Psst...You're Probably Washing Your Face Wrong

Like brushing our teeth and combing our hair, washing our face always seemed like a pretty obvious, straightforward process. That was until one of our colleagues recently came across a TikTok video that said you should be massaging your face wash into your skin for at least 60 seconds to get a proper clean. We don’t know about y’all, but a full minute seems like a long time to be washing your face, so we called up a few of our derm friends for some clarification.

Meet the Experts:

  • Dr. Brendan Camp, MD, FAAD, is a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in Manhattan.
  • Dr. Lauren Penzi is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology.
  • Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a dermatologist and a clinical assistant professor at Cornell University.

How Often Should You Wash Your Face? We Asked a Dermatologist

Do We Really Need to Wash Our Face for a Full 60 Seconds, Doc?

“It is true that in order for a cleanser to be effective, it needs to be on the skin for a sufficient period of time,” says Dr. Garshick. “That said, generally an average of 30 to 60 seconds should be enough for most people.”

Dr. Penzi agrees, explaining that “most face cleansers have some sort of surfactant [molecular compounds used to break down dirt, oil and product buildup] in them that takes some time to lather up and remove any residue from your skin properly.”

How Do You Know if You Fall into the 30-Second or the 60-Second Camp?

According to Dr. Garshick, there are a few main factors to consider, like what type of cleanser you’re using and how much makeup and buildup is on your skin. “For someone who wears a lot of makeup, they may require the full 60 seconds to adequately remove it completely,” she explains. “Also, if you’re using a medicated cleanser such as one containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to treat acne, you’ll want to ensure the cleanser is on your skin for long enough for the active ingredients to have an effect.” If neither are applicable to you or you’re washing, say, a makeup-free face in the morning, you can stick to a shorter, 30 second wash.

And yes, the adage of “too much of a good thing” applies to face washing as well. Though it might seem like a great idea to really go in there and do a deep clean of every last pore, Dr. Camp cautions against cleansing for longer than 60 seconds, as it can lead to dryness and irritation.

TL;DR: Wash your face for 60 seconds if you’re removing makeup and/or using a medicated cleanser, otherwise stick to 30 seconds; and don’t exceed a minute.

What Are Some Best Practices for Washing Your Face?

1. Use lukewarm water. Avoid hot water, as this can chronically dilate blood vessels over time, leading to facial redness and worsening conditions like rosacea. Hot water also strips the skin's natural oils and dries you out, making you more prone to irritation.

2. Choose a cleanser that’s appropriate for your skin type. That means using a hydrating cleanser for dry skin, a foaming cleanser for oily skin or a cleanser with an active ingredient like salicylic acid for pore clogging and acne-prone skin.

3. Avoid vigorously rubbing or scrubbing the skin. Scrubbing can lead to disruption or injury to the skin barrier, which can leave the skin susceptible to dryness and irritation. (Dr. Penzi recommends using clean fingertips to get the job done over washcloths, sponges or brushes, which are often “too abrasive” and “can break down the skin barrier over time.” Additionally,  these objects are prone to bacteria buildup over time if they’re not properly washed and dried.

4. Be sure to dry off your skin using a clean, soft towel. It may seem obvious, but be sure to use a clean towel to pat your skin dry after cleansing. The last thing you want to do after cleaning your skin is reintroduce bacteria or dirt to your face.

5. After patting the skin dry, apply moisturizer to damp skin. Just the act of cleansing, even with a gentle cleanser, can be drying, so it’s always important to follow with a moisturizer to help lock in moisture and prevent the skin from feeling dry.

Bonus Tips:

1. If you’re currently using a prescription retinoid or an over-the-counter retinol product, wait until your skin is fully dry (Dr. Camp recommends ten minutes) before applying it. “This can help mitigate any potentially irritating side effects because the product may not penetrate as deeply into the skin as it would if it was still damp,” he explains.

2. If you’re using a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide in it, be aware that it can potentially bleach fabrics a yellow or orange color. Be sure to rinse off all of the cleanser completely from the skin and consider using an old or white towel just in case. Ditto goes for any pillowcases or clothes you care about.

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...