We asked top experts to share common cleansing missteps—and the easy ways to improve your wash
You know the basics: You diligently wash your face every night before you go to bed and every morning when you wake up. But what if your skin still doesn't look as fresh as you'd like it to? We have all of the secrets to scoring that healthy, smooth glow. It starts by avoiding these 10 common mistakes.
Choosing the correct sudser for your skin type is a make or break moment in your skincare routine, says celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. Using the wrong one can hinder the efficacy of any products you apply afterward, not to mention cause irritation. As a general rule of thumb, those with normal to dry complexions should opt for a more hydrating, creamy cleansing lotion; oily or combination types can use foaming or gel cleansers. The safest way to avoid over-stripping your skin? Pick a sulfate-free formula (these detergents are too harsh for everyone), and look to the size of the suds, particularly when using gels or foams. “If it’s creating the same kind of lather as your shampoo, it’s way too strong,” says Rouleau. “You want it to be slightly frothy, not super bubbly.”
It’s not just a matter of slapping some water on your face and adding a dollop of wash. If you’re using a cleansing lotion, make sure to apply it on completely dry skin and rub it in for a few seconds, as you would with a moisturizer. “This gives the oils in the cleanser a chance to breakdown the oils in your makeup and on your skin,” says Rouleau. Then, wet your fingertips slightly to help emulsify the product. On the flip side, stronger gels or foams should go onto wet skin, so that they don’t dry out your complexion. And if you’re using a wash made to combat breakouts? “Let it sit on the skin for one minute before rinsing,” advises Joshua Zeichner, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “This gives the active ingredients time to do their job and kill any acne-causing bacteria.”
You may be diligent about washing your face before you hit the hay, but what about in the a.m.? Even if your skin doesn’t feel dirty, don’t forgo a morning stop at the sink. “You’re getting rid of the natural oils that have built-up overnight, as well as any residue from products you applied before bed,” says Rouleau. This gives you a clean palate so that whatever you use in the morning−most importantly, sunscreen−can penetrate and work effectively, she adds.
The good news: Most cleansers on the market effectively remove makeup, so there’s no need to make makeup removal a separate step in your routine, says Zeichner. The bad news? There is a little elbow grease required. After you rinse your cleanser (but before your dry), it’s important to use either a washcloth or facial sponge to thoroughly wipe your skin, says Rouleau. “Makeup doesn’t just dissolve when you wash your face, it has to be physically wiped away,” she adds.
While it may feel nice to wash with hot water, the results aren’t quite as pleasing. “Heat dilates the capillaries and blood vessels under your skin, making you appear flushed and red, especially if you have a condition like acne or rosacea,” says Rouleau. Stick with lukewarm temps to fend off an unwanted blush.
It’s okay to use a washcloth—with a few major caveats. Do opt for a baby washcloth, which will be softer and less likely to irritate your skin, suggests Rouleau. But don’t ever (ever!) scrub your face with it: “Even a little irritation from washcloths can lead to post-inflammatory pigmentation overtime,” says Zeichner. (Translation: dark spots, especially for those with darker complexions). And always, always use a freshie every time you wash: “A damp washcloth is a breeding ground for bacteria,” warns Zeichner.
Once you’re done cleansing, resist the urge to rub your face dry. This can cause inflammation, which may lead to unsightly irritation and redness. Instead, gently pat dry, pressing the washcloth or towel against your skin until most of the moisture is absorbed.
Does your skin feel tight or stripped after you wash? You’ve likely missed a critical post-cleansing step, says Rouleau. Once you’re clean and dry, make sure to slather on a serum or moisturizer within 60 seconds. “The water you’ve just washed with hydrates the skin, but it instantly starts to evaporate,” she explains. “By applying a hydrating product immediately after, you not only get the benefits of the product, you’re also locking in the moisture you got from washing,” she adds.
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Cleansing wipes are insanely convenient, but sadly, they’re not a substitute for legitimately washing your face. They smear dirt, makeup and oil, across the skin, rather than actually removing it, says Rouleau. “It would be like applying a cleanser and then not rinsing it off.” Make them the absolute exception, not the rule. If you just can’t give them up, they’re best suited to help remove stubborn eye makeup (but always follow with a wash).
Daily sloughing is not only unnecessary, it can do more harm then good. “It takes two weeks for cells to make their way from the base of the skin to the surface, and another week or two to accumulate and make skin start to look dull,” says Zeichner. A weekly exfoliating session will be enough to keep you glowing. Since most face scrubs and chemical exfoliants are based in a cleansing agent, there’s no need to make this a separate step; just swap out your regular cleanser for an exfoliating option.