Experts Set The Record Straight On Washing Your Face The Right Way

It’s the first (and most important) step.

by Zoe Schaeffer
cleansing myths

Let’s be honest: There are so many different ways to take care of your skin because everyone’s complexion is unique and has varied concerns. But with all the noise on TikTok, the explosion of beauty podcasts, and YouTube creators, everyone on the internet in 2024 seems to be a self-taught dermatologist who knows what’s right and wrong for your skin. Cleansing, for instance, the most basic, necessary skin care step, has somehow become a complex process. Watching or listening to any of these creators wax poetic on the topic will leave you second-guessing yourself. Should you triple cleanse? Should you just splash water on your face in the morning? Should you use cleansers with active ingredients? How should you really wash your face?

Dr. Nancy Samolitis, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Facile Dermatology in Los Angeles, says that there really isn’t a “right way” for everyone. “The cleansing that I suggest to patients is highly dependent on their age, skin type, skin problem, and allergies, because honestly, at the end of the day, just cleaning your face in some way is usually fine.”

Ahead, TZR asked experts to weigh in on the most common cleansing myths so that you can wash your face with confidence.

Image Source/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Myth #1: You Need To Cleanse In The Morning

To morning cleanse or not to morning cleanse? It’s such a tricky question. While some argue that nighttime actives need to be washed off, others preach that an AM wash will disturb the skin’s pH balance. Samolitis says you that you don’t actually need that morning step. “Most actives will absorb into skin in a fairly short period of time and then break down from exposure to air,” she says, adding that this myth mostly applies to people who use subscription acne treatments as they can react with other products. “Of course, this also depends on what else the person is doing in the morning — like exercising.”

“Regarding disturbing the skin’s pH balance, you only need to worry about disrupting it if you’re using soap,” Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care adds. Candace Marino, a celebrity esthetician also known as The LA Facialist, agrees and says that anything non-harsh and non-stripping should be skin-barrier safe if you like the ritual of washing when you wake-up. “Luckily, most products these days are designed to cleanse without stripping the skin, altering the pH, or disturbing barrier.”

Myth #2: You Need To Double (Or Triple) Cleanse At Night

When it comes to the once-twice-thrice cleansing convo, the experts TZR spoke to are divided. However, they all agree that the technique you choose is dependent on what you’re washing off. “If you’re a makeup wearer, a double or triple cleanse is absolutely necessary — the first rinse will act as the step that will break through the makeup,” says Marino. “It’s then that you can go in with your foaming or milky wash to deep clean the pores and remove traces of cosmetics left behind.”

Loretta counters that if you use a cleanser that will remove makeup, you don't really need to double cleanse. “Except if you are using an acne cleanser — like a salicylic wash — you would not be applying that to your eyelids and you will need to use a double cleanse to remove eye makeup,” she says. And Samolitis says it really depends on how much makeup you have on. “Multiple-step cleansing is a personal choice and possibly most useful for those removing heavy or water-resistant makeup,” she shares.

Myth #3: Gentle Cleansers Don’t Really Benefit Your Skin

You may have heard that certain gentle drugstore cleansers — you know the ones — were created in response to the harsher, stripping face washes before them but sadly, don’t do much. Loretta says that the real myth here is that a cleanser has to be aggressive in order to work. She likes the gentle giants since you really don’t need potent actives in your face-washing step. Marino thinks these cleansers are great for those with barrier-compromised skin but isn’t a fan of the ingredients. “I like my products to have an impact on the skin or at least improve the skin's health,” she says. “If I were super sensitive and couldn't use active cleansers, I'd reach for something oil-based — which is also barrier-supportive — but packed with vitamins and antioxidants to support the overall health of the skin.”

Myth #4: Cleansers With Active Ingredients Just Get Washed Down The Drain

While experts have slightly different opinions on how long these cleansers should stay on skin, they all agree that they are, indeed, beneficial. Marino says that that even though cleansers formulated with active ingredients will wash off, they’re impactful even for the brief time they’re on the skin. Similarly, Samolitis says, in her opinion, the most beneficial active in a cleanser is an exfoliating acid as it works quickly and can be more irritating when used in leave-on products. With this type of cleanser, she suggests performing a quick, gentle massage and then washing it off. Loretta suggests leaving these cleansers on the skin for at least two to three minutes so that they have a bit more time to penetrate. She adds that they should be applied straight onto skin as water can dilute the actives.

Myth #5: You Need To Wash Your Makeup Off Every Night

Sure, that French girl slept-in eye makeup look is covetable, but is that a recipe for a complexion catastrophe? “That’s going to be a yes from me,” says Marino. “Not only does leftover makeup leave you at risk for clogged pores, acne, styes, and dull, dehydrated skin, it actually ages you.” She explains that sleeping in makeup occludes the skin so it can’t properly repair overnight. “It will also settle into fine lines to exacerbate premature wrinkles,” she adds. Samolitis agrees, but admits that there are people who don’t wash their makeup off at night and still have good complexions.

Loretta says that makeup shouldn't really cause any problems if left on overnight. “However, I am a fan of washing both morning and night if you want to apply your skin care twice daily since morning skin care will not penetrate into skin if you have makeup on.”

Myth #6: Splashing Your Face With Cold Water Closes Pores

Samalitis says that the ability to close your pores is one of the biggest skin care myths. “For temperature, I prefer lukewarm water but not scalding hot.” Marino agrees, adding that pores will dilate due to debris buildup, and will appear smaller once they are extracted. “It's also true that heat can soften sebum and allow for better extraction so tepid or cool water is ideal for cleansing because warm water can be inflammatory and exacerbate skin conditions like acne and rosacea.”