Is Double Cleansing Necessary?

Different cleansers are better at achieving different goals, like removing makeup or clearing out acne-causing bacteria. Combining their powers just might be the best way to have it all — a multi-layer deep clean that doesn’t strip away the good stuff. But does your skin really need it? And if so, how often?

Some will argue that today’s cleansers are sophisticated enough to do it all — cut through the grease..err oil, dissolve tough makeup, make pollution a moot point and still deep clean while gently exfoliating pores. Others haven’t thought about their cleanser since 1999.

Despite being undervalued and overlooked, clean skin is a prerequisite to an effective skincare routine. If you’re not paying attention to step one, you’re not getting as much out of steps 2, 3, 15...however many follow-up serums, masks and moisturizers you have. Today, we're giving that first step double the love and answering all your questions about double cleansing.

I got into double cleansing when I moved to LA and couldn’t find my skin under all the layers of Southern California — desert dirt, beach sand, sunscreen, smog — by the end of the day. And I’ll never go back to my single cleanser days of yore.

Your reasons might be different. A full face of transfer-resistant makeup every day might take more than a single cleanse or water-based cleanser alone just might not cut it if you have higher sebum production. Whatever your reason, this is why literally everyone can benefit from double cleansing, every 👏 single 👏 night 👏.

What is Double Cleansing?

Like many amazing skincare innovations of the modern age, double cleansing originated as a Korean beauty method. The premise is simple: double the cleansing, double the clean — with a specific strategy for optimal results, of course.

First, fight oil with oil by using an oil-based cleanser to remove oil-based impurities, like sunscreen and makeup, as well as balance sebum production Why? Because water and oil don’t mix super well (see also, freshman chemistry), and water-based cleansers don’t do a 100-percent job of dissolving or removing oil-based buildup.

Second, follow-up with your regular water-based, pH-balanced cleanser to really clean out pores at the bacteria-producing level, gently exfoliate and remove water-based impurities, like sweat and environmental pollutants.

An oil-based cleanser plus a water-based cleanser is the power couple of clean skin. You can get an effective face wash with either, but both together is more likely to get rid of all the bad stuff without stripping away the good stuff (hello, microbes and natural moisturizing factors). (1, 2, 3)

Who Should Double Cleanse?

In short, everyone. No matter your skin mood, where you live or how you live your life, there’s a good reason to consider making double cleansing a daily part of your skincare routine. Double cleansing especially makes sense for urbanites who are exposed to higher levels of pollution on a daily basis. Numerous studies have linked pollution and environmental toxins to accelerated aging, so getting all that ish off your skin every day is more than just a feel-good treatment, it’s the quid pro quo of city dwelling.

If you wear a full face of makeup every day, especially of the transfer-resistant variety, or use mineral-based sunscreen with your morning routine (which we all are, right?) there are some obvious benefits to using double cleansers. Likewise, if your skin skews oily or is especially acne-prone, giving it double the cleansing time could reap double the results — provided you’re using the right cleanser to tackle your skin’s specific nuances.

In fact, the right cleansers make all the difference for everyone. If double cleansing has made your skin feel sensitive, irritated or exacerbated conditions like rosacea or acne in the past, it could be that your cleanser’s pH-balance is off, which can weaken your natural moisture barrier, damage your skin microbiome and disrupt the acid mantel — all essential components of healthy skin.  (4, 5)

Why Do I Need To Double Cleanse?

Your skin has more than one layer, right? If you’re only cleansing one you’re likely only addressing the surface layer since your cleanser isn’t on your skin long enough to work through the sebum, makeup and sunscreen before you rinse it off. But the deeper layers are where the bacteria action is at, especially the acne-causing kind. Removing makeup every night is critical to clearing pores and preventing breakouts, yes, but actually getting down to the pores is equally important.

Clean skin at every level is better able to absorb all those fancy serums, moisturizers and other leave-on products you spent your hard-earned dollars on. Makeup-free and pollution-clear skin also get better beauty rest —meaning clean skin repairs more thoroughly and efficiently while you sleep, during its natural regenerative process. (6)

How to Double Cleanse Step-By-Step

Oil-Based Cleanser

Step 1

Cleansing balms are a personal favorite, but you can also use a liquid cleanser as long as it's oil based as well. Using your fingers, apply the cleansing oil or balm to dry skin, massaging in gentle circular motions, including around the eyes, for 30-60 seconds.

Step 2

This part is pretty straight forward: wet your face and gently wash it all off by gently rubbing (not tugging) your skin with lukewarm water.

Water-Based Cleanser

Step 3

Pretty straightforward as well, but apply your water-based cleanser to your skin as usual (while it’s still damp), again massaging in gentle circular motions.

Step 4

This time, rinse the cleanser completely off with lukewarm (not hot!) water, then pat dry with a soft and CLEAN towel. True fact, too many folks let their cleansing/drying towels go way past their expiration date before washing or replacing them, which is just inviting a germ party onto your face and kinda defeats the purpose of cleansing. Here are a few more tips on what NOT to do when washing your face (you’re probably doing at least one of them).

How Often Should I Double Cleanse?

Double cleansing is best practiced daily, and is (dare we say it) a non-negotiable part of your PM cleanse - especially if you wear SPF everyday (ahem, all of us). If you double cleanse more than once a day, you risk over washing, which can have serious effects on your skin’s microbiome, so keep your AM clean simple with a gentle, hydrating cleanser.

Which Face Cleansers Should I Use to Double Cleanse?

Any and all skin moods will appreciate non-irritating, non-stripping sulfate-free and pH-balanced water-based cleanser, which generally means avoiding bar soaps and products loaded with fragrance and essential oils. Keeping your skin barrier healthy is priority number uno!

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