5 Most Common Mistakes to Washing Your Face – Dr. Bailey Skin Care


The 5 most common mistakes to washing your face can make or break your skin care routine and sabotage your complexion. Your daily skin care starts with cleansing and cleansing correctly for your unique facial skin can make a huge difference that you will see right away.

Are you washing your face the right way?

Your complexion is not the same as everyone else’s so don’t just copy something that someone else is doing or that you read somewhere. How you cleanse your face needs to fit your complexion. That’s because your complexion is the result of your unique choices and characteristics including: where you live, what you do during your day, the products you use on your skin, your unique skin problems, and how oily or dry your skin is. All these factors determine how you, and only you, should wash your face. The most common face washing mistakes I see people making are:

  1. Picking the wrong cleanser for their skin type
  2. Using the wrong water temperature
  3. Not washing product, dirt and oil off twice a day
  4. Using cleansers with unnecessary allergens and irritants
  5. Forgetting to exfoliate

Why do you need to wash your face?

The goal of facial skin cleansing is to remove dirt, pollution and bacteria that can harm your skin. You also want to remove product residue and sebum in preparation for applying your leave-on skin care products. 

Your cleansing step is also an opportunity to treat your skin with active ingredients that target skin problems such as acne, rosacea or facial seborrhea. It is also the best place in your skin care routine for physical exfoliation to brighten dull skin.

Clean skin is better able to absorb treating active ingredients in the products you use to correct skin problems or achieve skin health goals. Your cleansing step is important and you want to do it right. – Dr. Bailey

Cleansing your facial skin is the first step in your facial skin care routine. 

The success of the rest of your skin care routine depends on it. After cleansing, you apply products to correct skin problems, you apply a moisturizer and then sunscreen. I call this Complete Skin Care™. It all starts with the first step, which is Cleanse.

That said, it’s important that your cleanser fully cleans your skin, but does not over-strip precious skin barrier oils or irritate your skin. This is why how you cleanse your face is so important!

How do you cleanse your face correctly so that your complexion is healthy and looks great?

Assess your own routine from each of the 5 common face washing mistakes above. 

Tip #1 Pick the right cleanser for your unique skin type, goals and skin problems.

  • Is your cleanser too harsh for your skin type?
  • Or, is it not strong enough to remove your natural build-up of skin oil, product residue, or daily dirt and grime?
  • Do you need a medicated cleanser to target skin problems?

Here are some of the best cleansing products I use to build Complete Skin Care routines for my patients:

Facial cleansers for normal, dry, and/or sensitive skin: 

5 common mistakes to washing your face best gentle cleanser for normal to sensitive skin

Normal or sensitive skin does best with a sulfate-free pH balanced skin cleanser such as my Extremely Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser. This is the cleanser that I use daily to cleanse my face to remove my makeup at the end of the day. 

Another bar cleansing option that’s also dermatologist approved is VaniCream Cleansing Bar. This pH balanced bar soap can be used from head to toe to cleanse ultra-sensitive skin. vanicream cleansing bar soap

Facial cleansers for acne prone skin and clogged pores:  

unique face cleanser to treat acne and clogged pores

My favorite cleanser for acne prone skin is a pH balanced, sulfate-free, glycolic acid cleanser that’s medicated with a full 2% salicylic acid to penetrate oily pores and treat blackheads. It is my Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser. This cleanser penetrates oily pores to reduce pore clogging sebaceous filaments and blackheads because it contains the highest level of salicylic acid allowed. 

My Acne Treatment Cleanser is tough on clogged pores while being gentle on your skin. 

Glycolic acid in this cleanser will brighten skin for a healthy glow. 

best unique cleanser for blemishes

If pimples and pustules are a problem, Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser delivers the highest concentration of acne bacteria killing benzoyl peroxide. This is the simplest way to treat pustular acne. 

Cleansers for facial seborrhea, rosacea and Pityrosporum folliculitis type of fungal acne

These skin problems respond best to a full 2% pyrithione zinc fortified soap.

unique facial cleanser for rosacea, seborrhea and fungal acne

This naturally made soap is free from sulfates, fragrances and preservatives. It lathers to remove oil, dirt and debris and is fortified with a full 2% pyrithione zinc to fight ‘fungal’ acne called Pityrosporum folliculitis, seborrheic dermatitis and rosacea.

Pyrithione zinc can be drying to sensitive skin so I often have my acne patients alternate Calming Zinc with Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser using one in the morning and one in the evening. Patients with seborrhea or rosacea alternate Calming Zinc with a gentle cleanser such as Extremely Gentle Cleanser mentioned above. 

You can add a second cleansing step for unique skin cleansing needs.

Oily skin with clogged pores, blackheads and sebaceous filaments benefits from a second cleansing step to remove any residual oil and debris and that leaves more salicylic acid on the skin.

glycolic and salicylic acid acne peel pads

Treat acne, remove excess oil and tone pores by using Acne Treatment Pads. These medicated pads deliver additional salicylic acid and glycolic acid to fight blackheads and clogged oily pores for people battling acne. They are ideal for extremely oily complexions. You can also see how clean your skin was after washing when you look at the pad after swabbing your face.

Add a gentle hydrating toner to sooth skin while refining pores

unique cleansing toner for sensitive skin

This is personally my favorite second cleansing step and my skin loves it!  My Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Toner contains organic witch hazel formulated with organic Bulgarian rose hydrosol and vegetable glycerin to soothe and clean your skin.

Should you use a sonic facial skin cleansing system?

All but the most sensitive complexion types benefit from sonic skin cleansing. For years we used the Clarisonic Cleansing Brush System in my practice (either the Clarisonic SMART Profile or the Mia 2), but it is no longer made! Drats!! The newcomer is the Foreo, which has silicone bristles that help clean more deeply into the pores.

Tip #2 Use the right water temperature for your complexion.

How is your choice of water temperature working for your skin?

I recommend tepid to slightly warm water for facial cleansing. Combined with your cleanser, it removes surface oil, dirt and debris but is less likely to strip important skin barrier lipids.

I help people understand water cleansing temperature this way, hot water is better for getting tough grease off of pots and pans than cooler water. You don’t want that much cleansing efficiency with your delicate facial skin.

In addition, hot water brings blood flow to skin capillaries, which you see as your skin turning red after taking a hot shower, bath or hot tub. That increased blood flow can also bring in inflammation. The sum total is a worsening of inflammatory skin problems such as rosacea, dry skin eczema and skin chapping.

The bottom line with using hot versus cold water to cleanse you face:

As a dermatologist, I recommend tepid to lukewarm water for facial cleansing. 

The 2 ways to know if you are washing your face correctly

1. Does your skin feel tight and dry after you wash it?

If so, you want to use a cooler water temperature and a milder cleanser.

2. Does your skin still feels oily or grimy after you wash or do you still see or feel makeup or dirty residue on your skin?

If so, then you may want to find a slightly more thorough skin cleanser, use slightly warmer water and add a second cleansing step with a toner. 

Dermatologist explains 5 common mistakes to washing your face

I usually recommend starting with tepid to slightly warm water and adjusting from there. If you have rosacea that is prone to flushing, then you may find that cooler water feels better because it helps to constrict your flush-prone facial capillaries. Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

Tip #3 Wash and rinse your face twice a day.

Clean skin is able to absorb the correcting products you layer on after you wash your face. Be sure to fully cleanse and remove what has built up over the last 12 hours before applying anything else to your skin.

5 common mistakes to washing your face

You’ll notice that I said “rinse”. Yes, I’m a fan of rinsing skin with water to remove product residue. I’m not a fan of cleansing wipes or micellular water because they leave a residue of all those cleansing ingredients on your skin. Read the ingredients in these products and you’ll find fragrance, preservatives, and superfluous allergens and irritating ingredients that I’d prefer you not leave on your skin.

Wet wipes, including facial cleansing wipes, are also an important source of the microplastic burden harming marine environments. Even wet wipes labeled ‘biodegradable’ may be a source of plastic environmental contamination according to one study,

A plastic polymer material component was not listed on any product packaging and the wipes were marketed under an array of descriptions, including 99% water/purified water and biodegradable.

I have many patients who use and love their wipes so I know I won’t convert everyone. I will try though – because I am the one who sees the skin allergies and irritation rashes caused by those ingredients.

My bias for smart facial cleansing is to stick with the right cleanser, right water temperature, and a good rinse. – Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

Tip #4 Use cleansers free of unnecessary allergens and irritants.

This is the same idea as avoiding product residue from standard wipes. Cleansers that are loaded with fragrance or ingredients that are too harsh for your complexion are going to cause a rash.

An allergic rash to facial cleanser usually happens from fragrances or preservatives (even natural fragrances can cause an allergic reaction, such as citrus) used in the product.

The products I have on my site are hypoallergenic – specifically because I see so many needless problems from the typical allergens. Even those with an ingredient that imparts a ‘scent’ have had the allergenic portion removed so that they are hypoallergenic.

Irritants in facial cleansers are relative to your complexion.

dermatologist's tips for the best way to wash your face

Sodium laurel sulfate is the classic irritant. Some oily complexions need this synthetic foaming surfactant to remove skin oil and product residue. Whereas, sensitive skin usually does best by avoiding sodium laurel sulfate and its relatives.

Acne treating or anti-aging ingredients in facial cleansers may be too harsh for sensitive complexions. Ingredients such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid may do wonders for some complexions and be too much for others. 

Again, pick your cleanser based on your skin type as I mentioned in tip #1 and avoid perfumed cleansers. Who needs exposure to fragrance allergens for the few minutes that they are cleaning their face? It’s not worth the risk.

Tip #5 Exfoliate with a physical scrub or sponge to brighten skin but don’t overdo it.

Exfoliating can give you a complexion ‘pick me up’ right away. It’s just like when your house looks better after simply dusting the furniture, sweeping the floor, and vacuuming the carpets – only it’s easier.

Dead skin cells accumulate on your skin surface. They hold product residue, and make your complexion they look dull. Exfoliated skin not only looks better, it also absorbs product better.

How do you exfoliate your face correctly?

You want to gently massage your skin with a slightly gritty scrub or exfoliating sponge that is lubricated with your cleanser. This will remove dead cells. Be careful not to push firmly or use a scrub with sharp granules that may scratch your skin surface or go past the dead cells into the living cells. You can typically feel your exfoliation. If it stings or is uncomfortable then you have gone too far. A gentle exfoliating buffing off of the dead cells will not feel like a scrubbing.

Dermatologist approved facial exfoliation

Economical way to exfoliate your face

I recommend using Facial Exfoliating Sponges with your cleanser. Dampen your skin, squirt cleanser onto the sponge and gently massage the skin of your face. My patients, my kids and I have used exfoliating facial sponges to wash our face for over 30 years with excellent results. It’s a really economical way to exfoliate your face on a daily basis. 

I also love the gentle ecofriendly beads in my Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser. It also has 0.5% salicylic acid to penetrate pores and 10% glycolic acid to brighten skin. Use it daily on damp skin or twice a week massaged onto dry skin then rinsed clean for extra exfoliation.

unique aha bha exfoliating facial cleanser

I have sensitive skin and can use this cleanser daily on damp skin to brighten my complexion for the day. I use this now instead of the exfoliating sponge that I used for many years. 

It is important to note that sensitive complexions need extra care when exfoliating. Some people with highly sensitive skin rosacea may never be able to exfoliate their facial skin. Most people, however, can use exfoliation to brighten their complexion; they have more latitude in how often or how much pressure is applied when using an exfoliating product.

Remember, Complete Skin Care includes 4 essential steps – and it all starts with Cleanse:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Correct
  3. Hydrate
  4. Protect
DERMATOLOGIST TIPS FOR CORRECT FACIAL CLEANSING

Clean skin is the best canvas for using any skin care products, and maximizes the time and money you invest in your skin. I hope this information has helped you start or continue to build your complete skin care routines!

To see all the facial cleansers that I recommend and use, click here.

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