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Your nightly face-washing routine might not be getting your skin as clean as you think it is, especially if you’re a makeup- and sunscreen-wearer. You could actually be going to bed with pollutants, dirt and bacteria trapped beneath your skin’s surface and under the layer of skin care products that you just applied.
One increasingly popular solution that comes with a dermatologist’s stamp of approval? The double cleanse method.
“Double cleansing can be helpful to eliminate buildup, excess oil and makeup when a traditional cleanser is not sufficient. For heavy makeup-wearers [in particular], it can be helpful to ensure that makeup is completely removed,” said Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City.
If you’ve ever run a toner-soaked cotton pad across your face post-cleanse and noticed it came away tinted with makeup, you know how hard it can be to remove everything at the end of the day.
According to San Diego-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, “When you don’t do a thorough job of cleansing makeup and sunscreen, it can cause buildup in our pores and stretch them out over time. Clean skin also allows other products to penetrate better.”
As self-explanatory as double cleansing might sound, Shirazi said it’s actually more involved than simply washing your face twice.
“It’s switching up what you’re washing with, meaning two different types of cleansers that serve different purposes,” she said.
Shirazi said that a first cleanse should involve an oil-based balm or micellar water applied directly to dry skin, which will be most effective in breaking down oil, makeup and sunscreen.
To explain why this works, she used the phrase “like dissolves like,” a general rule of thumb indicating what compounds will dissolve in other compounds. “Makeup and creams are lipophilic, meaning they dissolve in oils,” Shirazi said.
The second cleanse, which is meant to eliminate any non-visible residue and remaining pollutants, should preferably involve a cleanser “that has active [ingredients] that benefit your skin, including anti-aging actives and/or acne fighting ingredients,” according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo.
There are also some double cleansing guidelines you should follow.
“While it is okay to double cleanse every day, if your skin feels dry or stripped, it is best to hold off,” Garshick said, adding that double cleansing should only be a nighttime step, and the first cleansing product you use should be chosen based on your skin type.
“Those with oily skin may prefer a lightweight formulation as part of the first step, while those with dry or sensitive skin may prefer a cream-based hydrating option,” she said.
To see the first-step cleansers recommended by these dermatologists, plus specific suggestions for your unique skin type, keep reading below.
A moisturizing cleansing balm
Dr. Loretta Pratt is a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York. She said that the Albolene moisturizing cleanser has often been a favorite among her patients that have more mature or dry skin. This classic fragrance-free hydrating balm contains ingredients like ceresin and beta-carotene which can help to condition the skin.
"For acne prone or oily skin types, a first cleanser would be micellar water-based," Pratt said, adding that using a cloth to cleanse can be beneficial for this skin type as it can offer more exfoliation than washing with fingers alone.
Both Shirazi and Garshick recommended Bioderma Sensibio cleansing water, which is a French pharmacy staple and a favorite among skin care enthusiasts. "Its gentle formula uses mild surfactants and glycerin [which is] safe enough to use around the eyes to remove makeup and dirt without over-stripping the skin," Shirazi said.
With a texture Shirazi described as sorbet-like, which becomes silky once worked into the skin, Farmacy's Clearly Clean melt-away balm is a popular favorite that contains a blend of nourishing oils, extracts and gently exfoliating enzymes to clean skin without leaving it stripped or tight. This formulation was made with sensitive or reactive skin in mind.
"This transformative cleansing option goes from a balm to an oil and rinses off as a milk, helping to eliminate makeup, dirt and sunscreen without leaving the skin feeling dry or irritated. It also contains evening primrose oil, jojoba seed oil and pear fruit and together helps to balance and nourish the skin," Garshick said of this paraben-free cleansing balm meant to be suitable for all skin types. A blend of antioxidants inside this formula helps aid in protecting skin from damaging free radicals and provides skin-conditioning properties.
Garshick said that this daily cleansing oil by PCA Skin is a great option for all skin types, including those with oily-prone skin, and can be very effective in breaking down oil, dirt, and heavy makeup. "It contains grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil, and vitamin E and nourishes the skin and won’t leave it feeling dry," she said.
Those with very dry and sensitive skin might benefit from the Simple brand's micellar cleansing water, which according to Garshick can be incorporated into a double cleanse routine or used on its own. It features the same debris- and impurity-attracting powers that you can expect from micellar waters, while also delivering vitamins B3 and C to the skin. It leaves skin feeling hydrated, not stripped or irritated.
This luxurious cleansing treatment was suggested by Garshick, who said the unctuous formula leaves skin feeling moisturized and soft. Packed with a blend of oils and waxes, this cleanser nourishes like a balm, removes impurities like an oil and hydrates like a cleansing milk.
Garshick also recommended this innovative cleanser by Drunk Elephant that comes with a purifying bamboo and charcoal powder booster to gently exfoliate any built-up of dead and dry skin.
"Not only does it help to remove makeup, but this butter cleanser is rich in antioxidants and nourishing oils including marula seed, kalahari melon seed [and] mongongo, helping to deliver extra moisture to the skin, so won’t leave the skin feeling dry," she said.
Shirazi recommended Neutrogena's ultra light cleansing oil for anyone that is not a fan of greasy-textured oils and doesn't want to spend a fortune on their pre-cleanser. It promises a residue-free performance that won't clog pores, yet is effective enough to tackle even waterproof makeup.
Ciraldo recommended this jojoba-oil based balm by CeraVe because, like all of the brand's dermatologist-loved products, it contains ceramides, an essential ingredient to helping maintain a healthy skin barrier.
"This waterless cleansing balm, which doesn’t need to be rinsed off, melts into a gentle cleanser to effectively eliminate makeup and buildup while also nourishing the skin," Garshick said, adding that the rich balmy texture contains hyaluronic acid to help boost moisture and can be simply wiped off with a cloth before the second cleanse. It also features bio-designed collagen, which can improve skin's hydration.
Editor's Pick: We know not everyone has the time or the desire to cleanse their face twice, even in instances when it might be best. This skin-conditioning wash by U Beauty features an innovative formula that claims to combine the double cleanse method into a single step. The oil balm breaks down oil, sunscreen and makeup, then emulsifies down into a cleansing milk that supports the skin’s acid mantle for a healthy microbiome. The result is skin that feels conditioned and clean, without feeling tight.