The Best Face-Washing Routines For All Skin Types

The foundation of any skincare regimen is a good cleansing routine. Whether you have dry, oily, sensitive, or combination skin, knowing what products to use to properly wash your face is the key to ensuring the rest of your skincare routine can work the way it's supposed to.

Although it may seem straightforward, how to wash your face isn't a one size fits all routine. Your skin type, specific concerns, and age can all affect how effective your skincare regimen is — but when it comes to cleansing your face, one thing stands out the most. We spoke to Emily Trampetti, multi-state licensed esthetician, skincare expert, and founder of Skin Property Virtual Esthetics, who told us that it's your sebaceous activity that you need to focus on when washing your face. "The main goal will be to clean the skin of dirt, debris, dead skin cells, makeup, etc. while removing only as much oil or lipids as needed to keep your skin barrier strong and intact," she says.

If you find yourself consistently struggling with skin that's too dry, too oily, or not as bright as you'd like it to be, you may want to take a look at your face-washing routine.

How to determine your skin type

Before you spend a lot of time and money on products for a new face-washing routine, it's important to know exactly what kind of skin you have. While sometimes it's obvious, for others it's not so cut and dry. One of the best ways to figure out what type of skin you have is to do a simple cleansing test. Cerave suggests washing your face with a gentle cleanser, patting it dry, and then simply waiting 30 minutes to do a self-evaluation. If your skin is shiny you probably have oily skin, and if your skin feels tight or is flaking, you have dry skin. If your t-zone is shiny but the rest of your face feels tight, you probably have combination skin. If you don't have any real visible concerns, you have normal skin.

There are different variables that can affect your skin types such as hormones, age, and the environment, just to name a few. Once you have a better idea of what type of skin you have you're better prepared to figure out a skin cleansing regimen that will work best for you.

What to look for in a cleanser

According to Emily Trampetti, Skin Property Virtual Esthetics, "Cleansing your skin is the foundation of any good skincare routine," and is "one of the most underrated skincare steps." Not only will a good skin cleansing routine create an ideal canvas for whatever you apply to your skin next, whether it's a full skin care regimen or your usual makeup application, but it can have a negative effect on your skin if it's not done properly. Knowing your skin type is one of the most important parts of finding the right products to use. Once you know that, you can determine which cleanser will work best for you. 

Trampetti told Glam that a good cleansing routine shouldn't strip your skin of too much moisture and when shopping you should avoid any products that contain alcohol, as that is super drying on your skin. She also suggests looking for products that are gentle and non-abrasive. If you have oily skin, you'll want to skip any products that contain oil.

Why your cleansing routine is so important

While it can be tempting to skip your usual face-washing routine before bed, or just reapply your tried and true beauty products in the morning, a good cleansing routine can lay the groundwork for how effective your other skincare products will perform. Cleansing your skin with the right products helps to gently exfoliate and get rid of dead skin cells that build up as the day passes. Not only does this keep your skin looking brighter and healthier but it also helps prevent acne and can help treat wrinkles and fine lines.

Not cleaning your skin properly leaves you more susceptible to dehydration and breakouts, leaving you with dull, dry skin. Getting yourself into a skin cleansing routine helps keep you in the habit of taking care of your skin, which you'll be thankful for as you grow older.

Oily skin

Although fresh, dewy skin is always a goal, no one wants to look oily or shiny. Oily skin can be frustrating because it can lead to clogged pores, which can cause pesky breakouts. As tempting as it can be to try to dry out the skin with certain face washes, Trampetti adds that a certain amount of oil is necessary to keep your skin healthy. She suggests investing in a cleanser formulated to control oil and when in doubt, speaking to your esthetician about specific recommendations. "If you're prone to acne, I love using a gel cleanser with 2% salicylic acid to control oil, and bacteria and help with skin inflammation," she says, adding "this can be drying for some skins, so take caution."

You should also be washing your face twice a day, according to Dr. Pimple Popper herself, Sandra Lee, founder of SLMD Skincare. "Though most people should be washing their face morning and night, it's especially important for those with oily skin to give their face a complete cleanse in the morning," she explained (via Healthline.)

Combination skin

Combination skin can be frustrating, especially when it comes to finding products that can target each of your skin concerns. Using the proper products is key when it comes to finding that balance for skin that tends to be oily in some places, yet dry in others. However, Trampetti (Skin Property Virtual Esthetics) continues to tell us that combination skin is often just imbalanced skin, which can be caused by using the wrong products.

She explained that often combination skin can be caused by changing seasons, where winter months make the skin skew dry and summer promotes oilier or even blemished skin. "The problem is that when we use the wrong products or have an imbalanced microbiome, sometimes our bodies will try to overcompensate with oil production." Her advice is "to potentially have a couple of cleansers in your arsenal to combat those seasons or fluctuations in your skin hydration and lubrication. You may also want to work on using a gentle, hydrating cleanser for a bit to see if your barrier just needs some tending to."

Dry skin

It can feel like the solution to dry skin is to simply moisturize, moisturize and then moisturize some more — however, that doesn't always work. The reality is you can help your dry skin feel more hydrated and nourished starting with your cleansing routine. Because there tends to be a large spectrum of dry skin types, Trampetti suggests speaking to your esthetician to figure out which formula will work for your specific skin concerns

"But in general, dry skin types have smaller sebaceous glands and produce much less oil in the pores," she says. "But dry skin is much more prone to irritation and inflammatory conditions since their skin barriers are typically weaker, especially in winter months. Cleansing, in this case, should be done with lipid-based formulations, or products that both clean and nourish the skin."

Dr. Taylor Dickerson of U.S. Dermatology Partners notes that consistency is key when creating a skin cleansing routine for dry skin. "Taking care of dry skin is all about being consistent with your morning and evening skincare routines and using gentle, non-drying skincare products to ensure your skin stays healthy and moisturized." Dr. Dickerson also suggests limiting your skin's exposure to hot water, and instead rinsing your face with cooler water, and applying moisturizer immediately after cleansing to lock in moisture.

Sensitive skin

"Like combination skin, sensitive skin is not always sensitive skin," Trampetti says. "Many people with symptoms of sensitive skin, including high reactivity, burning, erythema, and edema, sometimes only have 'sensitized' skin. This means that the skin barrier is highly disrupted and damaged and is susceptible to inflammation from basically anything." To first determine if you have sensitized or sensitive skin, the skincare expert suggests first treating your skin as though it is very dry.

Once you attempt to strengthen your barrier with products geared toward those with very dry skin, you will see how your skin's oil production changes. She suggests doing this for at least 30 days before testing to see if your skin is still reactive. If it is, then you truly have sensitive skin. "If that's the case, it's good to choose products that are formulated for sensitive skin, usually free from high amounts of fragrance, essential oils, or other potential irritants," she advises. Products that are marketed for sensitive skin are best as they're most likely to be free of alcohol and other irritants, according to Trampetti.

Best practices and tricks

Now that you know what to look for when it comes to choosing the right cleanser for your skin type, Trampetti has some advice on how to implement a good cleansing routine. She suggests keeping a dedicated towel to dry your face with (and always ensuring it's clean and dry to avoid any bacteria growth. She also suggests that you read the instructions on your cleanser, and not assume that they all work the same. "Always double cleanse at night," she says, adding, "I like to use a cotton pad with a hydrating toner to remove the last traces of makeup and prep my skin for the next step."

And although those makeup remover wipes can seem very convenient, she suggests avoiding them altogether unless you're somewhere that you don't have access to water. "They just move stuff around." You want to be gentle when cleaning, but you also want to make sure you're spending at least 20-30 seconds washing your face. You may have seen those viral social media videos of people steaming their faces, but Trampetti warns against it. "Avoid steam — it's not doing you any favors and can be super drying," she says. 

And when it comes to buying a cleanser, more isn't necessarily better. "Although [it's] important to choose the right formula for your skin type, [it] is not something you need to spend a lot of money on," she told us. "It has one main job and gets washed off fairly quickly. Don't worry about making sure it has vitamins and minerals, etc. in it — just make sure it is suited for your skin type."

When to moisturize

One of the most important parts of your skin cleansing routine isn't actually cleansing, but what you should do after you clean your skin. Most experts agree that regardless of your skin type, applying moisturizer to damp skin after cleansing is an important step in keeping your skin hydrated and healthy. "Essentially, moisturizers assist in preventing water loss through the outer layers of skin," New York City dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles explained to The New York Times. "They can also complement the naturally found protective oils and other building blocks within the skin, such as ceramides."

The University of Tennessee Medical Center notes that you should choose a moisturizer with an SPF of at least 15 and one that is "oil free, non-comedogenic (won't clog pores), allergy and dermatologist tested." Like cleansers, you can choose moisturizers based on your skin type and any specific skin needs, like acne or aging skin. Not only is moisturizing important in helping keep those new skin cells hydrated, but the massaging action of applying the moisturizer helps to stimulate new cell growth and helps with blood circulation.

Are soap and water just as effective?

This is a question many people find themselves asking. Are basic soap and water just as effective at cleansing your skin as a specialized cleanser? The answer isn't as straightforward as you may like. "Regular soap is for cleaning regular things. Your skin is not regular," Rachel Nazarian, a New York City-based dermatologist, explained to Insider. However, if you like to use soap, Healthline suggests reaching for a natural or homemade soap that's free of harsh ingredients including sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, parabens, synthetic coloring agents (FD&C Yellow, etc.), and artificial fragrance.

It can be hard to be patient when starting a new routine, but this is one area where you'll need to put your patient pants on and trust the process. Unfortunately, you're not going to see any drastic changes as soon as you implement a new face-cleansing routine. While your skin should immediately feel clean after using any new product, you'll need to stick to a consistent routine for at least a month before you begin to really see a change in your skin.