Do I Really Need to Wash my Face Every Day?

Washing your face is step numero uno in any skincare routine. Seems obvious, but apparently a lot of us are doing it wrong if we do it all. According to a national survey conducted by CeraVe Skin, nearly 80 percent of Americans have picked up bad facial cleansing habits (probably from the internet) — like using body wash en lieu of face cleanser (you know who you are) or skipping the nighttime wash altogether (face, meet palm). Come on friends. That’s gross. Even if you don’t wear an ounce of makeup your skin is still facing down some pretty gnarly demons every day. Sleeping on an unwashed face is loosely the equivalent of marinating in a cesspool of accumulated pore-clogging, age-accelerating pollution, oil and dirt. So right here. Right now. Let’s all collectively agree to put an end to bad skin habits, starting with the very first and most basic step: cleansing. If you’re part of the aforementioned majority in need of a refresh on the yays and nays of a fresh face, here ya go:

Rinsing is Not Washing

Splashing water on your face before calling it a night isn’t the same as using a cleanser formulated to actually remove crap from your clogged pores. Remember that cesspool we just talked about? Yeah, it doesn’t just slide off your face with a little bit of H2O. Cleansers are formulated with particular ingredients that attract and emulsify all that gunk, pulling it out of pores, so it can actually be rinsed away (1, 2). Plus, regular tap water is definitely not pH balanced to your skin’s happy medium. Alone, it’s too alkaline, which throws off your skin’s antimicrobial defenses (3).

Body Soap is Not Face Wash

I get the temptation to be frugal and eliminate seemingly redundant products from your rotation, but this is one corner you don’t want to cut, my friend. The skin on your face is not the same as the rest of your body. It’s thinner, has more sebaceous glands (oils) and is in more constant contact with sun exposure and pollution. Body wash and soap bars are often made with harsher surfactants that might be fine for the skin on your body but is likely going to strip those natural (and necessary) oils from your face (4, 5, 6). So as tempting as it is to reach for that bar of soap in the shower to do the job, investing in a cleanser formulated for the skin on your face goes a long way to righting face washing woes.

Makeup Isn’t Your Only Woe

Of course, washing off your makeup every day is super important if you don’t want clogged pores and dull skin. But makeup isn’t the only culprit contributing to skin struggles. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the term free radicals by now. They’re less obvious than makeup, but equally, if not more, aggressive in accelerating skin aging. Free radicals are generated through our cells’ natural and normal oxidation process, but also through external factors like UV radiation and pollution. These chemical species are highly reactive, unstable and basically taking a proverbial axe to your skin by destroying collagen and impairing hydration (7, 8, 9). You wanna wash these mofos off with more than water to give your skin an antioxidant boost.

Nights Are Non-Negotiable

I don’t care how early you’re setting that first alarm to make your morning yoga class — do NOT put that face on that pillow without washing it first. And, no, makeup wipes don’t count. Our skin can tell night from day, and it’s regenerative process kicks in when we’re in sleep mode. Beauty rest is a thing for a reason. You might be zonked out, but your skin is kicked into overdrive: new cell growth is being stimulated, DNA is being repaired and blood flow is increased — which means skincare ingredients absorb better (10, 11). Getting enough oxygen is vital to this repair cycle, so give your pores some breathing room by clearing them of the days junk before you hit the sack.

But Mornings are Optional

That’s right. We’re myth-busting the morning cleanse because you don’t need it. I know, I know. I lot of derms out there are espousing mornings as a must because germs from pillowcases are smearing all of our faces when we sleep. I’m calling their bluff. I mean, how long do they think we wait before washing our pillowcases? Six months? (If that’s you, ew.) Now is where I do a 180 and admit that I do wash my face every morning because I feel weird slathering moisturizer on without a good cleanse first  — and there is a case to be made that using a face wash in the morning does help following products absorb better (12). Really, it comes down to personal preference. Those with more oily skin might find a morning wash does help keep sebum production in check. On the other hand, those with dry skin might find that twice-a-day contact with cleanser could put skin in an irritable mood. Do what makes your skin happy.

pH Balance is Everything

I’ve harped on this before and I’m getting after it again: using a pH balanced cleanser is absolutely necessary. Your skin’s pH level skews more acidic on the pH scale (between 4 and 6) for a reason: to create a skin ecosystem where good flora thrive but harmful bacteria can’t survive. Even if you’re doing you due diligence by using a face wash ideal for your skin type, it might not do much good if isn’t pH balanced for skin. A lot of cleanser are too alkaline which can exacerbate bacteria growth, infection and inflammation...which isn’t exactly the goal of face washing. So you need to wash your face every night, yes. But you can’t just slather any old cleanser on your skin, rinse and call it a day. It’s seems somewhat counterintuitive to take the time to cleanse without choosing a cleanser that works, am I right? Know your skin type and shop accordingly. Avoid anything with harsh ingredients that gives you that ‘squeaky’ clean feel. And always, always, always opt for a pH balanced cleanser so you’re not only eliminating pollutants, pathogens and makeup leftovers, but also supporting your skin’s moisture barrier. Like all things in the universe, you’re skin is a complex and interconnected place. Best not to leave it happenstance.

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