Why Double Cleansing Is Worth the Extra Time and Effort

Dermatologists explain if and when you should double cleanse your skin, and exactly how to do so.

Young girl looking her self in the mirror and washing her face with foam cleanser
Photo: Stocksy

When it comes to skin-care, less, often really is more. Using fewer potentially-irritating ingredients, exfoliating less often, minimizing how often you're trying new products — all of these things can be great for your skin. And while over-cleansing is certainly on that list too, you shouldn't write off the practice of double cleansing. Ahead, top dermatologists explain more about what double cleansing is, plus if, when, and how to try it.

What Is Double Facial Cleansing?

Double cleansing is exactly what it sounds like: using a cleanser twice in a row when washing your face. "Double cleansing is a two-step cleansing process that ensures complete removal of all makeup, sunscreen, sebum, and dirt from your skin," explains Rebecca Marcus, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Dallas and the founder of Maei MD. "The two steps aim to dissolve and rinse away all impurities on the skin's surface with the first step, then penetrate more deeply into pores with the second step." It's also helpful to think of it on a macro and micro level; the first cleanse washes away the large particles of debris on your skin, the second one actually cleans the skin and removes any smaller grime leftover. While double cleansing has captured the attention of today's skin-care enthusiasts, it's long been a common practice in both Korean and Japanese people's beauty routines. (

What Are the Benefits of Double Cleansing?

The goal here is to surpass the level of almost clean skin. "[Double cleansing] completely removes all of the residue from the day: dirt, oil, sunscreen, you name it," explains Dr. Marcus. One round of cleansing alone often isn't enough to thoroughly remove all of this gunk, and leaving it on the skin ups your potential for clogged pores and potential breakouts. Plus, achieving this level of thorough clean also helps whatever products you apply afterward better penetrate and work to their full potential because there's nothing standing in between them and your skin, adds Dr. Marcus.

How to Double Cleanse

People who double cleanse often use two different formulas for each step. "The first cleanser should be oil-based to help remove excess makeup, dirt, and sebum from the skin," says Kim Nichols, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Greenwich, Connecticut. Why oil-based? Like attracts like, so the oil in the cleanser will help break down oils in skin, makeup, sunscreen, and more, notes Dr. Marcus. Apply it onto dry skin and massage it in with damp fingertips. Rinse with water or wipe it away with a soft washcloth or cotton pad. One important caveat: While double-cleansing traditionally calls for an oil-based cleanser first, that's not necessarily a hard and fast rule. If you have combination or oily skin and/or are wary of adding more oil to your face, a micellar water is a great swap, and is similarly effective at removing makeup and the like, says Dr. Marcus.

Next, move onto cleansing, round two. This time you'll want to use a water-based cleanser, tailored to your specific skin type, suggests Dr. Marcus. Wash your face as you normally would. This will remove not only any leftover, oily residue from the first cleanser, but also any remaining bit of dirt. It also bears mentioning that you only need to double cleanse at night, not in the morning when your skin is going to be relatively clean.

Who Should Double Cleanse?

Pretty much anyone and everyone, so long as you're choosing the right products. "Most people can benefit from double cleansing," says Dr. Marcus. "We're all hopefully using sunscreen as well as makeup that needs to be removed thoroughly at the end of each day." Dr. Nichols agrees, adding that double cleansing can be particularly beneficial for those who struggle with oily skin, or comedonal acne (which includes whiteheads, blackheads, and other types of small pimples), since the practice can help ensure your pores are completely clear — without the irritation that can come from using harsh scrubs or exfoliants. City-dwellers are also excellent candidates. "Those living in cities with poor air quality and high levels of pollution are at a higher risk of clogged pores, breakouts, and even premature aging," says Dr. Nichols. A daily double cleanse can better remove those skin-damaging pollutants.

What Products Should I Use to Double Cleanse?

Here's where a big caveat comes into play. Double cleansing with the wrong products can lead to irritation and excessive dryness, particularly if your skin is dry or sensitive to begin with, cautions Dr. Nichols. (This is really the only major downside of double cleansing.) So, you really need to consider your skin type when choosing both of the cleansers you'll be using. For example, if your skin is normal to dry, go ahead and use an oil-based cleanser for step one. DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (Buy It, $15, dermstore.com) is a cult-classic. As mentioned, micellar water will also do the trick, especially if your skin is oilier to begin with. Try: Garnier Skin Active Micellar Cleansing Water (Buy It, $8, target.com).

When it comes to the second cleanser, both doctors say this is where your individual skin type and complexion concerns really come into play. Those with drier, sensitive skin should choose gentle, hydrating formulas, such as the Heritage Store Rosewater Cleanser Milk Wash (Buy It, $12, amazon.com), one of Dr. Nichols' favorites. Those with oily or acne-prone skin should opt for gel or foaming formulas, or even options with acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid, such as Sweet Chef Carrot Ginger & Salicylic Acid Pore Cleanser (Buy It, $16, target.com). (

The bottom line? Double cleansing is a great way to make sure your skin gets super clean and something worth considering for your skin-care routine — so long as you choose the right types of products.

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