Ask an Expert: How to Perfect Your Cleansing Routine
The best cleanser for your skin type, cleansing myths busted and more.
There are so many different cleansers out there that finding one that will bring out the best in your skin feels nearly impossible. So, we tapped into our dermatologist network to get some professional insight into the cleanser conundrum—here’s what we found out.
Why Cleansing Matters
During the day, sweat, dirt, oil, makeup and pollution build up on the skin. The goal of cleansing is to remove all that without compromising the integrity of the skin barrier itself. Dirt on the skin can cause skin irritation, acne breakouts, and even lead to premature aging by causing free radical damage.
How Cleansers Can Help
While the right skin cleanser can help enhance the health of your skin, the wrong one can actually cause harm, so finding the right regimen for your skin is important. If you have oily skin, gentle cleansers may not be enough—you may need foaming cleanser to really get the job done. If your skin is sensitive, that same foaming cleanser may be too harsh for you; a hydrating option may be a better choice.
Skin Care Myths, Debunked
Acne does not mean that you have dirty skin. Many people who regularly wash their faces develop breakouts, while many people who do not wash regularly have no acne at all. Acne is caused by your genetics, not your cleansing habits.
You do not need to exfoliate every day. It takes about two weeks for a new skin cell to make its way to the surface of the skin. It takes even more time for enough cells to build up to make the skin look dull. Exfoliating once or twice a week is enough to keep the skin looking bright without causing irritation.
Just drinking eight glasses of water a day will not keep your skin hydrated. There is no data showing that you need eight glasses of water per day to keep the skin hydrated, and there is no data showing that drinking fewer than eight glasses of water per day will lead to dryness. The best way to improve skin hydration is to apply a moisturizer.
Cleansing to Soothe Skin Conditions
Skin conditions like eczema or rosacea can be improved simply by using the right cleanser. In these cases, you want a product that is super gentle with hydrating ingredients to help maintain skin barrier health. Where you have acne, medicated cleansers containing ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can actually offer therapeutic benefits and improve breakouts.
Don’t Overdo It
After you wash your face, your skin should feel refreshed, but not dry or tight. Many people are looking for that squeaky clean feeling after washing—this actually represents after-wash dryness, which is harmful to the skin and represents skin barrier disruption.
When to Cleanse
Wash your face in the morning and evening, and after heavy sweating or exercise. No matter what you do, wash your face before bed! The last thing you want to do is to sleep with all of the day’s dirt and impurities on your skin. As your face rubs against your pillow while you sleep, everything on your skin becomes trapped between your face and the pillowcase, increasing the likelihood of irritation, pore blockage and free-radical damage.
How Oil Cleansers Work
Generally speaking, oil bonds to oil, so oil cleansers clean the skin based on that concept. The cleansing ingredients in oil-based cleansers dissolve dirt, oil and impurities and pull it off the skin as the cleanser is removed.
When to Double Cleanse
Double cleansing is where an oil-based cleaner is used to wash the face first, followed by a water-based cleanser. This is particularly useful if you have a lot of oil-based impurities on the skin, like heavy makeup. After the first cleanse, the water-based product will remove any residual dirt left on the skin.
A Towelettes Take
Cleansing towelettes are an effective way to wash your face. They don’t cleanse as deeply as a traditional rinse-off cleanser and may cause irritation in sensitive skin, but if comes to not cleansing at all or using a towelette, the towelette always wins!
The Basics of Smart Cleansing
- Wash your face with lukewarm or cool water. (Hot water is more likely to strip the skin of essential oils, leading to skin irritation.)
- Massage cleanser into the skin for at least 30 seconds to allow it to do its job.
- After rinsing, pat dry rather than rubbing dry, as that can disrupt the skin barrier disruption and cause irritation.
- Apply a moisturizer within five minutes of washing to lock in hydration.
The Right Cleanser for Your Skin Type
Each type of skin needs different formulas to stay balanced and healthy. Here’s what the pros recommend.
Oily or Acne-Prone Skin = Salicylic Acid These beta hydroxy acids help remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep pores clear.
Sensitive Skin = Gentle & Fragrance-Free Micellar water is a great option for sensitive skin, as it is among the gentlest cleansing formulas on the market.
Dry Skin = Hydrating Lotions & Creams These formulas won’t strip the skin and actually provide moisturizing benefits, helping to bolster the skin’s moisture balance and leave skin more hydrated.
Aging Skin = Glycolic Acid This alpha-hydroxy acid helps build collagen to strengthen the skin and provide support to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Your response to skin care products may vary. Ask a healthcare professional about the most suitable skin care regimen for you.