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Are You Washing Your Face Enough? Here's What Dermatologists Think

by sarah kester - December 28, 2020

Washing your face isn't a touch-and-go process. With dirt, grime and oil accumulated throughout the day, you owe it to yourself – and your skin – to give it the time it deserves. But how long is too long? And how short is too short? 

Here, dermatologists provide a clear answer to this once and for all. It's nothing but clear skies (and clean skin) ahead.

First things first: How often should you wash your face?

In general, the experts say two times per day: once in the morning and once at night. But the frequency does depend on your skin type. For instance, if you have dry or sensitive skin, Dr. Hadley King, an NYC-based dermatologist, says that you may want to skip that a.m. wash.

But if your skin is on the oily side (blotting papers are basically your BFF), she says that additional cleansing, even with a wipe, may be needed throughout the day to keep oil and breakouts at bay.

signs you're overwashing

Surprisingly, you don’t want your skin feeling "squeaky clean" after you washed it.

"Overwashing can leave the skin feeling tight, which represents after-washing dryness," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, an NYC-based dermatologist. 

That, or you're using the wrong cleanser – two not-so-good outcomes. Additional signs of overwashing include redness, irritation and flaking, according to Dr. King.

What's more important: washing your face in the morning or at night?

Both are equally important, but when time is of the essence, you don't want to miss that nighttime wash.

"Cleansing before bedtime is important to remove makeup as well as dirt, oil and pollution that may have accumulated during the day," explains Dr. King. "Pollution can also subject the skin to free radicals, which can contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin and lead to aging of the skin, so it's important to cleanse the skin to avoid these effects."

You’ll also want to consider washing your skin before and after a workout, according to Annie Corbett, Lead Trainer at Face Foundrié: "The idea is that a pre-workout and post-workout wash removes acne-causing bacteria that live in the sweat and grime associated with working out."

How long should you wash your face?

"Washing the face for 1-2 minutes is adequate to thoroughly cleanse the skin and will avoid unnecessary drying from exposure to water," says Dr. King. She adds that you might need three minutes if you're looking to benefit from active ingredients, like chemical exfoliants, in your cleanser. In that case, "washing for at least three minutes will allow more time for these ingredients to be effective."

So, how can you alleviate over-washing then?

The first step is to look at what products you're using. Hydrating cleansers are in but soap (the kind you use in the shower) are out. "This can dry out your skin and cause it to become very sensitive," saysDr. Shuting Hu, a cosmetic scientist and Founder of Acaderma.

When looking for a cleanser, Jill Canes, NP, Founder of Face Forward Medical Aesthetics, says to look for ones that contain specific ingredients, starting with hyaluronic acid to hydrate your skin. "If you use cleansers with exfoliating ingredients such as glycolic acid in high concentrations, you may want to use them less frequently or switch to cleansers with lower concentrations of these exfoliating ingredients," she tellsLively

Additionally, she says that cleansers with sulfates can also be harsh on dry skin. If that’s the case, it's time to change up your products.

Finally, never use hot water on your skin. "The high-temperature water can damage your skin's barrier," says Dr. Hu.

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