There are certain edicts in the skincare world that are simply taken as hard facts. Drink lots of water. Don’t pick your skin. And always, always wash your face. But lately, there’s been a rebellion against that last one, with more and more people opting for alternate methods of removing their makeup than the traditional cleanse and rinse.
Lauren Finney, the Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantan® magazine, recently admitted to us in an interview that she doesn’t wash her face. “Water is extremely tough on my super sensitive skin, so I cleanse and remove makeup with Caudalie® Micellar Cleansing Water,” she explained. And a bit of digging around the Internet revealed that she is hardly the only one who’s traded her cleanser for something more gentle — or even just water on its own.
In countless Reddit® threads, women divulge myriad ways that water-only skincare has worked for them. “I have rosacea, so if I wash with anything but water, I get major dry skin with red bumps,” writes one user. “[My skin] is completely clear with water. It is so dependent on your skin type, hormones, genetics, etc., that what works for some won't for others,” shares another, alongside a series of clear-skinned selfies.
These cleanser-free regimens are even common among beauty editors and celebrities, too. Former Redbook® beauty director, Tori Kirby, once wrote about how she often removes makeup with wipes instead of cleanser. And, in a video interview for Vogue®, actress Bella Thorne shared that she doesn’t wash her face in the morning. She credited the change with helping to clear up her acne.
Mei Liu, a 27-year-old product manager in San Francisco, didn’t wash her face at all for most of her life. “I noticed that my acne, which is mostly hormonal, was about the same whether I washed my face or not,” she says. “I specifically hate the ‘wet’ feeling of washing your face, and how quickly towels become soiled.” She recently started using micellar water after a dermatologist suggested it to her as a way to clear up breakouts, but still stays far, far away from any sort of lather-and-rinse type products.
I’ll even admit that as a beauty editor who has four separate cleansers in her bathroom cabinet (and another 15 stored under my bed...), I don’t wash my face in the morning. Instead, I rely on Bioderma® Sensibio® H2O, a micellar water that gets the grime away without stripping my skin in the process.
With all these people adhering to this method of #skipcare and seeing positive results, it seems as if skipping out on cleansing may not be so bad for skin. Unfortunately, that’s just not so. In consulting with a handful of dermatologists, I found that failing to wash your face is definitely not something they’d recommend on a regular basis.
“In general, washing your face prevents the buildup of oils and even pollutants in your pores,” explains Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Even if you can’t see any grime when you look in the mirror, invisible particles are still there, wreaking havoc on your complexion. “That buildup can lead to acne, cysts, and the appearance of larger pores over time.” He, personally, is a big proponent of cleansing skin twice a day to ensure it stays clean, purified, and healthy.
“Nothing good comes from not washing your face habitually,” agrees Kim Nichols, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Greenwich, Connecticut. “I have heard some patients say that they can ‘get away with’ not washing their face and not have a blemish the next day, but I warn these patients that while they may not have a short-term breakout, they are not investing in their skin long-term,” she warns. “They are speeding up the aging process.”
Think about it: even if you are applying a thorough skincare routine, despite not washing your face, your products won’t be working to their full potential. All that dirt is in the way, preventing your formulas from effectively penetrating and treating the skin. Dr. Nichols notes that long-term failure to wash your face could result in acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, skin laxity, and wrinkles.
There is one exception to the ABC (always be cleansing) rule, though. “For people with very sensitive or dry skin, skipping the morning cleanse can be helpful to avoid stripping the skin of its natural oils,” points out Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Washington, DC. She adds that you can simply rinse your skin with lukewarm water after you wake up and go about your day. For what it’s worth, this is personally why I stick with a morning micellar water routine.
However, you don’t get a pass on your evening cleanse. “I still recommend cleansing at night before bed to remove any makeup or debris from the day,” says Dr. Tanzi. “[The] cleansers can be oil- or balm-based and very gentle to remove debris while leaving the skin’s natural moisture layer intact.” Rich face washes, like DHC® Deep Cleansing Oil ($21) and Kiehl's Since 1851® Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil ($32), will keep your complexion soft and purified without stripping. (Discover our favorite cleansing balms here.)
Dr. Bhanusali agrees that while people with dry skin may not need to cleanse their faces as frequently as their oily-skinned friends, it’s still a necessary step. “Think of a car that you don’t maintain: over time, it will get rusty, you’ll see cracks, and maybe even watch it break down . . . I think of cleansing and moisturizing similarly,” he says. “It’s part of your maintenance, and should be done if you want your skin to look fresh and healthy.” Plus, it will help prevent issues like infections, cysts, and other concerns. So, even if you can get away with washing your face, it doesn’t mean you should — no matter how much time it might save you in the morning.
Dr. Kim Nichols and Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi are paid Allergan® consultants.
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