Washing your face may seem like a simple daily ritual, but for the skin-care obsessed (hi, that’s us) a lot of thought goes into how to wash (and dry) your face properly — including how often you should wash your face to score a Meghan Markle-level glow.
But can you have too much of a good thing? According to skin-care experts, overwashing your face is a thing — and it can be just as troublesome as not washing your face enough. Here’s how often you should be washing your face and what to do if you overdo it.
How often should you wash your face?
No matter your skin type, you want to wash your face at least once a day — in the evening to remove any dirt, makeup, oil, and grime that’s built up on your skin throughout the day.
Whether or not to cleanse again in the morning is up for some debate among skin-care experts. “There isn’t a need to rewash our face in the morning as there isn’t anything to remove such as makeup or sunscreen,” Athena Hewett, aesthetician and founder of Monastery skin care, tells Allure. “The natural oil our bodies produce is good for our skin — it provides a first defense barrier for the external factors of the day.”
Twice-a-day cleansing removes the pollutants and irritants that our skin is exposed to 24/7 — even when we sleep.
Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care doesn’t quite agree. “Twice-a-day cleansing removes the pollutants and irritants that our skin is exposed to 24/7 — even when we sleep,” she tells Allure, citing indoor pollution, oils, and irritants that build up on your pillowcase as reasons why you want to wash your face in the a.m.
A good rule of thumb: If your skin feels dry or flaky in the morning, skip the wash for a purifying face oil instead. (FYI, the only reason you should ever need to wash your face more than twice a day is to remove something like saltwater after a swim in the ocean or a sweaty workout, Ciraldo says.)
How can you tell if you’re overwashing?
If your skin has a “tight and dry feeling,” you know you’ve gone overboard, says Hewett. “It can also feel sensitive or shows signs of sensitivity with reddish, dry patches.”
Typically, this isn’t so much about how frequently you’re washing your face, but which cleanser you’re using. “Overwashing usually results from using a cleanser that’s too harsh for your skin,” explains Ciraldo. “I see this a lot with acne cleansers.”
It’s an easy mistake to make. If dirt and oil are behind breakouts, it seems like it would make sense to be extra diligent about removing them, right? Not so. “Drying products tend to make our skin overcompensate by producing more oils,” Ciraldo explains. “The skin’s oil levels and moisture levels are two different measurements, so oily skin can also lack hydration and be dry.”
Washing should never dry out your skin or make it red or flaky.
If this sounds like your skin, Ciraldo recommends a cleanser that will exfoliate to help keep pores gunk-free, but is also gentle enough that it won’t strip skin of its natural moisture. Skin Laundry’s Acne Face Wash with Salicylic Acid is a good option — the salicylic acid gently exfoliates, while lilac leaf extract and niacinamide help hydrate and soothe.
That being said, cleansing shouldn’t lead to irritation. “Washing should never dry out your skin or make it red or flaky,” Ciraldo says.
How to alleviate overwashing
If you think you might be overwashing, the key is to give your skin time to repair itself. “Try going on a product cleanse and not using anything on your skin at all for a few days,” says Hewett, save for one exception: a gentle cleansing oil. “Cleansing oils don’t disrupt our natural oil barriers, so you can’t overwash with an oil cleanser,” Hewett says. Lily Talakoub, a board-certified dermatologist in Virginia seconds this, she tells Allure.
If you’re a chronic overwasher, switching to a cleansing oil permanently might be the key to keep things in balance. She recommends Eve Lom’s oil-based cleanser. We also like Burt’s Bees Cleansing Oil with Coconut and Argan Oils, a favorite of Yara Shahidi’s.
Cleansing oils don’t disrupt our natural oil barriers, so you can’t overwash.
(There is one thing you want to watch out for: When your skin is already sensitive from overcleansing, the experts warn against using formulas with essential oils that can potentially be irritating, such as tea tree oil or peppermint oil.)
In the short term — when your skin is dry and tight, like, right now — a leave-on product like a face oil can help heal the skin, Ciraldo says. Jurlique’s Skin Balancing Face Oil is a perfect salve for parched skin.