If you’ve ever wondered how to wash your face the right way, you’re not alone. It seems easy enough—just splash on some water, rub in a little gentle face cleanser, and rinse—but figuring out how to properly wash your face takes a little finagling. In fact, certain skin types benefit from a specific face-washing routine. But it’s worth the effort to get it right. Cleaning skin thoroughly is important for washing away dirt, dead skin cells, makeup, and anything else that might clog your pores or cause general dullness. And, depending on the type of cleanser you use, it could also help treat specific skin conditions, like acne. “Proper facial cleansing prevents acne breakouts, can improve skin health, and may even reduce skin inflammation,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells SELF. But it’s not only how you wash your face that makes the difference, it’s also when, how often, and what type of face wash you use. To make sure you’re putting your scrubbing to good use, here are some easy ways to make sure you wash your face properly—and to make your cleansing routine even more effective. Learn them now so you’ll know how to wash your face the right way, every time.
What is the best way to wash your face?
In short: quickly, gently, and thoroughly.
It’s tempting to feel like using your facial cleansing product for a longer amount of time or with more ferocity will wash your face more effectively. But in reality, the length of time you spend lathering does not correlate to how well you cleansed your face. Keep it simple: Try to aim for 20 to 30 seconds of washing, or until the product lathers up on your face, because doing more than that could be too much for your skin. Washing too aggressively or for too long—especially if your cleanser contains any exfoliating ingredients—can quickly lead to red, irritated, angry skin.
To properly wash your face, Jerome Garden, M.D., director of the Physicians Laser and Dermatology Institute in Chicago, recommends wetting your face with lukewarm—not hot—water and using your fingertips to apply cleanser in a circular motion. “Make sure to wash the T-zone and U-zone (around the jawline), as these are areas people tend to ignore,” he adds. Once you’ve built up a nice lather, rinse and carefully pat dry with a soft, clean towel.
And about that water temperature: Using hot water in the shower or to wash your face might feel really nice, but it can actually be damaging to the delicate skin on your face.
“Extreme temperatures, such as hot, steamy showers or hot water, can cause dilation of blood vessels and breakage of delicate tissue,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Further, the hot water naturally strips skin of the necessary oil barrier that helps maintain skin integrity.” This means your skin will dry out faster and may become more itchy and flaky over time.
This is especially an issue for those with dry or sensitive skin to be aware of because their skin is already more vulnerable to drying out or reacting badly to extremes. Also, heat can be a trigger for rosacea, a skin condition that causes redness and acne-like bumps. So, it’s important to use lukewarm water to wash your face.
When should you wash your face?
For most of us, you should wash your skin twice a day: in the morning and evening. But at the bare minimum, wash your face every night.
The nighttime wash is basically the beginner’s guide to skin care when it comes to caring for your skin, and it holds true even if you don’t wear makeup. “During the day, natural oils and sweat accumulate on the skin,” Dr. Zeichner says. “We are exposed to the environment, which means that dirt and pollution build up on our outer skin layer.” Not removing all of this dirt and gunk at the end of the day can cause skin irritation, inflammation, and acne breakouts.
For most people, another rinse in the morning is a good idea. “While you’re tossing and turning at night, bacteria from your saliva and oils from your hair are easily transferred to your face and eyes,” Rachel Nazarian, M.D., dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York and New Jersey tells SELF. So even if you wash your face at night and your pillowcases often, an a.m. cleanse is best practice. Plus, if you’re putting on products like treatments, serums, moisturizers, or night creams before bed, you’ll want to wash those off in the morning before putting on your daytime products.
Just keep in mind that you may need to use a different cleanser in the morning than the one you use at night. If you have dry or sensitive skin, for instance, you may want to use micellar water or a gentle cleanser in the morning. And if you’re using a salicylic acid-containing cleanser to help manage your acne, you may find that it’s too harsh or drying to use twice a day.
Can you just wash your face with water?
If your skin is really sensitive, it might be a good idea to swap your morning cleanser for a water-only rinse.
But make sure to keep the evening a moment where you really cleanse your face. This is because people with extremely dry or sensitive skin may find that washing twice a day with a cleanser irritates or overly dries their skin. But if you do pare down to just water in the morning, dermatologists still recommend using a gentle cleanser in the evening to wash off oil, residue, and anything else that has accumulated during the day.
Here are more dermatologist-approved tips for how to wash your face to help you achieve your best, brightest, and cleanest skin ever.
Make sure you’re using a cleanser that’s right for your skin type.
What is a cleanser? Essentially, it’s soap that is made specifically for facial skin. When looking for one, you’ll want to consider things like your skin type (if your skin is generally oily, dry, normal, or combination), if you have sensitive skin, if you’re acne prone, and if you have any other skin conditions (like rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis).
If your skin tends to be dry or sensitive, a gentle or creamy cleanser is the best bet. Those with oily skin are able to use gel or foamy cleansers. And for people with normal skin, a water-based cleanser will work well. You can also try using something like a cleansing oil or balm, which tend to be more moisturizing than traditional cleansers and are able to cut through thicker makeup and sunscreens.
But if you have no idea where to start or how to figure out your skin type, it’s worth checking in with a dermatologist who can recommend a face wash for you specifically.
If you must use a bar of soap to wash your face, look for something super gentle.
If you’re lucky enough not to have sensitive skin, you might reach for a random bar of soap, lather up, and start your day. But these harsh cleansers can strip the natural hydrators from the skin, which can leave your face vulnerable to inflammation and dry skin, Dr. Zeichner says.
Instead, he recommends using gentle cleansers that respect the delicate balance of your skin. If you still want to keep it simple with a bar or solid cleanser, try using Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($13, Target) or the Lush Sleepy Face ($6, Lush) solid cleansers. Not only are these gentle and easy to use, they’re also great for traveling because you don’t have to think about liquid TSA regulations.
Have a separate product just for exfoliating.
It may seem like using a scrubby exfoliant is an easy way to knock out two skin-care steps in one. But the truth is that, unless you’re trying to manage acne with something like a salicylic acid-containing cleanser, you probably don’t want to be using an exfoliant every day—and there are almost certainly better cleansers out there that will be kinder to your skin.
Both chemical exfoliants (like salicylic acid and glycolic acid) and physical exfoliants (like scrubs and motorized brushes) can be very effective at removing dead skin cells, dirt, and other gunk that can clog pores. “Exfoliating can help remove dead cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin to improve skin radiance,” Dr. Zeichner explains. But when overused, they can actually disrupt the delicate skin barrier that keeps your face hydrated and protected, causing irritated, flaky, dry skin. So, most of us should not exfoliate more than a few times per week. And those with sensitive or dry skin may only want to exfoliate once or twice a month.
Only wash your face as often as you have to.
Ideally you should be washing your face twice a day (once in the mo