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5 common mistakes to washing your face

5 Most Common Mistakes to Washing Your Face

The 5 most common mistakes to washing your face can make or break your skin care routine and sabotage your complexion. Your daily skin care starts with cleansing and cleansing correctly for your unique facial skin can make a huge difference that's easy to notice. 

Are you washing your face the right way? 

Your complexion is not the same as everyone else's. That's because your complexion is the result of your unique choices and characteristics including: where you live, what you do during your day, the products you use on your skin, your unique skin problems, and how oily or dry your skin is. All these factors determine how you, and only you, should wash your face. The most common mistakes I see people making when it comes to their face washing routines are:
  1. Picking the wrong cleanser for their skin type
  2. Using the wrong water temperature
  3. Not washing product, dirt and oil off twice a day
  4. Using cleansers with unnecessary allergens and irritants
  5. Forgetting to exfoliate

How do you cleanse your face correctly so that your complexion is healthy and looks its best?

Tip #1 Pick the right cleanser for your skin type.

Is your cleanser too harsh for your skin type? Or, is it not strong enough to remove your natural build-up of skin oil, product residue, or daily dirt and grime? It's important that your cleanser fully cleans your skin, but does not irritate your skin. Some of the best cleansing products I use to build Complete Skin Care routines for my patients include:

Facial cleansers matched for oily and acne prone skin: 

foaming acne treatment cleanser to avoid 5 most common mistakes to washing your face

Oily and acne prone skin needs a cleanser that lifts dirt and oil off skin with a foaming agent. Foaming agents don't need to be harsh to do this job well. There are many good choices including liquid and bar skin cleansers. My favorite cleanser for acne prone skin is pH balanced, sulfate free, fortified with glycolic acid to brighten skin and medicated with salicylic acid to penetrate oily pores and treat acne. It is my Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser.

Calming Zinc Soap facial cleanser for fungal acne 

Calming Zinc Soap offers a different approach to washing your face when you have acne-prone and oily skin. This naturally made soap is free from sulfates, fragrances and preservatives. It lathers to remove oil, dirt and debris and is fortified with a full 2% pyrithione zinc to fight 'fungal' acne called Pityrosporum folliculitis, seborrheic dermatitis and rosacea.

  • I often have my acne patients alternate Calming Zinc with Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser using one in the morning and one in the evening. 
  • Patients with seborrhea or rosacea alternate Calming Zinc with a gentle cleanser such as the ones mentioned below for normal or sensitive complexions. 

Oily and acne prone facial skin also benefits from a second skin-toning cleansing step to remove any residual oil and debris.

best medicated acne treatment pads

Treat acne, remove excess oil and tone pores by using Acne Treatment Pads. These medicated pads deliver salicylic acid and glycolic acid to fight blackheads and clogged oily pores for people battling acne. They are ideal for extremely oily complexions. You can also see how clean your skin was after washing when you look at the pad after swabbing your face.

Another simple option to tone pores for less oily complexions is to use a natural skin toner that is witch hazel based. My Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Toner contains organic witch hazel formulated with organic Bulgarian rose hydrosol and vegetable glycerin to soothe and clean your skin.

best toner for sensitive skin

Facial cleansers matched for normal, dry, or sensitive skin: 

5 common mistakes to washing your face best gentle cleanser for normal to sensitive skin

Normal or sensitive skin may or may not need a strongly foaming cleanser to remove the day's products, oil and debris. In my practice, our favorite gentle pH balanced skin cleanser is my Extremely Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser. This is the cleanser that I use daily to cleanse my face to remove my makeup at the end of the day. 

Another completely bland dermatologist approved bar option is VaniCream Cleansing Bar. This pH balanced bar soap can be used from head to toe to cleanse ultra-sensitive skin. 

vanicream cleansing bar soap

If you want a second cleaning treatment then go with the Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Facial Toner as dry and sensitive skin complexions tolerate this product well and find it soothing and hydrating.     

All but the most sensitive complexion types benefit from sonic skin cleansing. For years we used the Clarisonic Cleansing Brush System in my practice (either the Clarisonic SMART Profile or the Mia 2), but it is no longer made! Drats!! The newcomer is the Foreo, which has silicone bristles that help clean more deeply into the pores.

Believe me, after years of looking at skin biopsy specimens under the microscope, I know for a fact that pores can accumulate a lot of stuff. I like sonic cleansing to get pores really clean!

Tip #2 Use the right water temperature for your complexion.

How is your choice of water temperature working for your skin?

Just like when you are washing the dishes, cold water is not as effective at removing oil as warmer water. That said, hot water can damage skin over time, may remove too much natural oil if you have dry skin, and is often just too harsh. I recommend tepid to slightly warm water for facial cleansing. It removes oil but does not irritate or inflame skin. 

Does your skin feel tight and dry after you wash it?

If so, you want to use a cooler water temperature and a milder cleanser. Whereas, if your skin still feels grimy and oily after you wash it then you can do the opposite (warmer water and stronger cleanser).

Dermatologist explains 5 common mistakes to washing your face

I usually recommend starting with tepid to slightly warm water and adjusting from there. If you have rosacea that is prone to flushing, then you may find that cooler water feels better because it helps to constrict your flush-prone facial capillaries. Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey


Tip #3 Wash and rinse your face twice a day.

Clean skin is able to absorb the correcting products you layer on after you wash your face. Be sure to fully cleanse and remove what has built up over the last 12 hours before applying anything else to your skin. You'll notice that I said "rinse" too.

5 common mistakes to washing your face

Yes, I'm a fan of rinsing skin with water to remove product residue. I'm not a fan of cleansing wipes because they leave a residue of all those cleansing ingredients on your skin. Read the ingredients in your wipes! You'll find fragrance, preservatives, and stuff that I'd prefer you not to use. Wet wipes, including facial cleansing wipes, are also an important source of the microplastic burden harming marine environments. Even wet wipes labeled 'biodegradable' may be a source of plastic environmental contamination according to one study,

A plastic polymer material component was not listed on any product packaging and the wipes were marketed under an array of descriptions, including 99% water/purified water and biodegradable.

I have many patients who use and love their wipes so I know I won't convert everyone. I will try though - because I am the one who sees the skin allergies and irritation rashes caused by those ingredients.

My bias for smart facial cleansing is to stick with the right cleanser, right water temperature, and a good rinse. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

Tip #4 Use cleansers free of unnecessary allergens and irritants.

This is the same idea as avoiding product residue from standard wipes. Cleansers that are loaded with fragrance or ingredients that are too harsh for your complexion are going to cause a rash.

An allergic rash to facial cleanser usually happens from fragrances or preservatives (even natural fragrances can cause an allergic reaction, such as citrus) used in the product.

The products I have on my site are hypoallergenic - specifically because I see so many needless problems from the typical allergens. Even those with an ingredient that imparts a 'scent' have had the allergenic portion removed so that they are hypoallergenic.

Irritants in facial cleansers are relative to your complexion.

dermatologist's tips for the best way to wash your face

Sodium laurel sulfate is the classic irritant. Some oily complexions need this synthetic foaming surfactant to remove skin oil and product residue. Whereas, sensitive skin usually does best by avoiding sodium laurel sulfate and its relatives.

Acne treating or anti-aging ingredients in facial cleansers may be too harsh for sensitive complexions. Ingredients such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid may do wonders for some complexions and be too much for others. 

Again, pick your cleanser based on your skin type as I mentioned in tip #1 and chose hypoallergenic cleansers. Who needs exposure to allergens for the few minutes that they are cleaning their face? It's not worth the risk.

Tip #5 Exfoliate enough but not too much.

Exfoliating can give you a complexion 'pick me up' right away. It's just like when your house looks better after simply dusting the furniture, sweeping the floor, and vacuuming the carpets - only it's easier.

Dead skin cells accumulate on your skin surface. They hold product residue, and make your complexion they look dull. Exfoliated skin not only looks better, it absorbs product better too.  

With facial skin exfoliation, the ‘devil is in the details’. You want to gently remove dead cells but not scratch your skin surface or go past the dead cells into the living cells. You can typically feel your exfoliation. If it stings, that's too much. A gentle exfoliative buffing of the dead cells will not feel like a scrubbing.

I recommend Facial Exfoliating Sponges used with your cleanser. I also love my Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser used on damp skin in the morning. It has 0.5% salicylic acid to penetrate pores and 10% glycolic acid to brighten skin. I use it almost every morning on my delicate 60+ year old sensitive complexion. 

best exfoliating facial cleanser for bright skin

Using a more vigorous exfoliation once or twice a week may be the best option for some complexions. Using my Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser on dry skin then rinsing well, or my Bamboo and Clay Exfoliation Scrub are great options. 

best exfoliating scrub for bright skin

It is important to note that sensitive complexions need extra care when exfoliating. Some people with highly sensitive skin rosacea may never be able to exfoliate their facial skin. Most people, however, can use exfoliation to brighten their complexion; they have more latitude in how often or how much pressure is applied when using an exfoliating product.

Remember, Complete Skin Care includes 4 essential steps that start with Cleanse:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Correct
  3. Hydrate
  4. Protect
dermatologist explains best facial cleansing and complete skin care

Clean skin is the best canvas for using any skin care products, and maximizes the time and money you invest in your skin. I hope this information has helped you start or continue to build your complete skin care routines!

To see all the facial cleansers that I recommend and use, click here.