The Best Way To Wash Your Face, For Every Skin Type

If your skin feels tight after washing, you might need to follow these dermatologists’ advice.
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He might want to think twice about how he's rubbing his face with that towel.
John M Lund Photography Inc via Getty Images
He might want to think twice about how he's rubbing his face with that towel.

In a pandemic when we’ve all been paying more attention to hand-washing, don’t forget that your face needs some daily love, too. Washing your face is not just a nice-to-have part of a daily routine. It’s an important step in fighting off the gunk that can lead to premature aging.

“Cleansing the skin can be an important step in protecting it,” dermatologist Arianne Shadi Kourosh, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, told HuffPost. “Especially for those of us living in urban environments, our skin is confronted daily with radiation from the sun and screens, and with airborne chemicals and irritants from pollution. That can settle on the skin and corrode the skin barrier, causing premature aging in the form of wrinkles and dark spots. A good cleansing regimen is important to remove these toxic and irritating chemicals and provide a clean canvas to apply antioxidant serums that can help absorb damage and protect the skin.”

If you don’t clean it first, all the fancy skin care products you put on your face won’t do any good, the experts said. “Without washing, your skin would be covered with a thick layer of dirt and grime, which makes it difficult for other products to penetrate the skin properly,” dermatologist DiAnne Davis told HuffPost.

Feeling Squeaky Clean Is A No-No

It might help to understand the type of post-wash feeling you should be aiming for. “That squeaky, tight feeling after cleansing is actually not a good thing,” dermatologist Jennifer David told HuffPost. “It’s a sign that your skin is stripped of its natural oils and lipids. Your skin should feel refreshed, but not tight or squeaky.”

Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, agreed that a “squeaky” feeling is a danger signal. “It means you’re stripped your outer skin layer,” he told HuffPost. “Instead of squeaky clean, your skin should feel soft and hydrated after washing.”

Why You Should Wash Your Face Twice A Day

“People should be washing their faces twice a day, in the morning and evening,” dermatologist Jeannette Graf, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told HuffPost. “Some people just wash their face at night, but what they may not know is that your skin turns over cells at night so when you wake up, all of the toxins are on the surface of the skin. So you need to wash the face again in the morning to remove them.”

If your skin is very dry, you might want to start your day without soap, David said. “It’s OK to wake up and splash some water on your face,” she said. But watch out for the temperature of that splash, she cautioned. “Hot water will dissolve all the natural oils out of your skin and disrupt the skin barrier, which leads to long-term dryness.”

And keep in mind that “twice a day” is just a guideline. If you’re getting your face dirty, you probably want to take a break to wash it. “It’s a good idea to wash when your face is very sweaty, like after a workout,” dermatologist Nkem Ugonabo told HuffPost.

Take It Easy On The Temperature

Nothing that happens to your face should make you feel pain or shock, so skip the ice water and the scalding temps. In general, aim to take it easy. “You want to aim for moderation in time, intensity and temperature,” Kourosh said. “Use lukewarm or cool water, keep it to just a few minutes and avoid harsh scrubs or scrubbing to prevent irritation.”

It's not even true that a splash of cold water can close up your pores.
LaylaBird via Getty Images
It's not even true that a splash of cold water can close up your pores.

“It’s a complete myth that warm water opens up your pores and cold water closes them,” Zeichner said. “There are no muscles within the wall of your pores, and they don’t open and close like windows. Hot water can cause your blood vessels to dilate, leading to flushing and worsening of conditions like rosacea.”

How To Choose The Right Cleanser

Before you wash, make sure you prep your face properly. “If you have on makeup, use a makeup wipe or micellar water to remove the makeup first, followed by your cleanser,” Davis said. Then set the tap to a lovely, warmish temp and get your cleanser.

“Think of your cleanser as the foundation of your skin care routine,” Zeichner said. “The goal of cleansing is to remove soil from the outer skin layer without disrupting your skin barrier.” Just as with water temperatures, cleansers should be kind. “When it comes to cleansers, gentle and hydrating is best,” Ugonabo said.

As you’re shopping, beware of empty jargon on package labels. “There’s no standardization or regulation in the beauty industry for using terms like ‘natural’ or ‘clean beauty,’ so these terms are very deceptive,” David said. “Avoid falling into the trap of purchasing overpriced, fancy cleansers, and remember it’s a cleanser’s job to remove things from the skin, not to add things, so drugstore brand cleanser will do the trick. It’s more important to know your skin type and which formulations work best.”

If you’ve got oily skin, you may want to try foam. “Foaming cleansers tend to be harsher on the skin than other types, but they’re a great option for people who have oily skin,” Zeichner said. “For people who are acne-prone, salicylic acid-containing cleanser can be useful to help remove dead cells from the surface of the skin that contribute to blocking the pores.” Those with dry and/or sensitive skin might consider a hydrating cleanser, milk balm or micellar water.

Once you’re done washing, “pat dry with a clean towel to avoid harmful bacteria, rather than rubbing,” Graf said. “You can also just air dry your face, too.”

Experts’ Thoughts On Special Equipment

There are lots of products out there, like the Clarisonic, that make big claims about skin cleansing. How do they rate with the doctors? “Generally speaking, sonic cleansing brushes are thought to be safe and effective, so long as you’re using them the way that you should be,” Zeichner said. “Sonic brushes are one of the most rigorously tested and validated options you can get but they’re very pricey,” David said. “Cheaper, yet still effective, alternatives are silicone scrubbing pads that come in both electronic and manual versions. Personally, I love the little manual silicone scrubbing pads.”

Gentle and safe should be the keywords for anything that’s touching your face, the dermatologists said. “Be cautious in using cleansing tools like washcloths, sponges or loofahs, because they can be irritating to the skin,” Zeichner said. “Items like washcloths can be a breeding ground for microorganisms if they are left out wet and reused.”

For products to help you get on the right patch, check these out:

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

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A non-stripping face wash that leaves natural oils intact
It's important to find a facial cleanser that won't strip your skin of its natural oils and lipids, both of which are essential components to a healthy skin barrier. This lightweight gel cleanser contains a blend of oils to help restore moisture to the skin along with squalane, an emollient that mimics the skin's natural oils.
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A gentle micellar water to remove makeup before cleansing
DiAnne Davis, a Dallas-based board-certified dermatologist, previously recommended to HuffPost using a micellar water as a preliminary step in breaking down impurities, especially if you wear makeup or sunscreen. This toning and deep-cleaning solution by Evolve Organic Beauty contains moringa peptides and micellar molecules to attract and lift away debris without any harsh scrubbing. A dose of hyaluronic acid also leaves skin feeling hydrated and ready to draw in more moisture.
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A non-foaming hydrating everyday cleanser
“When it comes to cleansers, gentle and hydrating is best,” said Nkem Ugonabo, a dermatologist fellow at UnionDerm in New York City. This classic hydrating face wash by Cerave can be a great staple in your everyday skin care regimen, especially if you are sticking to the twice-a-day washing rule. The lotion-like consistency and non-foaming formula contains hyaluronic acid and essential ceramides necessary for ensuring a healthy barrier function. It's also fragrance free, making it a great option for all skin types.
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A cleansing balm with omegas for sensitive skin types
For ultra dry and sensitive skin types, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner recommended incorporating into your routine a milk cleansing balm, which can do a much better job of breaking down grime than face wash alone. This skin-softening balm by Paula's Choice contains both jojoba and meadowfoam seed oils, omega-rich ingredients that can regulate the skin's oil production and address rough texture. Just massage it into the skin to melt away makeup and debris, then follow with a face wash.
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A skin barrier-supporting face wash
“The goal of cleansing is to remove soil from the outer skin layer without disrupting your skin barrier," Zeichner explained. Using a hydrating lipid complex, this milky cleanser by Skinfix works up a rich lather and helps restore ceramides and fatty acids within the skin.
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A cleansing oil to get rid of dirt and grime without the squeaky feeling
“You want to aim for moderation in time, intensity and temperature,” Kourosh said. Using a hydrating oil-based cleanser to attract and remove impurities as a first step, can mean less time spent roughly scrubbing off debris with your face wash. This lightweight oil by Shiseido uses cleansing ingredients derived from a moisturizing agent to quickly melt away impurities while leaving post-wash skin feeling comfortable and free from residue. One user on Sephora said it easily removes their sunscreen and even waterproof mascara without leaving their skin feeling dry or tight.
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A hydrating foaming wash for acne-prone skin
“Foaming cleansers tend to be harsher on the skin than other types, but they’re a great option for people who have oily skin,” Zeichner said. “For people who are acne-prone, salicylic acid-containing cleanser can be useful to help remove dead cells from the surface of the skin that contribute to blocking the pores.”

Along with deeply cleaning pores, this gel-to-foam facial wash by Cerave can help address textured and bumpy skin while also being gentle enough for frequent use. Like all Cerave products, this cleanser incorporates ceramides for a stronger skin barrier as well as replenishing niacinamide.
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A silicone facial brush for irritation-free exfoliation
David told HuffPost that she personally loves manual silicone scrubbing pads, which can be a more affordable and sanitary alternative to other automatic face brushes. They can also be more gentle on the skin than harsh physical scrubs, which can cause micro-tears in the skin. This dual-textured exfoliating brush can give you massage-like clean, and the teardrop shape makes it easy to get into those harder-to-reach areas of your face.
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An antimicrobial towel that’s ultra gentle on the skin
Jeannette Graf, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told HuffPost that once you are done cleansing, "pat dry with a clean towel to avoid harmful bacteria, rather than rubbing." This organic Supima cotton towel is luxurious in feeling and in the fact that it's woven with pure silver to help eliminate acne- and odor-causing bacteria. It's also ultra soft and highly absorbent, making it gentle on any skin prone to dryness or irritation.

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