alter the normal growth of bacteria and yeast on our skin. This can sometimes lead to a condition called seborrhea. This causes a greasy scaling around the eyebrows, eyelids, and nose. It’s a frustrating condition as people never know if they should exfoliate the scaling and risk feeling raw or moisturize it being left with a greasier feeling. It’s a good idea to look for products made for the face.

Should I use a foaming cleanser?

There’s a common tendency for people to look for “foaming” cleansers. There is this sense that if it doesn’t foam it's not cleaning. Foaming can actually strip your skin of more natural oils. Just because a cleanser feels “slimy” doesn’t mean it isn’t working! Sometimes these ones will be far less irritating. Soap and water are perfectly ok to use as a cleanser but can alter the pH of the skin leading to a condition called seborrhea. If you prefer a bar soap, just check to see that it says facial bar soap to ensure that it's likely formulated for facial skin. If you are looking for more “treatment” and not just clean, switch to a cleanser that touts added ingredients for various conditions such as acne or antiaging.

How many times a day should I be washing my face?

The most common misconception is how many times you need to wash your face a day. This can vary widely and ultimately our skin gets used to our habits. If you have really oily skin, washing your face twice a day may help. If your skin is dry or sensitive, washing twice daily can really strip your skin of natural oils and dry you out further. In these cases once daily at night may be best. If you are sweating quite a bit from a workout or play, washing your face afterward can help remove excess bacteria and oil that builds up on the skin to reduce the tendency towards flares of acne.

Should I be using hot or cold water to wash my face?

Water temperature is often referenced when people talk about washing their faces. Lukewarm water is ideal and gentle. Washing with hot water will not necessarily “open your pores”. It will make you flush and make your pores seem more prominent because of swelling in the skin. I worry that the hot water will only further strip the skin of natural oils. Similarly, cold water to “shock” your pores closed seems like an unnecessary bit of discomfort to take on. Even if your pores seem temporarily a bit smaller from the cold water exposure, your body heat will warm them right back up to their original size.

If you do wear makeup it’s a good idea to remove this before washing your face. Some heavier makeup products and pigments do not always easily wash off with just soap and water. It helps to remove your makeup first with a makeup remover or Vaseline on a cotton pad, then cleanse.

What should I do after I wash my face?

After washing, applying a moisturizer is important to do. Some love the ‘tight’ feeling after washing their face. It just “feels clean”. However, this tight feeling is excess dryness that can start to peel or crack and feel sensitive afterward. By applying a moisturizer you can effectively protect your skin from over-drying.

Should I be using a washcloth or loofah to wash my face?

I’m not a fan of tools. The amount of bacteria that have been shown to build up in loofah sponges alone in studies is enough proof that these may not be a great idea- unless you are meticulous about constantly cleaning these in a bleach solution. I have had cases where patients have been so aggressive with facial scrubbing brushes and mechanical devices that they actually developed impetigo (an infection with staph bacteria) as a result. To get a simple wash, just use your hands. After all, once you have soap and water on them- they are clean! If you would like to use a gentle exfoliative then stick with ones that wash down the drain and are not reused. Sugar scrubs, apricot scrubs, etc. all work well for this purpose.

Washing your face


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