Cleansing: The First Step to Better Skin

Authored by Doris Day, MD for On Call

I recently came across this staggering statistic: Almost 66% of women don’t wash their face before going to bed. I found this to be surprising and also quite unfortunate since the evening is the most crucial time to wash.

Think about all the dirt and pollution you are exposed to during the course of a day. Between the makeup you apply in the morning and the dirt and debris that accumulate on your skin, you have a layer of grime and leftover makeup on your face by the time you get home at night. You wouldn’t go to sleep without brushing your teeth, so why wouldn't you wash your face?

Pore-clogging oils also build up throughout the day, and washing them away is an important way to help control acne flare-ups. Since cleansing also acts as a light exfoliation, it helps eliminate the build-up of dead skin cells, which combined with excess oil can greatly aggravate breakouts. 

There’s also a connection between skin radiance and cleansing - or lack thereof. When you don’t wash away this layer of dead skin cells, dirt and oil, skin can look dull and lackluster. One of the main reasons that deep-cleansing facials and exfoliation procedures make the skin appear fresh and glowing is that they thoroughly cleanse the pores and eliminate the excess uppermost layers of dead skin. But just simply cleansing twice a day can help the skin appear smoother and healthier.

Yet another benefit of cleansing is that it primes your skin for the treatment products you apply afterwards. Whether you’re concerned about signs of aging or acne, cleansing helps the active ingredients penetrate the skin more deeply and evenly. Starting with a clean slate also makes active ingredients more effective and less irritating, so you can get the best results possible. 

My patients often ask me why they have to cleanse both morning and night. Although we've already covered why it’s essential to wash at night, I recommend washing in the morning as well to remove any oil that accumulates overnight along with residue from the products you applied the night before. Again, this extra quick step also primes your skin for the skin care products you use by day, including antioxidant serums, moisturizer and most importantly, sunscreen.

But keep in mind that there’s a difference between a cleanser and soap. Before you reach for that bar on the side of your sink, remember that soap can be more harsh and drying than facial cleanser. Soap can’t differentiate between the dirt and grime you’re trying to remove and the natural oils your skin needs to stay hydrated. Because it is more aggressive, soap can leave the skin squeaky and tight, making it drier, but not necessarily cleaner.

When it comes to cleansing, different skin types have different cleansing needs. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, it’s most important to remove excess oil, which is why I recommend a foam or lathering cleanser. But don't cleanse more than twice a day, as this can prompt your skin to produce even more pore-clogging oil. If you have mature skin, or you are primarily concerned about aging, opt for a milky or creamy cleanser that doesn't produce a big lather, and be sure to moisturize every time you wash.

As a dermatologist trained in the health and beauty of the skin, I can’t emphasize enough that cleansing is the first and one of the most important steps in the skincare process. Even if you get home late or just too tired, proper cleansing should not be skipped, and it’s the best way to get—and keep—your skin on track.

Authored by Doris Day, MD in On Call on January 27th, 2011

Doris Day, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in laser, cosmetic and surgical dermatology on the Upper East Side in New York City. She is a frequent guest expert on The View, Good Morning America, and has had several appearances on CNN, The Today Show, Live with Regis and Kelly and many other television programs, as well as featured in major women’s magazines including InStyle, Allure, Vogue, Glamour, W, and Redbook. Dr. Day is a member of many relevant national organizations including the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, the American Academy of Dermatology, the Women’s Dermatologic Society and the American Medical Association.

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