How 'Bad' Is It If You Don't Wash Your Face Every Morning?

Should you clean off all your nighttime products, or leave them on when you wake up? Dermatologists weigh in on the debate.
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Ask any dermatologist what they recommend for the first step of a skin care routine, and they’ll likely give the same answer: cleansing. But is that true for both morning and nighttime routines?

“My opinion is that washing your face in the evening is a nonnegotiable,” said Dr. Angela Casey, an Ohio-based, board-certified dermatologist. “Overnight, our skin undergoes the ‘rest and repair’ phase of the skin cell cycle.”

According to Casey, when people don’t thoroughly remove dirt, allergens and other irritants from the face at night, they can interfere with the skin’s repair cycle.

Though many beauty aficionados have a nightly skin care routine with multiple steps, such as double cleansing, their dedication to a morning skin care routine may be another story. A lot of them are lucky to have enough time in the morning to splash water on their face before running out the door.

Although dermatologists agree that most (if not all) of their patients need to wash their faces at night, what do they think about people who skip the morning face wash? Is it “bad” if you don’t wash your face every morning?

“As with most skin care habits, the answer is that it depends,” said Dr. Helen He, a New York-based dermatologist and resident at the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai.

What type of skin do you have?

Unsurprisingly, if you have oily or acne-prone skin, most dermatologists recommend that you incorporate a cleanser into your morning routine.

“Patients who tend to sweat and produce more oils while sleeping during the night are also more likely to transfer debris from their pillowcase onto their face, and thus would benefit from thoroughly cleansing their face in the morning to remove these substances that may otherwise clog pores and cause breakouts,” He said.

However, if you have dry skin, you might be able to get an extra five minutes of sleep in the morning and skip the wash.

“Over-cleansing can strip the skin barrier of lipids that comprise the outer skin barrier, thus making their skin more vulnerable to irritation, flaking and eczema,” He said.

When it comes to a morning skin care routine for those with dry skin, Dr. Elaine Kung, a New York-based, board-certified dermatologist, said, “A splash of water or a gentle micellar water might suffice.”

What is your local climate like?

If you’ve ever traveled to a drastically different climate from where you live, you may have needed to change your skin care routine. The routine you perfected in hot, muggy Miami, Florida, simply won’t cut it in the dry desert of Palm Springs, California. Likewise, whether you can skip washing your face in the morning also depends on weather conditions.

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“Patients who live in hot, humid climates may benefit more from cleansing the face in the morning, while those who live in dry, cold climates may skip it,” He said.

It’s important to remember that humidity levels change depending on the season. So while your skin may benefit from skipping a morning cleanse this winter, you may need to incorporate it into your routine come summertime.

How sweaty are your mornings?

When sweat mixes with your skin’s natural oils and dead skin cells, it can lead to clogged pores.

“Anyone who works out in the morning should wash their face after their morning exercise,” Casey said.

Casey also said that if you tend to sweat in your sleep, you shouldn’t skip cleansing your face in the morning. She noted that certain hormonal changes, including pregnancy and perimenopause, can cause hot flashes and more frequent sweating.

What’s your nighttime skin care routine?

Your nighttime skin routine may affect whether you need to add a cleansing step in the morning, too.

“If your nighttime routine involves only lightweight products, a morning cleanse might not be necessary,” Kung said.

However, if your nighttime routine includes skin care products with active ingredients (like retinol, for example), washing your face in the morning should be a higher priority for you.

“Some nighttime products, like prescription-strength retinoids, which stay active on your skin for 12 hours, may not be compatible with ultraviolet light exposure,” Kung said. “So washing it off in the morning would be preferable.”

Though dermatologists did say that those with dry skin can generally skip face-washing, it’s a different story if you incorporate one particular skin care technique beloved by many with dry skin: slugging.”

Slugging can work wonders on dry skin by applying a thin layer of an occlusive product (think Vaseline), trapping in moisture overnight. However, occlusives like petroleum jelly can do more harm than good if left on the skin for long periods.

“Occlusive skin care products are very helpful for those with dry skin,” Casey said, “but there needs to be a balance between applying those barrier products and allowing our skin to breathe and better absorb other moisturizing ingredients that strengthen our skin barrier and microbiome.” In other words, definitely wash them off in the morning!

Additionally, incorporating hair care products into your routine at night may impact whether you need to wash your face in the morning.

“Oils and ingredients from hair and hair products can attach to your pillow, thereby coming into contact with skin while sleeping,” Casey said. “For some people, these ingredients can cause irritation and acne breakouts, supporting the need for morning face-washing.”

‘There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.’

With a morning skin care routine, many factors can contribute to the need for a cleansing step. Over the course of even a few weeks, you may have to adjust your morning routine based on your other daily activities, nighttime skin care routine, and health condition, as well as your local climate.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer,” Kung said. “Pay attention to how your skin feels after cleansing. If it’s dry or irritated, adjust your routine or the products you use accordingly.”

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