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You’re Probably Washing Your Face Wrong – Here’s How to Do It Right

For something you do every day, you’d think you’d have your face-washing routine down to perfection. But even small things, like having the wrong water temperature, can throw a wrench in your plans.

Doing it right is vitally important if you want to unlock your skin’s glow potential. “Washing your face removes makeup and physical dirt that blocks pores and creates a layer on the skin that can prevent active ingredients from effectively reaching the skin,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a Board-Certified Dermatologist in Beverly Hills, in private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care.

Unsure if you’re washing your face wrong? We spoke to the pros to get the 411. Here’s what you need to know.

Problem: You’re washing your face for too long.

Solution: Only wash your face for 20 seconds. 

There are few things in this life that you want squeaky-clean: your home when your mother-in-law is coming to visit, your sneakers and your reputation. Your face on the other hand? Not so much.

Washing the face for longer than 20-30 seconds can cause skin irritation and over-drying, Dr. Shainhouse tells Lively. Go for a minute and things get really dicey. “You should not wash your face for longer than 60 seconds, as it can cause irritation, trigger inflammation and significantly strip oils, especially if it is not a sensitive skin/creamy/soap-free product.”

Instead, a good rule-of-thumb is to aim for 20 seconds. If your face feels tight in the end, you’re probably over-washing. 

Problem: You’re using your electric cleansing brush too often.

Solution: Limit its use to three times per week.

Yes, it may get the job done quicker (and make you feel cool with the latest skincare gadgets) but electric brushes are not the be-all-end-all of skincare. In fact, they’re not even as effective as you’d think. Diana Ralys, LE, COE, HC, Skin Expert and Board Certified Holistic Drugless Practitioner, explains.

“Tools like that are really exfoliating your skin -- not washing it,” she says. “When using these brushes as the first step in cleansing your skin, all you're doing is moving around the dirt and actually pushing it deeper into your skin.” She’s even encountered some skincare horror stories with them. “Many times, I encountered clients with blackheads trapped under dry skin since the brush exfoliates the skin too often and too harshly and the debris gets stuck.”

In love with your electric cleansing brush? The good news is that you don’t have to break up with it completely. Simply limit its use to around three times per week. 

Problem: You’re only using water to wash your face.

Solution: Add other products into the mix.

The saying “oil and water don’t mix” certainly applies here. “Water alone can remove physical dirt or work fine for a quick rinse to freshen up sweaty skin, but it won’t remove excess grease and makeup,” explains Dr. Shainhouse. Instead, you’ll need to add some actual skincare products into the mix, such as soap or cleansers. 

“They work by acting as surfactants that bridge between water molecules and the oils in skin and in makeup/products,” she says. In other words, this adds a bind to help water break up the oils.

Problem: You’re not exfoliating.

Solution: Exfoliate once per week. 

Take your skin from dull to radiant with a weekly exfoliation. When doing so, choose a chemical exfoliant that contains hydroxy acids, says Dr. Emmanuel Loucas, MD and Founder of Lucas Dermatology & Laser Center in NYC. It’s a much more gentle way to exfoliate the skin compared to physical exfoliants, he explains, adding that they could actually cause damage.

Problem: You’re being too aggressive with your skin.

Solution: Change up how you wash your face. 

Your day may have been hard, but there’s no reason to take it out on your skin. You want to be as gentle as possible and you can start by washing the face in an upward motion. Use your fingers instead of a sponge or washcloth, since these items can irritate the skin, explains Ramya Kollipara, MD, Board-Certified Dermatologist and Fellowship-Trained Cosmetic Dermatologic Surgeon.

Also, don’t forget about washing your neck, either. “A lot of people only wash their chin or slightly below, but be sure to remember to wash your neck, which will clean clear away dirt and impurities, prevent breakouts and so on,” Khan tells Lively.

Even the way you dry your face needs to be approached gently. Khan says to pat your face dry with a towel instead of rubbing. (Make sure it’s a clean one since you don’t want to just add bacteria back onto your clean face!).

Problem: You’re over-washing your face.

Solution: Only wash your face 1-2 times per day.

Save the rinse, lather and repeat for your shampoo and conditioner. “Drying cleansers, particularly ones that contain salicylic or glycolic acids or alcohols can strip the natural skin barrier, making it more prone to irritation from skincare products,” says Dr. Shainhouse.

This can lead to a whole host of skincare problems that you don’t want to deal with, such as inflammation, dryness and flaking, she says. You’ll want to keep the water dial turned to lukewarm all throughout, adds Dr. Kollipara since hot water dries out the skin.

“In some people, over-washing can cause a compensatory surge in oil production (which leads to more grease and sometimes acne flares), as making oil is the skin’s attempt at moisturizing itself to overcome the dryness,” Dr. Shainhouse tells Lively. 

Aim to wash your face 1-2 times per day. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as when you’ve just finished a sweaty workout (these beauty tips should also help!) or, you know, when there’s some leftover burrito on your face from lunch.

Problem: You’re cleansing the face with a full face of makeup.

Solution: Use a facial wipe first. 

“If you are wearing a full face of makeup, consider using a makeup wipe (or a reusable polyester make-up removing towel/pad) or a micellar lotion to remove the bulk of the makeup first,” says Dr. Shainhouse. This makes it easier for your cleanser to do its job.  

But don’t rely on just a wipe to cleanse the skin, either, says Ralys. “Wipes help to remove makeup, but are not sufficient enough to clean the skin properly.” If you're not going the wipe route, consider a double-cleanse instead. “This second cleanse will get deeper into your pores and allow to cleanse your skin that your first cleanse failed to get,” says Ralys.

To do a proper double-cleanse, you have two options, explains Dr. Shainhouse. “Either use an oil wash to remove makeup (the oils bind the oils and they wipe off together), and then wash off with a regular cleanser or wash with your regular cleanser twice in a row.” All in all, this should take at least 60 seconds. 

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