How often should you wash your face?

When it comes to washing your face, there’s a fine line between “not enough” and “overdoing it.” On one hand, letting oil, dirt, and other debris collect on your skin can lead to breakouts and other problems. But washing too often can leave your face dry, tight, and irritated.

Here’s what you need to know about keeping your skin clean and healthy.

Why Is It Important to Wash Your Face?

Washing your face is a key element of your overall well-being. Cleansing removes dirt, oil, and bacteria from your skin. Those irritants can clog pores on your face and trigger breakouts.

There’s another important reason to wash your face: You’ll stay healthier, especially during cold and flu season. Bacteria and viruses on your face can get into your nose and mouth. That often leads to respiratory illnesses such as colds and flu.

How Often Should You Wash Your Face?

For most people, washing your face twice a day is just right.

Washing less can lead to a buildup of oil that clogs pores and causes breakouts.

Washing your face more often can cause your skin to dry out. It may seem counterintuitive, but skin that’s too dry can trigger oil glands to start overproducing. That overabundance of face oil can lead to more breakouts.

Here’s when you should wash your face — and why.

  • First thing in the morning. You wash off any saliva, sweat, oil, and dead skin cells that collected on your face during the night. You can also rinse off any products you used on your skin the night before and start fresh in the morning.
  • Before you go to bed. In the evening, you need to get makeup, pollutants, oils, and other debris off your face. (Never go to bed with makeup on, as it can clog your pores and irritate delicate skin, especially around your eyes.)
  • After you work out, or in hot weather that makes you sweaty. Perspiration can clog your pores and lead to breakouts, so it’s ok to wash your face gently when you’re sweaty. Note: If you’re wiping away sweat during a workout, use a clean towel and gently pat — don’t scrub — sweat from your skin.

How to Wash Your Face

Washing your face sounds simple, but there are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Skip the bar soap, since it’s typically too harsh for your face. (One exception: Some bar soaps are specially formulated to use on the face. Look for one that’s fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and contains moisturizers.)
  • Pick a hypoallergenic, alcohol-free cleanser. These products are specially designed to cleanse delicate facial skin. Good choices are gentle cream or foaming cleansers.
  • Rub the cleanser in circular motions to gently remove dirt and bacteria from your skin. Your fingertips are perfect for the job; there’s no need to rub aggressively with a washcloth, sponge, or other tools. Scrubbing your face can aggravate conditions like rosacea.
  • Don’t use hot water, which can strip your skin of too many natural oils. On the other hand, cold water won’t open the pores enough to remove dirt. Lukewarm water is the best temperature to wash your face.
  • Use makeup wipes correctly. While makeup wipes are convenient, they aren’t a substitute for a thorough wash with water and cleanser. Use wipes to remove makeup before you wash your face.
  • When you’re done washing, gently pat your face dry with a clean towel. Don’t rub vigorously, as you could irritate delicate skin.

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Steps to Take After You Wash Your Face

For the healthiest face, it’s important to treat your skin gently and follow a good daily skin care routine. After you wash your face:

  • Apply any medication or treatment right after washing. That might be acne medication or anti-aging serum.
  • Moisturize. Use a noncomedogenic moisturizer. Noncomedogenic products won’t clog or block the pores on your skin.
  • Apply sunscreen if it’s daytime and you’re going outside.
  • Apply makeup if you wear it. Again, look for brands that are noncomedogenic.

Washing Your Face When You Have Acne

You may wonder: How often should you wash your face if you have acne?

While it may be tempting to wash your face more often — don’t. Washing your face more than twice a day is counterproductive. It will irritate the skin, trigger glands to produce more oil, and make breakouts more likely.

Here are some other tips for keeping breakouts to a minimum.

  • Avoid products like astringents, toners, and exfoliants. They can dry your face and cause acne to flare.
  • Use a moisturizer made for acne-prone skin.
  • Shampoo often, especially if you have oily hair. The oil from your hair can cause forehead breakouts. Do your best to keep your hair off your face.
  • Keep up with your acne treatment. Some acne medications will cause your skin to get worse before it gets better. It may take weeks before you see a difference.
  • Don’t touch your face. Picking, popping, or squeezing pimples can spread bacteria, causing more acne. Popping pimples may also cause permanent scarring.
  • Stay out of the sun. Some acne medications make your skin sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Exposure to UV rays also increases your chance of skin cancer.

Should I See a Dermatologist?

If you have acne or other skin problems, you should see a dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in treating problems of the skin, hair, and nails.

A dermatologist can diagnose skin diseases and conditions including acne. They can also screen for early signs of skin cancer.

Even if you don’t have any major skin problems, a dermatologist can review your skin care routine. They can also recommend the right products for your skin type.

American Academy of Dermatology, Face Washing 101, Link

American Academy of Dermatology, Should I Apply My Skin Care Products in a Certain Order? Link

American Academy of Dermatology, Acne: Tips for Managing, Link

American Academy of Dermatology, 10 Skin Care Habits that can Worsen Acne, Link

CDC, Facial Cleanliness, Link

American Skin Association, Healthy Skin, Link

National Library of Medicine, Acne, Link, The best way to wash your face, according to dermatologists, Link

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.