You’re Probably Washing Your Face Too Much

Harling Ross | March 14, 2017

Read now, thank me later.

I Stopped Washing My Face Man Repeller Feature

If you told my 12-year-old self that someday, at the ripe old age of 25, I would stop washing my face in the morning, I probably would have cried.

I’ve been fanatical about face-washing ever since fifth grade when my very first pimple appeared on my left temple and I asked my mom what it was. I did not enjoy her diagnosis one tiny bit, but I loved my subsequent foray into meticulous facial hygiene.

There’s nothing better than a freshly washed face: clean, smooth, oil-free, germ-proof. That’s how it used to feel, at least. But a few months ago something changed. I sudsed up first thing in the morning per my usual routine, and my face started FREAKING. OUT. It got all red and blotchy and even broke out in a tiny constellation of hives. (Not the metaphorical kind of hives I get when someone finishes a roll of toilet paper without replacing it. Literal hives.) I thought it was just a weird fluke, but it kept happening pretty frequently. I tried switching up my face wash. I even tried using Brita-filtered water. Nothing helped. My pores were peeved. I was confused.

On a particularly blotchy morning, I decided I’d had enough. Going forward, I resolved to skip my a.m. face wash and simply splash once with water, pat dry with a towel and proceed with my usual sunscreen + skin tint combo. I still washed my face at night with a very gentle cleanser (my current favorite is First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser) for makeup-removal purposes, but mornings became a strictly water-only affair.

I could immediately tell the difference. My skin was noticeably happier. Less red. Less irritated. Less high-maintenance. Plus, I could snooze my alarm clock for an extra 90 seconds every morning thanks to one less step in my normal routine!

I-Stopped-Washing-My-Face-Harling-Ross-Man-Repeller-1

I’ve kept it up for two months and haven’t looked back. The End.

Just kiddingggggg.

Like all curious Georges with a heart of gold and an inquiring mind, I started to wonder why my face’s preferences seemingly turned on a dime. How did my finely honed skincare routine go from reliable to failure at the drop of a hat (a.k.a. squirt of a face-soap dispenser)?

I reached out to licensed dermatologist Dr. Melinda Longaker. She wrote back, “Washing too often or with too harsh of a soap for your skin type can result in dryness, redness and stinging when you wash or apply other products. Winter is generally when sensitive skin becomes worse because of the heaters being on and low humidity in the air. You may need to change how you are washing and moisturizing in the winter compared to warmer months.”

When I read this blessed crumb of expertise, I finally understood how Thomas Edison felt when he discovered electricity. You see, I recall my face starting to react poorly to its usual morning ablutions at the end of December, which was exactly when true winter (ding ding ding!) began in New York and the heaters in my apartment were on full blast. Suddenly everything made sense: my skin and face wash were simply fair-weather friends. (That was an A+ weather joke ICYMI).

Who knows — maybe I’ll need to switch back to twice-a-day face washing when summer rolls around and NYC starts to feel like the inside of a kangaroo pouch again. Until then, I’m enjoying my extra 90 seconds of sleep.

Feature photo by Tory Rust; phone photos via Harling Ross. 

  • Albert Einstein didn’t discover electricity 😉

    • Julie May

      I’m sure Thomas Edison is pissed. Although he didn’t wash his face this morning either.

      • Senka

        Eh to be precise it was probably Nikola Tesla. Edison took credit for quite a bit of his work.

    • Harling Ross

      AHHH my brain was clearly taking a snooze when I wrote that. Fixed! Thank you!

      • No worries! 😉 Just thought I’d give you a heads up! 🙂

  • Tessa

    Yes!!! This! I got a skin rash last summer from too much sun/peeling/applying too much moisturizer and product to fix it. Once the rash came, it was so hard to make it go away! Even warm/hot water irritated it. I even had to switch my tooth paste. Literally the only thing I could do was stop wearing any product altogether and stop washing my face. It took a good month of looking like I had a beard of bumpy redness to go away but after it passed, my skin is the best it’s ever been in my whole life! It completely revamped my skin care routine. I barely wear makeup now, only wash my face when I shower or if I’m super greasy, and use minimal product! I swear, less is more when it comes to skincare!

    • Harling Ross

      wait tell me more about the toothpaste!

      • Car

        Butting in here – I switched toothpaste a few years ago when I read that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a foaming agent that can be irritating and is in most toothpastes. You need to hunt around to see which specific types don’t have it – I tried a bunch of natural ones that weren’t very minty, a few Sensodyne tubes that also weren’t minty enough for me, and then discovered that Crest 3D White ~~luxe~~ Glamorous White (wtf at this name) is great and SLS free! Definitely worth trying if you’re having issues, I used to constantly be red and blotchy around my mouth and this has made a huge difference.

      • Tessa

        Car is right, but I also had to switch to one without fluoride! I read a ton of articles and something in it was making my rash worse, and some people even suspected it was a cause. I use “Toms from Maine” toothpaste and I love it!

  • Adrianna

    I frequently feel that I have “good” skin because I’m lazy. I don’t wear make up. I only wash my skin with an Olay Face Wipe when I can’t immediately shower after working out, to avoid acne. I exfoliate it with St Ives apricot scrub probably twice a month. I tell others about the importance of applying sunscreen, but I honestly forget to.

    • I once read that Iman credited the way she looked at nearly 50 to 10 years of faithful sunscreen use. I bought a bottle of SPF 50 and never looked back. 🙂

  • Rose

    Oh boy oh boy did it take me nearly 24 years to work out that being ‘clean’ is not the same as being ‘healthy’. Plain goat’s milk soap is the best thing I’ve ever used for my skin (it has the same ph level as the human face, so there’s less irritation) – and I keep that to once a day, with a konjac sponge for exfoliation. The rest is just cold water and a desire to never spend over $2 on facial soap again.

    • Harling Ross

      yes!!! there’s such a misconception

    • Cristina

      Where do you get your soap? I’ve been doing the oil cleansing method, but recently feel pretty lazy and want to use a bar for those quick washes. It’s hard to find a facial soap without castor, avocado or coconut oil!

      • Rose

        I’m Australian, and you can just buy it in basically every pharmacy and supermarket here, usually with the eczema and sensitive skin products. Otherwise it’s often sold (hopefully with no extra scents) where-ever the hippies are. Totally recommend seeking it out though – in about 6-8 weeks from start of use it had banished my adult acne, swept away the dry skin around my nose, made my tone more even, and filed my tax returns. Honestly, a hero.

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      • sleepingonsnow

        whole foods has it!

      • XJ JX

        try the Good Bar soap from Whole Foods!

      • Whole Foods!!! (assuming you are in the USA)

  • Kylie

    Honestly, this blew my mind. I always get either super pimply or extremely sensitive whenever the weather changes. Thank you for the PSA, Harling!!!!

    • Harling Ross

      PLEASURE

  • Linda

    I started doing this thing where I put raw honey all over my face every morning and keep it there as long as I can (sometimes 5mins and sometimes 15mins) and wash it off with a face towel soaked in warm water. Then I resume to my regular routine. It’s been working miracles in this weather- my face feels clean but hydrated and soft with no tightness or redness. It even ligthened my acne scars after a month or so.

    • Harling Ross

      Mom?

      (just kidding! she keeps trying to get me to do this though…maybe I’ll give it a try)

      • Linda

        Haha not your mom, I promise. But you should listen to your mom (this time) because it really works!!!!

        Good luck 🙂

        • edes

          Honey for skin is amazing! I add a little powdered turmeric (fyi, you will want to use a bit of toner or micellar water after rinsing to take off any residual yellow hue) to it and it leaves my skin super smooth and even.

      • Gene

        Do it! I tend to do my raw honey mask step after cleansing at night, leave it on while tooth brushing, final kitchen clean up (Aunt Petunia style). Then I rinse and do serums and moisturizers. Bonus if the honey is granulated, extra exfoliation opportunity.

  • Mariana

    I also notice that. I have oily skin and I don’t wear make up on the daily basis since 2015 maybe and I notice that a simple routine, gentle wash and using less produte (less cleanser, less cream, less toner) actually work better!
    For me it as been truly a journey, I am 30yo and I am fighting since 14yo for not perfect but a decent-normal skin and I am finally reaching my best moment in that terms. I used to do the worst (using make up every day for coverage, sleeping without cleaning my face, not using the right products, drinking coke and greasy food everyday) and leaving that things in the past alone allowed me to have a better skin and being more confidente. Now I am in the stage where I’m trying to get rid of acne scars and blemishes.
    So my advice for young people reading MR: wash your damn face, wear less make up, eat more clean. Because dermatologic procedures are expensive!!!!!! 😂

  • SHANA MARIA VERGHIS

    I haven’t washed my face in years. I have evolved from a long line of stegasaurusus. We drink water. We dont’ primp ourselves with it.
    We are not enamoured by our beauty. We prefer to munch leaves.
    (I presume stegasauruses were veggie. I am too lazy to look it up right now. :D)

    • belle

      I mean, in the sense that we all came from single cell organisms…maybe you should be getting your skincare tips from ancient hominids instead 😉

      • SHANA MARIA VERGHIS

        GOod idea. ; 😀
        *Said in dinosaur gruntspeak and much nodding of scaly head with bulging eyes*

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    • Stacey

      Well your disgusting for not primping sometimes it can be a treat you don’t want to end up being a dirty bitch

  • I tend to only wash my face after I put stuff on my face (i.e. makeup). Natural oils are there for a reason

  • AryaChic

    I completely agree with this, I’ve noticed my face gets super aggravated the more I try to wash it or put medicated creams on it.

    http://www.aryachic.com/beauty-and-the-beast-inspiration

  • Hilary

    100% this. Stopped using St. Ives Apricot Scrub probably about a year ago (which I was washing my face with daily for years, which I now find HORRIFYING), switched to only using water on my face in the morning. Face has been 3000% better ever since. I only exfoliate once every two weeks or so now. Eliminating powder foundation/makeup really helped as well.

    • Harling Ross

      I am also a member of the post-St. Ives Apricot Scrub recovery program

  • Sheila T.

    i love my fresh face soap but i only use it when i shower (once a day)!

  • Cristina

    Love this. I, as all the other comments, haven’t washed my face in the morning in years. I can’t even remember if I ever did. I think because I take morning showers, so it seemed silly when I just splash some water on my face. I have super dry, flaky skin, so I try to never over do. I’ve spent years trying to find a moisturizer that didn’t just mask the problem, but healed and now that I have, I even let my face just be my face sometimes and skip the night cream!

  • Alyssa

    Dear Harling,

    Can we be friends?! My “subsequent foray into meticulous facial hygiene” happened the same way.

    Also, so happy you’re a writer now!!!!

    • Harling Ross

      YESIREE WE CAN

  • The difference in your skin is insane! Everything in moderation..
    http://www.indigoandmouse.com

  • I had the best skin ever when I stopped washing it in the morning while on our honeymoon in Nicaragua. The humidity, lack of product/makeup use, and gentler wash routine was amazing for my skin. I, too, have noticed my skin getting a little reactive lately, must be the weather. I’ll have to try backing off on my morning washing again.

  • Ana Tavares

    The only way I now wash my face in the morning is by spraying it with thermal spring water (Avéne’s or La Roche Posay’s will do the trick) and then pat it dry with a soft cotton pad or towel. At night, I wash my face with La Roche Posay’s gel and after drying my face, I spritz yet more spring water, which apparently helps get rid of the “detergent” bits you’ve just put on your face. At least, this is what my dermatologist explained to me. My skin is much less irritated and happier. So thank you for this Harling, maybe now people won’t make funny faces when I tell them my morning routine 😉

  • And I’m probably the only weirdo whose skin got better when I started washing more. I stopped using harsh acne cleansers and now just use a simple cleanser in the morning and at night. What really changed my skin was starting to wear sunscreen regularly (like DAMN) and moisturizing more.

    • grace s

      What kind of sunscreen do you use? My mom has been on me to start….need to work on it!

      • I started out using a daily moisturizer from Cetaphil with 30 SPF (because it was summer) and then switched to Clinique CC Cream tinted moisturizer with broad spectrum 30 SPF for the winter.

  • Simone

    It looks like rosacea. That happened to me last year, I suddenly started to get adult pimples, redness, and blotchy irritated skin. My dermatologist told me that it occurs mostly to white people, females, and starts at the age of 25… hurray!

  • Giovanna Volpe

    Hi from Barcelona! and guess what? you won´t believe what an 90 year old woman told me once: “Whash your face every morning only with water”… That was like 3 years ago… and since then I do it every day! Love to Man Repeller! Gio!

  • Lebanese Blonde

    I use only micellar water in the morning!

    I actually have switched to only using micellar water in the evening, too, and just washing with soap (an Avéne gel facial cleanser) when I’m in the shower. Otherwise just micellar water (also by Avéne) and moisturizer morning and night! And sunscreen in the morning.

  • Alex S

    I’ve had the exact same realization for the first time this winter as well. I have about a million allergies and I am prone to eczema (yayyyyyy), so in the winter my skin kind of freaks out. I was approaching the situation with heaps of products, but through trial and error came down to the simplest and most effective routine. Morning and night I use a makeup remover for my eyes, wash my face with water alone, moisturize and then apply a face oil. No exfoliating for me. My skin has never looked this good and I haven’t looked back.

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  • Alexis Thomolaris

    Harling, this piece made me feel so much less alone in the over-washing game!! Just last week I decided I had had enough of looking red and blotchy (sent a similar before photo to all of my friends asking for help) and that I needed to cheeeel when it comes to washing my face. I was using 4 (!!!!) different cleansers because I didn’t feel clean enough, and it was making my pores enfuriated. I went to Sephora and one of their associates (Shelly, ILY) kind of changed my life by showing me Skin Laundry, a super gentle, calming and healing cleanser, along with Dr. Jart Tiger Grass cream to help with the redness. I wash my face in the shower and Shelly suggested turning down the heat (hard I know during these chilly months) as you get towards your cleansing step because your pores will thank you!!

    • Harling Ross

      AHHHH four cleansers you poor scrubbed thing!!!! This is an excellent skin redemption tale. TY Sephora. TY Shelly.

  • But oily skin! I can’t imagine not washing my face in the morning (or at least cleansing with something!) and just going in with a few swipes of a micellar water soaked cotton pad most nights as I don’t really wear make up. The idea of it just makes me cringe. On the other hand, a GP recommended a (decidedly harsh) medicated soap for my body that I decided to try for my face and now I’m breaking out. Lost I am. 🙁

    • Harling Ross

      I have oily skin too and I’ve actually found that cutting down on washing has made my skin LESS oily–go figure!

      • Gene

        You probably have dry skin. Counterintuitive, but over cleansing makes the skin produce MORE of its own protective oils. Check out Caroline Hirons.

    • I feel like I need to clarify, makeup isn’t cringe worthy, not washing my face feels cringe worthy. okay.

  • Serena

    I had the same revelation. I also switched from a foaming cleanser to a creamy one (which in the past I wouldn’t trust to extract all the gunk I imagined was lurking there) and have also never looked back! I use Frank’s creamy face cleanser.

  • Aydan

    This also is what happens to me with my hair! The New York winter wind and cold air def makes it drier and frizzier than other times of year! I feel like I’m only now getting the hang of my wash less routine (although after the snow today I guess this will be useful for longer than I thought!)

  • Perry

    You know, being poor and paying rent has its perks because after being unable to afford face wash, I just stopped using it and my face has remained the same, if not better. The only real difference is that I am $15 richer.

  • Mila

    I remember reading a Selma Hayek interview for Vogue one time where she explained the benefits of washing your face every night, but not morning. I found the interview and here’s what she said:

    “Never wash your face in the morning. Your skin regenerates all the things that you lost during the day when you’re sleeping—restoring the right pH balance, producing the right oils, collagen—everything comes back to the skin. Then you go and wash it off? Why?”

    Given the skin she has, for me it’s a no-brainer, plus it’s been very helpful in toning down the redness and dryness. 🙂

  • Adepu Sony Priya

    I really like this idea.I too feel washing our face and drinking water a lot is good for skin.

  • Caro

    What I learned after suffering for years with super-dry skin with red break-outs, living in Sweden (with very long and very dry winters):
    Water (e.g. a long soak in the bath tub) and also soap really dries out the skin.
    Fatty, hydrating creams do not help.
    It is important to cleanse the skin but NOT WITH SOAP.
    Once I started to always use products containing acids I noticed an enormous difference. My skin is now glowy and no red, dry areas anymore.
    I use glycolic wash from neostrata (that exfoliates the skin) and various neostrata creams with acids (TCA? I don’t remember), different ones for day / night but there are similar products (e.g. Exuviance?) that probably work equally well. I always use these products twice a day and definitely after exposing my skin to (drying-out-) water.

  • Meg S

    I do a lot more to my face at night than I do in the morning. In the morning, I use beauty water. At night I use a gentle make up removing wipe, then do a double cleanse (oil cleanser + face wash). Once a week I use a gentle exfoliating gel. I typically use toner, then slap on a face mask, follow up with essences and serums, then a moisturizer, and round it out with night cream and eye cream before bed. If my skin still feels dry after all the layers of moisture and other good things I’ve put on, I’ll add a layer of laneige’s sleep pack to seal it all in.

  • Going to try this! My skin has been super dry lately, but my city also had the coldest winter ever. I also started showering less (every other day or when I work out and get sweaty) and I think my skin has gotten softer. I don’t feel dirtier.

  • cryptdang

    Argh the same thing happened to me! I didn’t get hives but patches of my skin would get red, flaky, and itchy, like an allergic reaction. I finally realized that the routine I’ve carefully crafted since I was a teenager (which really did help for a long time) is too harsh for my now late-20s skin. AKA, I realized my skin is becoming dryer an I’m experiencing my first real sign of aging o.o

  • Lil

    I’ve suffered from severe acne since 15. Not just a pimple here and there that most people would be mortified by, but painful, cystic acne that covered my entire face.

    One day I was so fed up from all the dollars and time I’d wasted on my face that I simply decided that well since nothing’s working, to hell with my ten step, twice daily routine. It’s been almost a year, and I haven’t looked back. I don’t wash my face on a regular basis, except to exfoliate once a week (so that the acne scar removal that I’m getting soon will be more effective). I still wear makeup of course, except nothing on my skin on most days. When I do need to wear foundation for special events, I’ll use Acure Sensitive face wash afterwards. My skin hasn’t magically done a complete 180. But it’s definitely better than before as in I only break out around my period rather than 24/7. I’m all for the idea that less is more and that beauty starts from the inside. Meaning that I stay hydrated, take vitamins, excercise more, and eat cleaner. Hope this helps someone out there because I personally know how stressful being in one’s own skin can be.

  • I am coming to a point where I need to mix-up my skincare routine. I am thinking of tossing my acne cleansers and opting for one face cleanser and a am/pm cream. I am gonna need to try this because as a broke college student, I NEEED to save money.

    Laila from Townhouse Palette

  • Emma Le Ster

    From a girl who lives in Hong Kong (very tricky here because 100% humidity outside + 100% A/C dryness inside + tap water of very poor quality = skin going WTF): use eau micellaire from Bioderma / La Roche Posay / Avene as much as needed, just pat it in the morning at night! Miracles

  • Lucy

    I trialled this morning !! Harling if I get ugly it’s on you .. x

  • YES! Great piece of wisdom right there. I also remember Salma Hayek saying she NEVER washes her face in the morning, and hey if it makes me look anything like her in twenty years’ time, sign me up :p http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/tvshowbiz/video-6346/Salma-Hayek-reveals-secret-youthful-face.html

  • XJ JX

    My face has been breaking out like crazy insane this winter season. Like yourself, I keep switching facial wash brands.. I am going to start washing my face with just plain water every morning starting tomorrow. Let’s see how this goes.

  • Willa Konefał Davis

    It may seem counter-intuitive, but foaming or soapy cleansers are not ideal for the face. Your face shouldn’t feel stripped or tight after you cleanse! Try a milk, balm, or oil cleanser that leaves you moisturized *and* cleansed.

  • Amanda

    Here’s my question, though: if you’re a person whose skin is noticeably affected by pH (*raises hand*), how do you do this if the pH of your tap water is terrible? I use a cleanser with a pH of around 4.5 – it keeps my skin happy and balanced and also counteracts the fact that Austin, TX has THE WORST water (seriously, its pH is suuuuper high). I’d love to just splash my face with water in the morning, but I don’t want to throw my skin out of balance! Anyone have any tips for this?

    • Britt

      Try using a water that is more pH balanced? I’m not familiar offhand (and too lazy to Google) with what those would be, but some suggestions might be thermal water or Evian mineral water spray. A more economical suggestion would be filling a small spray bottle up with the water of your choice. I use La roche- posay thermal water to wash my cleanser off. I just spray it liberally on my face and then wipe everything away with a soft microfiber cloth.

      • Amanda

        For some reason it didn’t occur to me to just use different water! Thanks for the tip – I think I’ll pick up some thermal water (or maybe just some plain ol’ distilled water) and see what happens!

  • Georgia Booth

    Hey there! Can I ask if the after photo is sans makeup??? Gorgeous either way!

  • I’ve heard this about the face but then it begs the question; is this the same case with the skin on your body? I shower with really hot water in the winter (bad, I know, but it’s just sooo comforting) and unless I slather on body lotion or oil within 3 minutes of getting out the shower, my entire body feels tight, prickly, and dry as hell. I sometimes use shower oil, so I can get away without having to use lotion post-shower, but it feels like I’m lying to my skin. I want to be able to come out the shower with naturally balanced skin, and not have to slather on so much lotion!!

  • Sarah Mehmood

    I have a solution of this problem.
    Read More..

  • Olivia Stone

    Yeah! I would really relate to this. I have been washing a lot and because of my Solvaderm always fixing my face I was not really aware that I am washing too much, well great to be able to wash my face the right way

  • Ruth

    Coming back to say this article saved my face! Or at least my winter face, which is significantly harder to deal with than my summer face!