My skin has been a source of insecurity since adolescence. Even after my 30th lap around the sun, I still suffered from hormonal breakouts and acne scars haunted me. The mere thought of going makeup-free or snapping a #nomakeup selfie gave me anxiety. Like many acne sufferers, I tried everything: Accutane, serums, creams, prescriptions, antibiotics — and so many more solutions — to achieve a clear complexion.
But while the severity of my pimples decreased as my hormones started to streamline, nothing seemed to really get rid of my irritable skin. That is, until I started washing my face -- the right way. Yep, it took me more than a decade to figure out how to effectively rinse away the oil, sweat, foundation, and bacteria from my sensitive pores.
Though this may seem like a “no-duh” type of revelation, it wasn’t until a dermatologist I trusted raised an eyebrow at me and asked how I wash my face before bed every night. After being scolded for my poor cleansing routine, I made some major changes that have improved the texture, brightness, and overall health of my skin. Sure, I’m not fully acne-free, but as I write this, I’m enjoying coffee sans a full face of makeup — and I still feel pretty.
Here, what happened when I learned how to wash my face the right way.
Why is washing your face so important?
“If you aren’t washing your face effectively or not at all, then there will be a build-up of excess oil from your skin called sebum, as well as dead-skin cells, makeup, and other skin care products – not to mention, bacteria, dirt, and other impurities, all of which can lead to acne,” explains Seema Sarin, MD, a board-certified Internal medicine physician at EHE Health. “The build-up on the skin can also cause large prominent pores, inflammation, and accelerate skin aging.”
How do you know if you're washing your face enough?
Even after a late night with my friends, I always made an effort to wash my face at night. Mostly, this was due to the amount of makeup I was wearing, which felt heavy on my skin and wasn’t comfortable for sleep. This, of course, is the bare minimum. What I didn’t realize was the vast importance of sudsing up not only when it’s bedtime, but first thing in the morning, too.
As Dr. Sarin says, regardless if your skin acne-prone or not, it’s important to wash your face twice a day to prevent that pesky build-up of dead skin and product residue. Plus, your pillow holds a lot of bacteria. You should also rinse and lather after any period where you sweated heavily, like after the gym or following a sightseeing tour under the scorching-hot sunshine.
What is the best way to wash your face?
I used to lather up with whatever was the cheapest at CVS. At the time, I was under the impression that a foaming face wash loaded with detergents was best, but what I was actually doing was drying out my skin and upsetting its barrier. Because many of the washes made for acne-prone skin strip away its natural oil, this was sending my pores into oil overdrive and making my complexion problems worse.
According to Joshua Zeichner, MD, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital explains, you shouldn’t be chasing after that “squeaky clean” feeling. “It’s known as post-wash dryness and is damaging to the skin barrier,” he explains. “Make sure to use hydrating cleansers or moisturize the skin after washing to lock in hydration and prevent skin barrier disruption.” A cleanser doesn’t have to be harsh or drying to be effective.
What difference does it make?
Well, for starters, I’ve noticed fewer breakouts, brighter skin, and overall, I just feel better. This is because my skin is free of dead cells, oil and dirt, allowing it to breathe properly throughout the night and day. I finally understand what “glow” means too, since my pores are in their best shape. As Dr. Sarin explains, there’s really no better skin care habit to develop than understanding how to really cleanse: “Proper washing can improve the blood circulation in your face and maintains the pH balance of your skin, leaving it healthy and giving it the perfect glow.”
Ready to wash the right way? Here’s my new and derm-approved cleansing routine.
I love the way Neutrogena’s Oil Free Acne Wash ($10; ulta.com) lathers, cutting through makeup and oil, as well as anything else buried deep in my pores, thanks to exfoliating salicylic acid. I usually wash my face twice with this, just to make sure I’m effectively removing any potential threats, and it still never leaves my skin tight or dry.
Since I do wear makeup most days, I use a micellar water at night to make sure every last trace is erased. My go-to is La Roche Posay’s Micellar Water ($16; ulta.com). This no-rinse cleanser is super gentle, and it wipes away makeup residue with just a few swabs. For more stubborn eye makeup, I use Clinique Rinse-Off Eye Makeup Solvent ($20; sephora.com), an oil-free and gentle solution.
I was never a fan of toner until my recent face wash overhaul, but I’m still cautious of anything too drying or intense (aka alcohol-based). I’m currently switching between a few: 100 Percent Pure Tea Tree Willow Clarifying Astringent ($42; amazon.com) for when I’m in the middle of a breakout and need a little nurture from Mother Nature. Before my period begins, I switch to Nuria Pore-Minimizing Toner ($24; urbanoutfitters.com), also with tea tree, for a deeper cleanse. The difference in my skin since incorporating toner has been nothing short of amazing -- my complexion is clearer and makeup goes on much smoother.
After cleansing and applying my anti-aging serums at night, I finish my routine with a much-needed oil-free moisturizer, as recommended by my dermatologist. Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb ($38; sephora.com) is, well, da bomb and quickly seeps into my skin before bed; the formula is lightweight but hyper-hydrating. In the morning, I use Differin Oil-Absorbing Moisturizer with SPF 30 ($12; amazon.com), which is gentle enough for sensitive types, non-comedogenic, mattifying, and contains a retinoid specifically used for clearing acne.
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