Does Washing Your Face Prevent Or Cause Breakouts?

July 20, 2015 by Lisa Fogarty
shefinds | beauty

It’s easy to feel powerless to a face plagued by pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and cystic acne. When we’re teens, most of us learn that hormones, not a lack of soap or proper hygiene, are the true culprits. But if that were entirely true, why the emphasis on a daily skincare regimen that includes cleanser, toner, moisturizer and even regular exfoliation? And on the flip side, could too much cleansing actually be causing the breakouts you’re trying to prevent? We talked to several top skincare experts to get the real deal on the benefits–and pitfalls–of washing your face.

The Right Way To Wash Your Face

“When it comes to breakouts, washing can only help,” says Dr. Jill Waibel of Miami Dermatology & Laser Institute. “Whether you’re going to wash with a washcloth or your fingers, make sure they’re clean. Washcloths can carry dirt and bacteria, which can be directed right back into the skin even as you’re washing and lead to breakouts. If you do choose to use a washcloth, be gentle as sometimes rubbing too hard can cause skin irritation and sensitivity.”

When it comes to caring for your skin, it’s important to know your skin type, find what products work best and maintain a healthy skin regimen, Waibel says. “I always recommend using a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil as it can be used for any and all skin types. Washing each night can keep your pores from clogging and wash away any dirt or bacteria you may have accumulated throughout the day.”

How Often You Should Wash Your Face

Before you go overboard washing every chance you get, Dr. Sejal K.Shah, MD, a board-certified dermatologist adds, “If you are over-washing your face then, yes, washing your face less can lead to fewer breakouts. Washing too frequently, using harsh cleansers, or scrubbing aggressively can result in dry and irritated skin. This can lead to inflammation in the skin and increased oil production to compensate for the dryness, which can contribute to the development of acne.  It’s important to wash your face twice a day, but typically more than that is not necessary.”

What About Cleansing Brushes?

Given all of the positive hype surrounding devices like the Clarisonic, which are meant to deliver the best facial cleaning of your life, you may be wondering whether you need to invest in a better product in order to keep acne at bay. Shah says it isn’t always necessary. “Cleansing your face requires a gentle touch and a good cleanser so your fingers are usually an adequate tool,” Shah says. “I find that people generally rub too harshly when they use a washcloth. If you feel that you aren’t able to get a deep clean with just your fingers then a sonic cleansing brush, such as the Clarisonic,  is a helpful addition. But keep in mind these can be drying so should be added into the regimen very gradually. For example, start just a couple of times a week with a gentle cleanser and if you are tolerating it you can increase to every other night then nightly. I rarely recommend using a cleansing brush more than once a day.”

The Bottom Line

Clean skin is the first step to fighting acne, but the best course of action is to choose products that are right for your skin and don’t overdo it. When it comes to washing your face it’s important to remember that there is no one cleanser or solution that will work for every woman. You must know your skin and honor it. “One thing to always keep in mind is to use products that will help your current skin condition, not complicate it,” Waibel says. “If you’re prone to have oily skin and breakouts, be sure to use products that are non-acidic. If you’re prone to having dry and sensitive skin, be sure to use products that will moisturize and cleanse the skin to ward off dryness and bacteria.”

For more beauty tips, find out if ocean water is good or bad for your skin and hair and 10 at-home zit.


Lisa Fogarty is a lifestyle writer and reporter based in New York who covers health, wellness, relationships, sex, beauty, and parenting.

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