Written by Lisa Allen, MD
Washing or cleansing the face is one of the essential parts of any skin care routine, but many people aren’t entirely sure of how best to go about facial cleansing when they have acne-prone skin.
It’s actually rather simple, but there are some important things to know that can actually make acne worse if done improperly. Let’s take a look at the proper way to wash your face, starting with choosing a facial cleanser and then we’ll go step-by-step through the actual washing process.
There are really 2 categories of facial cleansers that a person with acne-prone skin should consider using: medicated cleansers and non-medicated gentle cleansers. These include most of the products you see labelled as acne washes; this is because they contain some sort of acne fighting ingredient such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
If you decide to use a medicated facial cleanser, then you should not apply any other medication after you wash, unless otherwise directed by a dermatologist. It’s especially important to avoid using benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid together, as that combination is far too irritating to the skin. Medicated cleansers can work very well for mild cases of acne, but for most people I would recommend the next option.
These types of cleansers are meant to remove dirt, oil, makeup, and anything else on your skin and nothing more. It should also be non-comedogenic, so look for words on the packaging such as “won’t clog pores”. Although many aren’t necessarily made to treat acne, that’s actually a good thing. By using a non-medicated facial cleanser that is gentle on the skin, you can then follow it with an application of a topical medication such as benzoyl peroxide. This approach to treating acne is typically more effective than simply using a salicylic acid acne wash.
You should never use regular soap on your face, for a number of reasons. Not only are soaps typically very irritating to the skin, but they leave behind a residue on the skin and can clog pores. Never use a product on your face unless it is specifically made to be used on the face. The skin on the face is more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body, so the products you use should be different.
Here is the proper way to wash your face is you have acne prone skin.
1. Splash your face with water – Before applying the cleanser to your face, you should first get the face wet. Just a couple of splashes on the entire area (face and/or neck) you are going to wash.
2. Lather up your cleanser – With the face still wet, put some of your cleanser into your hands and work it into a good lather before applying it to your face. This actually “activates” it and helps it to thoroughly clean your skin.
3. Gently clean your skin – Once the cleanser has been worked into a lather, simply apply it to your face and neck and gently rub it around. There are 2 important things to keep in mind during this step:
- Do not use a washcloth, only your fingers. Washcloths are far too irritating to the skin and are simple unnecessary.
- This step should happen very quickly, 10-15 seconds only. You do not need to scrub your skin or rub the cleanser in with any amount of force, simply apply it and immediately rinse it off to avoid excess irritation.
4. Rinse – Rinse off the cleanser by splashing your face with water. Be thorough, but do not rub your skin too hard trying to get it off; it will come off just fine with light splashes of water.
5. Gently pat dry – This is another step where people irritate their skin without realizing it. Once all of the cleanser has been rinsed off, take a clean towel and gently pat the skin dry, do not rub the towel on your face to get the water off. Rubbing only irritates the skin and is not necessary.
Your face should be washed once or twice per day, never more. Many people with acne think that washing their face more often will help clear their skin, but in fact the opposite is usually true. Excessive washing only causes irritation and can lead to more breakouts. Once in the morning and once at night is good enough, maybe with a simple water rinse after any intense athletic activity.
If you’ve washed your face with a medicated face wash, such as one with salicylic acid, then you should not apply any other medication. A non-comedogenic moisturizer should by applied 10-15 minutes after you’ve washed, to allow the skin to fully air dry.
If you’ve opted instead to use a gentle non-medicated wash, then you should follow it with an application of a topical acne treatment such as benzoyl peroxide (here’s a list of recommended benzoyl peroxide products). Wait at least 10 minutes for the skin to fully air dry, and then apply the medication. Follow that with a non-comedogenic moisturizer.