The Right Way to Wash Your Face

The daily act of washing your face may seem mundane, but it's actually the foundation of healthy, glowing skin. Learn the best way to do it, and find a formula that's tailor-made for you.

woman washing face

Beyond feeling refreshing, washing your face well is essential to a good complexion, because it removes the dirt, makeup, and pollutants that can lead to irritation, clogged pores, and breakouts. However, overdoing the task can strip skin of its protective natural oils, which may lead to a dry, sapped-out texture and even eczema, says New York City dermatologist Sapna Palep. The key is to do the job thoroughly, but not aggressively.

Start by timing it right. Cleanse twice daily: in the morning to remove excess oil, and at night to clear away grime and makeup, says Chicago dermatologist Carolyn Jacob. One caveat: If your face feels parched (low humidity at this time of year can exacerbate dryness), swap your morning wash for just a splash of water. To slough off dry spots and help smooth your skin, work a mild exfoliating cleanser into your routine a few times a week.

As for the process? Work in your product of choice and rinse well. Start with clean hands, and dampen skin with lukewarm water; if it's too hot, it can draw moisture out of your skin and aggravate it, explains Providence, Rhode Island, dermatologist Tiffany Libby. Gently massage cleanser into skin in circles with your hands (or a washcloth, to help remove makeup). Focus on oily or acne-prone areas, like your forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin, and go easy on the delicate area around the eyes. Splash with water to rinse well.

Next, lightly pat skin with a dry, soft washcloth so it's still dewy. "Your pores are most receptive now, so apply moisturizer quickly," says Dr. Palep. Turn to a day-and-night salve for all skin types like StriVectin Wrinkle Recode Moisture Rich Barrier Cream ($119,, which replenishes with ceramides and fatty acids and also acts as a nice primer under makeup. Now that you have the method down, you'll need your tools—here are a a few of our favorite formulas for every skin type.

laroche posay foaming cleanser
Courtesy of Laroche-Posay

For Oily Skin

The goal is to tamp down excess sebum without removing all of your skin's natural oils. Mild foaming gels strike a nice balance: San Antonio, Texas, dermatologist Vivian Bucay suggests this one from La Roche-Posay.

Shop Now: La-Roche Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cleanser, from $22.31,

differin acne treatment cleanser
Courtesy of Differin

For Acne-Prone Skin

To prevent and treat blemishes, reach for Differin Daily Deep Cleanser with benzoyl peroxide. Dr. Libby recommends letting it sink in for a minute before rinsing, so the five-percent benzoyl-peroxide formula has time to get into your pores and kill the bacteria that cause pimples.

Shop Now: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser, $12.99,

glytone gel cleanser
Courtesy of Glytone

For Combination Skin

Glycolic acid nixes greasiness without exacerbating dry patches. "It also exfoliates, treats pigmentation, and improves skin texture while removing debris and makeup," says Dr. Libby. This gel cleanser packs a Goldilocks amount of the ingredient for radiance without redness.

Shop Now: Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser, $33,

loreal cream cleanser
Courtesy of L'Oreal

For Dry Skin

Creamy formulas are your friend, but avoid potentially irritating ingredients like salicylic acid, advises Dr. Jacob. This formula contains glycerin to draw in moisture. And it bears repeating: Put on moisturizer right afterward for even more hydration.

Shop Now: L'Oréal Revitalift Radiant Smoothing Cream Cleanser, $11.59,

vanicream facial cleanser
Courtesy of Vanicream

For Sensitive Skin

If you have eczema, rosacea, or just plain moody skin, Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser is as soothing as it gets, says Dr. Palep. The non-comedogenic formula is free of fragrance, sulfates, soaps, and oils, and it leaves your complexion calm, not tight or squeaky-clean.

Shop Now: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser, $8.99,

bioderma makeup remover and cerave cleanse
Courtesy of Bioderma and CeraVe


If a one-size-fits-all cleanser is more your speed (or you need a quick routine before falling into bed at night), keep it simple: Micellar water melts away grime and makeup. Just saturate a cotton pad and sweep it over skin (try Bioderma Sensibio H2O). And today's creamy foam washes pair frothy suds with hydrating ingredients. We like CeraVe's Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser.

Shop Now: Bioderma Sensibo H2O, from $4.99,; CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser, 14.99,

tatcha cleansing oil
Courtesy of Tatcha

Honorable Mention

Oil cleansers have been around for ages, but the jury's still out on them with the doctors we interviewed. Some steer clear; others swear by them. Our editors love Tatcha Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil. Squeeze a few drops into your palms, rub it onto dry skin in circular motions, and rinse with warm water. Its fatty acids and vitamins leave your skin just-had-a-facial-fresh.

Shop Now: Tatcha Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil, $48,

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