Beauty Skincare

Washing Your Face

Here’s How Often You Should Be Washing Your Face for a Healthy Glow

A woman washing her face.

Skin-care PSA: Don’t underestimate the importance of cleansing intentionally.

“Think of washing your face as the foundation of your skin-care routine because it removes dirt, oil, and sweat,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Plus, it also sets up the rest of your routine by prepping the skin to be optimally available for active ingredients to penetrate skin and function optimally.”

While washing your face may seem super simple, how you do it and what you use matters. That’s because choosing the wrong formula for your skin type and current complexion concerns, over-cleansing, or using harsh formulas or ingredients can wreak havoc on your skin.

“The right cleanser can enhance skin health; the wrong one can harm, leading to barrier disruption, dryness, and irritation, so it’s very important to choose the right cleanser for your skin’s needs,” says Dr. Zeichner. “On the other hand, using a cleanser that is too mild may not fully remove elements from the skin, which is not beneficial either.” Bottom line: it may be time to rethink your face cleansing routine habits and the face wash formulas you’re using on repeat.


  • Ryan Turner, MD, is a New York City dermatologist and co-founder of TRNR Skin
  • Marina Peredo, MD, is a dermatologist and founder of Skinfluence, a private practice in New York City 
  • Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a dermatologist in New York City and associate professor of dermatology and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.

That’s why we compiled the ultimate expert-approved guide to cleansing your face. It includes a deep dive into how often and why you should wash your face, what ingredients and formulas to look for, the precise temperature of water you should use while washing your face, and more.

Benefits of Washing Your Face

A closeup of a woman washing her face.

The skin on the face has special concerns compared to the skin on the body. Dr. Peredo explains that “facial cleansing helps remove excess oil, makeup, sweat, dirt, and dead skin cells from the skin. “The face is exposed to all of the elements, including free radicals and pollution, so washing your face refreshes the skin and gives your complexion a chance to breathe. 

“The benefits of washing your face include more hydrated, balanced, and clearer skin as well as a more radiant complexion,” says Dr. Turner. “Plus, cleansing can also help to reduce breakouts because buildup from skincare and makeup, as well as excess sebum and dead skin cells, can clog pores, causing breakouts and increasing the potential of skin irritation.”

It also could play a role in the rate at which your skin ages because, as Dr. Turner notes, all of these factors can also trigger the skin’s inflammatory processes, which can, over time, accelerate aging. Dr. Peredo stresses the importance of daily skin cleansing as it relates to maintaining proper levels of oil and hydration. “Cleansing also helps balance oil production,” she says. “If you’re using the right cleanser for your skin type, you’ll remove excess oils while supporting skin’s ability to keep itself moisturized and balancing out sebum production to prevent skin from getting too oily or too dry.”

Choosing the Right Cleanser

First, know that the temperature of the water you use is important. Dr. Zeichner says that when washing your face, always aim to use truly lukewarm water—as in not warm or cool. “It’s a myth that warm water will open pores and cold water will close them,” he says. “Pores do not react to water temperature in that way, so rather than thinking of pores like windows that open or close, think of them like pipes that can become blocked when oil and dead cells build up inside of them, which is why washing your face is so important.”

In terms of how to choose a cleansing formula, Dr. Zeichner explains that knowing your skin type as well as what will benefit your skin at that moment in time is crucial. “If you have ultra-sensitive skin, stick to mild formulations like non-lathering milky cleansers or micellar water, which tend to be the most gentle,” he says. “For normal to oily skin, consider a foaming cleanser which may be needed to fully remove oil from the skin; and if you have skin that is oily or acne prone or are looking for exfoliating benefits, use a cleanser that contains salicylic acid to remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep pores clear and brighten the complexion.” 

Dr. Turner explains that the texture of the cleanser you choose is an easy way to determine if it’s the one that is best for your skin. “If a formula is a water-based gel or a foam, it is ideal for those with oily and acne-prone skin because these types of cleansers tend not to be very moisturizing and are very effective at removing excess oils,” he explains. “However, if you have very dry or sensitive skin, these formulas may be stripping, and you’ll want to look for a more nourishing formula—these tend to be creamier textures, oil cleansers, or balms that feature increasingly higher doses of lipids to help strengthen the skin barrier and prevent water loss.” If you love a mega cleanse but don’t like a leather-like feel post-wash, Dr. Turner explains the beauty of using oil-based cleansers. “Oil is excellent at breaking down oil—like attracts like—so an oil cleanser can emulsify and whisk away excess sebum without stripping the skin,” he says, adding that doing a double cleanse with a water-based cleanser to remove any residual product on the skin may be beneficial.

Face Cleanser Recommendations

How Often to Wash Your Face

“You should wash your face at least once every day without fail,” says Dr. Turner. “Even if you haven’t left the house, nor have put any products on your skin, dirt and oil build up, as do dead skin cells, and cleansing helps remove the buildup that can congest skin or leave it dull.” If you do apply skin-care products, sunscreen, plus any level of makeup on your skin, experts recommend a pre-bed p.m. cleanse. “A morning and night cleanse is typically recommended; however, cleansing more than once daily may leave skin too dry, so choosing the right formula is important,” Dr. Turner adds.

Because there are so many cleanser formula options, you can play with a combination that feels good with your skin. “Some individuals may be able to simply use a micellar water for their morning cleanse depending on their skin type or the skin-care products they used the night before,” he says. “But everyone should be washing their face nightly to remove not just makeup, sunscreen, and skin care, but the dirt, oil, and grime that builds up on our skin throughout the day.” Dr. Zeichner agrees that although most experts recommend twice daily cleansing, even once daily is acceptable for most people. And if you do skip a face wash session, Dr. Zeichner recommends that it be in the a.m. and not the p.m. “I always recommend washing your face at night before bed to remove buildup from the day,” he says, adding that if you work up a sweat or work out, definitely plan to wash your face post-sweat sesh, too. “So, if you’re going to the gym, then in some cases, washing for a third time can be acceptable,” he says. 

Do You Need Active Ingredients in Face Wash?

Just as specific ingredients can help treat as well as prevent complexion concerns in skin-care treatments from serums and moisturizers to masks and more, experts say that active ingredients in cleansers are important. “If you need moisture or have sensitive skin, you want a cleanser loaded with lipids like ceramides and squalane or jojoba oil, which will help support the skin barrier and prevent water loss as well as help shield your skin from external irritants,” explains Dr. Turner. Prone to breakouts? Opt for a cleanser with salicylic, glycolic, or lactic acid. “Regardless of your skin type, use a cleanser that has humectants like aloe or hyaluronic acid to support skin’s hydration levels,” he says. “I also really like cleansers with alpha-hydroxy acids, which can be used daily to help exfoliate the skin, leaving it brighter and smoother.” Dr. Zeichner notes that in some cases, “your cleanser can act as a therapeutic for your skin, helping to treat a particular condition,” he says. “So when cleansing, think of it as more of a short contact therapy than simply a wash—you want to let it sit on the skin, so be sure to lather and rub it in using circular motions while you sing Happy Birthday to yourself before rinsing.” 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What temperature water should I use when washing my face?“Always use lukewarm water,” says Dr. Peredo. “Hot water can strip the face of its natural, protective oils and dry out skin while cold water may not be as effective in removing makeup.”
  • How long should I spend washing my face?“I recommend massaging in a formula for about 60 seconds before rinsing it off to ensure you’ve thoroughly broken down any buildup on your skin and give time for active ingredients like salicylic acid or glycolic acid to work,” notes Dr. Turner.
  • Should I use my hands or any tools when washing my face for better effects?“I strongly advise against using a motorized brush as it can cause unnecessary irritation by creating micro-tears in the skin,” says Dr. Turner. “In some cases, a damp washcloth or a muslin cloth may be useful if you’re using an oil cleanser or cleansing balm because it can help remove excess product from the skin, but your hands are really all you need for an effective cleanse.”