How Often Should You Actually Wash Your Face?

Washing your face can seem like a real hardship. Who has time in this modern age?

But failing to wash it regularly — even if just a quick splash of water — can cause a whole host of skin problems.

Here’s the lowdown on when you should be doing it and what you should be using.

Quick chart

Once dailyTwice dailyAs neededMorningNight
Dry or sensitive skinXX
Oily or acne-prone skinXXX
Combination skinXXX
If you wear makeupXXX
If you exercise or perspireXXXX

Generally speaking, how often should you wash your face?

Every person should wash their face both morning and night, says Kanika Tim, founder of Revita Skin Clinic.

Sweaty occasions may call for a third wash. But, notes Dr. Joshua Zeichner, “in the real world, this doesn’t always happen.”

If you can only commit to a wash once daily, do it before you go to bed, adds Zeichner, who is the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.

This will help remove grime and oil that’s built up over the course of the day, along with things like makeup.

How often should you wash it if you have dry or sensitive skin?

Washing the face twice a day may prove to be irritating for sensitive or dry skin types.

If you tick that box, cleanse properly at night using a gentle formula and simply rinse with warm water in the morning.

Hydrating cleansers are a good options for people with dry skin. “These products typically don’t lather and help moisturize while they cleanse the skin,” Zeichner says.

Oil-based cleansers or ones with thicker consistencies should also be considered, according to licensed aesthetician and Smart Style Today advisor Stephanie Ivonne.

How often should you wash if you have oily or acne-prone skin?

The urge to overcleanse is common in those with oily or acne-prone skin.

There’s no need to wash the face more than twice a day. In fact, doing so may dry out your skin.

When this happens, Ivonne says skin “does whatever it needs to do to regain moisture.”

This includes “making its sebum production work in overdrive, causing more oil and more acne than there was originally.”

If you fall into this category, opt for a cleanser containing hydroxy acids to remove excess oil.

Medicated cleansers are also worth your attention.

How often should you wash if you have combination skin?

Combo skin types are seen as the lucky ones. In this case, you can take your pick of the cleansers on offer.

It’s still advisable to wash twice a day and use a gentle formula “that removes impurities, deep cleans pores, helps remove makeup, and leaves the skin feeling refreshed, clean, and hydrated,” says Tim.

How often should you wash if you wear makeup?

Makeup can clog pores if not properly removed, causing breakouts.

Makeup wearers should wash their face in the morning followed by a more thorough cleanse at night.

Either remove makeup before using a cleanser or double cleanse to ensure all traces are gone.

Ivonne recommends using an oil-based cleanser for a clean, nonirritating feel.

How often should you wash if you exercise?

Any activity that involves sweating requires an extra wash to remove said sweat and dirt.

If you’re out and about and don’t have a cleanser to hand, try oil-free wipes, says Dr. Yoram Harth, board certified dermatologist and medical director of MDacne.

They’re “great for cleansing the skin [and] removing sweat and dirt until you can shower and wash again.”

What should you use to cleanse?

If your skin has no special requirements and you don’t wear makeup or routinely sweat, you may get away with a good, old-fashioned splash of water morning and night.

Just make it lukewarm — not boiling hot or freezing cold.

However, Tim says, “everyone should use a cleanser that helps to exfoliate and remove impurities, but won’t strip the skin of natural oils.”

That especially applies to people with particular conditions like acne or dryness.

What you use is up to you. There are creams, lotions, gels, wipes, balms, and more.

Avoid products containing potentially irritating ingredients like fragrance or alcohol

Is this all you need?

Cleansing is usually part of a skin care routine. A standard morning regimen begins with washing your face, followed by moisturizer to hydrate and sunscreen to protect.

Before bed, cleanse the skin again and exfoliate once or twice a week to remove lingering grime and dead skin. Then you can apply a thicker night cream.

Of course, you’re free to add any number of serums and treatments, but always start with a cleanse.

What could happen if you over- or underwash?

“A sign that you’re not properly washing is residue being left on your bedding,” says Ivonne.

Alternatively, wipe your face with a damp, light-colored flannel. If dirty marks appear, better washing is in order.

If you don’t cleanse your face properly, it can result in pore clogging, which can lead to blackheads, whiteheads, and fiercer acne breakouts.

It’s also likely to limit the effectiveness of any skin care products you use.

Saying that, it is possible to wash too much. Irritation, tightness, or dryness is a classic sign of overcleansing.

Again, this can cause pore clogging and may lead to sensitivity that calls for an extra gentle routine.

Other common questions

There are more mysteries surrounding facial cleansing, from whether targeted cleansers are worth your while to the merits (and downfalls) of a bar of soap.

Why is there so much disagreement over once or twice per day?

Some people think it’s pointless to wash skin that’s spent all night lying on a fresh pillow.

Cleansing twice a day can prove too much for some — especially if it’s too aggressive or using products that aren’t quite right.

Generally though, a gentle wash morning and night is fine. Remember that you know your skin best and should alter your routine to suit.

Are skin type-specific cleansers actually legit?

The claims made by certain skin care brands can be exaggerated.

In a lot of cases, you can’t tell if a cleanser’s right for you until you try it.

No matter your skin type, check the ingredients for potential irritants like alcohol or soap.

If your skin feels dry or tight after using a particular cleanser, try a different one that leaves skin feeling soft.

In addition to experimenting with different products, you can try various ways to apply them.

Using your hands is the easiest, but cloths and cleansing brushes are also an option.

Is bar soap OK?

Ivonne isn’t a fan of bar soap. She says that cleansing your face with it “strips the skin of moisture and its natural oils, causing damage, including dry and irritated skin.”

Gentler formulas are now available, but it’s advisable to remain cautious.

The bottom line

Try to wash your face twice a day — but don’t forget to listen to your skin.

If it’s red, overly dry, or shows any other signs of irritation, something isn’t right.

In those cases, your best bet is to book an appointment with a dermatologist. Don’t underestimate professional, personalized advice.

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