Situational Cleansing: What To Know About The Skin Care Technique

If your skin changes from dry to oily or broken out, this technique suggests you'll need a different face wash to suit each condition.

Any Reddit lurker has probably read a great deal about double-step (or even triple-step!) cleansing on r/SkinCareaddiction, especially since many posts on the subreddit credit this method for achieving clear and glowing skin. The theory goes that if you wash your skin not once but twice (or more), your pores will be cleaner than ever.

However, it seems that something called situational cleansing is the latest fad to shake up the skin care industry, as budding beauty brands like Holifrog have developed a line of textured cleansers based on the new concept.

Situational cleansing, according to Holifrog founder Emmy Parr, means using a different cleanser depending on your skin’s needs at different times. This means using a cream-based cleanser when your skin is dry, she explained, or using a gel-based wash when breakouts start to appear.

“The idea behind situational cleansing is that our routines may rule our daily lives, but we should also try to listen to our skin at the time of every wash,” Parr told HuffPost. “Skin is just like anything else; it has different needs at different times.”

Though it makes perfect sense to switch up your cleanser based on, say, personal stress or winter dryness, we asked board-certified dermatologists and other experts to shed some light on this trend before you actually try it.

From potential benefits to concerning risks, read on to see if situational cleansing is worth a try.

Situational cleansing can help address different skin concerns.

Cleansing, without a doubt, is an integral part of maintaining good hygiene. A 2011 study published in the Indian Journal Of Dermatology suggests that cleansing products have been used for centuries to treat a variety of dermatological disorders, such as acne, rosacea and atopic dermatitis.

And since there are many factors that can influence your skin health (including stress, weather and hormones), board-certified dermatologist Peterson Pierre does see some positives associated with the situational cleansing method, especially since it can help address skin concerns at a particular time.

“Situational cleansing refers to switching cleansers based on different life circumstances,” Pierre told HuffPost. “This can be very beneficial because there are times when your skin will be dry (or oily, red and irritated), so this gives you the flexibility to properly address your skin’s needs at the appropriate time.”

Board-certified dermatologist Hadley King agrees that environmental factors, hormonal factors, stress and the makeup you wear can affect your cleansing habits. With this in mind, she sees no problems in tailoring cleansers based on your needs.

“If your skin is feeling oily and you are noticing clogged pores and pimples, then using a cleanser with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide may be helpful,” King explained. “If it’s cold outside, and the heat is running at full strength, then look for a gentle cleanser to carefully cleanse dry skin.”

Situational cleansing emphasizes the importance of skin health.

Board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Melanie Palm argues that, much like AI-powered apps and skin care-focused Instagram stories, situational cleansing has the advantage of bringing a larger awareness to the importance of maintaining good skin health. This is extremely important, she added, considering that the skin is the body’s largest organ.

“Situational cleansing allows you to be more conscientious about your skin and how it is affected not only by the environment but also by innate, genetic factors and the passage of time,” Palm explained. “Considering your skin type and your environmental danger makes you more aware of providing meaningful care to your skin, your largest organ.”

Situational cleansing can be beneficial "because there are times when your skin will be dry (or oily, red and irritated), so this gives you the flexibility to properly address your skin’s needs at the appropriate time," Dr. Peterson Pierre says.
BeauSnyder via Getty Images
Situational cleansing can be beneficial "because there are times when your skin will be dry (or oily, red and irritated), so this gives you the flexibility to properly address your skin’s needs at the appropriate time," Dr. Peterson Pierre says.

Additionally, she noted that this awareness of skin health can extend to other skin care products besides cleansers. For example, she advised using the right products in summer to reduce sebum production and to thwart the sun’s intense UV, infrared and visible light rays.

However, situational cleansing can be confusing. And expensive.

Though King is definitely on board with the situational cleansing approach, she said it can be a bit complicated for those who are constantly on the go. Situational cleansing, she argued, requires thought (evaluating your skin’s needs every time you wash) and patience each time you reach for a cleanser of choice.

“One noticeable downside with situational cleansing is that it requires some thought and may seem more complicated than a one-size-fits-all cleanser approach,” she added.

Lack of consistency is another factor working against the situational cleansing approach, according to board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach. Most products with active ingredients (retinols, vitamin C, AHAs) take about a month show visible changes in the skin, she explained, making it important to stick with a product long enough before switching to another option.

“It is very important to give the product or cleanser time to work, and not give up on it and try something else right away,” Rabach said.

Board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse suggested that cost is another issue. Purchasing multiple products (Holifrog products start at $36) can get expensive, and they can consume a lot of space in your bathroom.

However, King argued that situational cleansing doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as there are many affordable drugstore brands that are effective.

“I don’t think that this will necessarily have to be more expensive, particularly if you limit your options to two (one for drier conditions and one for oilier conditions), and each will last twice as long,” she explained. “However, I think it is also possible to stick with one cleanser that suits your skin and then vary the active ingredients and moisturizers in other products applied post-cleansing.”

Some dermatologists recommend cleansing based on your skin type instead.

However, San Francisco-based dermatologist Caren Campbell shared some concerns about situational cleansing, suggesting that focusing on your skin type (and not the situation of the moment) is more important. Acne-prone patients do well with antibacterial and keratolytic (which remove dead skin cells from pores) washes, she explained, and flare-ups can occur if patients stray from a faithful regimen.

“Using antibacterial and keratolytic times per week helps treat and prevent acne,” she told HuffPost. “If you stop using them, acne tends to come back.”

Similarly, she explained that an AHA-containing wash may not be the best choice for people with rosacea. An alpha hydroxy acid-containing wash can be too harsh for sensitive skin. “If a rosacea-sensitive skin type patient used an AHA wash with any frequency, they would flare and their skin would burn,” she said.

So always be careful of your skin type and needs before switching to a new cleanser, and read the ingredients carefully.

Should you try situational cleansing?

Although situational cleansing may seem like a fad that will quickly come and go, board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach said there are considerable benefits associated with this method.

“There are definitely pros to situational cleansing, as your skin’s needs change depending on lifestyle factors, times of the month and weather,” Rabach explained. “Skin is so individualized, and there truly is no one product that is a one-step-fits-all-situations.”

However, she stressed the importance of remembering that using too many products at once can raise concerns, especially since irritations and allergic reactions can occur.

If you want to give situational cleansing a try, she recommended starting with only a few products to ensure your skin can tolerate them all.

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