Skin 101: It's All in the Way You Wash Your Face

Type "how to wash your face" into Google and more than 60 million results pop up. No wonder women are confused: There are more products than ever out there, many with potent clarifying, hydrating, and antiaging ingredients. Read on for your custom cleansing solution.

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Dermatologists Come Clean

"I see so many patients with dry, flaky faces because they're just too aggressive with cleansing,"says Heidi Waldorf, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Take this face-washing advice: It's what derms tell patients, and do themselves.

Water Temp Matters

Go ahead, wash your pots and pans in hot water, but cool it with your face, says New York dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D. Steaming water strips skin's barrier of natural oils, leaving it dry and irritated. You want a happy medium: "Lukewarm is always best," she says.

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Take Your Time

"Most women simply don't cleanse for long enough," says Jeanine Downie, M.D., a dermatologist in Montclair, NJ. You will need at least a minute, she says, to dislodge the built-up dirt and bacteria that should be rinsed away. (Downie lathers up her face for two full minutes.) For normal skin, a nightly wash is enough; in the A.M., just splash your face with water, or do what Fusco does and whisk away residue with a cleansing wipe. If you're prone to acne, cleanse twice a day to reduce bacteria.

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Makeup Remover is Optional

Seriously, not one dermatologist we spoke to uses one. Today's cleansers, especially the new oil-based formulas, can dissolve makeup without irritating your eyes. The exception: "If you wear a thick coat of foundation or swipe on a water-resistant mascara every day, you might need remover to cut through it all," says Fusco. This is also where the trendy "double cleanse" can be helpful. "Some of my patients will start with a lightweight cream or oil-based cleanser to remove makeup and then follow up with a foaming formula to get rid of the rest of the gunk," says Waldorf.

Bubbles Aren't Evil

Suds have long gotten a bad rap for overstripping your skin. "Harsh surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate can wash away your skin's lipid barrier, leaving your face feeling dry and uncomfortably tight," says Waldorf. But these days, not all foams are created equal, she adds: "We now have surfactants that suds up but won't overdry." (Waldorf herself uses a gentle foaming wash.) Look for mild ones such as sodium cocoyl isethionate (it's derived from coconut oil) or sodium N-cocoyl glycinate (amino acid–based). If you like a thick, frothy lather, make sure to pick a cleanser with hydrating powerhouses like glycerin near the very top of the ingredient list.

Whoops, You Missed a Spot

"Many women, especially if they're washing at the sink and not in the shower, wind up with leftover product around the periphery of their face," says Fusco. (So that's why you've been breaking out along your hairline!) Pull your hair back off your face, and rinse until you no longer see suds or feel a slippery residue. There's no need to overdo it though: That old-school rule about splashing your skin 20 times is more myth than magic. "A couple of good ones should be enough," says Waldorf.

You Don't Need Special Tools, but…

If you wear a lot of makeup, layer on sunscreen, live in a particularly smoggy city, or break a sweat often, using just your fingers might not be enough to get a good clean. Oscillating cleansing brushes are an option. They combine nylon bristles with sonic vibrations to help flex your pores, loosening the glop inside and sweeping away dead skin cells. "Women tend to overdo it, using them too often or pressing them into their skin too hard," says Downie. "A few times a week is plenty, and I recommend holding the brush with your nondominant hand for a softer touch." Fusco also likes the new silicone cleansing devices for sensitive types like the Foreo Luna ($199,, which use soft nubs to massage and wiggle pores until the dirt comes out. "They don't exfoliate, so they really are gentle enough to use every day," she says.

Better-for-You Bars

Not your husband's harsh bar soap (in fact, he might start borrowing yours): New, gentle versions boast hydrators like the hyaluronic acid and ceramides that you'd typically find in fancy creams. The result is soft, not stripped, skin.

Cetaphil GentleCleansing Antibacterial Bar ($5.50, drugstores); Dove Go Fresh Revitalize Beauty Bar ($4 for two, drugstores); CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser Bar ($7, drugstores)

This story originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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