How to Wash Your Face

Woman washing face.
Beautiful Skin Image Gallery It's important to use a facial cleanser that suits your skin type. See more pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
© Rohde

If you're wondering why the condition of your skin isn't up to par, it might be time to take a look at how you're cleansing it. A good soapy lathering, a scrub with an old washcloth and a quick towel dry are cleaning steps more suited to your car than to the delicate skin on your face. If you've had a skin care routine like that since preschool, then it's probably time to rethink your approach.

First of all, when it's time to wash your face, grabbing whatever soap is close at hand is not a good idea. Not all soaps are created equal. For example, the skin on your armpits is a lot different from what's on your face, so a deodorant soap isn't really suitable to use above the neck [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. There are, however, a wide array of choices in facial cleansers. Your skin type -- whether it's oily, dry, normal or combination -- should guide your decision on what to use. Some other issues you'll need to consider include how sensitive your skin is and how prone you are to breakouts. For example, if you have extremely dry skin or a condition called rosacea, even a cleanser that seems innocuous, like hot water, might irritate your face [source: National Rosacea Society].


Next, give some thought to your washcloth. You don't necessarily need one, and you shouldn't be using one if you have sensitive skin. It has the potential to irritate your skin and could even make you more prone to breakouts. Water temperature is also an important consideration -- certain temperatures are kinder to your skin than others. There's even an art to drying your face, as you'll discover in the pages ahead.

There's more to a good face-washing routine than you might think. Read on to discover the steps that will help foster a lovely façade.


Preparing to Wash Your Face

Before you begin, assemble what you need, and get your hair off your face with a headband, barrette or clip if necessary. The next step is important -- wash your hands. You come into contact with germs, dirt, oils and other substances during the day that you don't want to transfer to your face.

For most people, a twice-daily washing -- morning and night -- is sufficient. However, if your face is extremely oily, you'll probably feel better if you wash again during the afternoon. This can be a hassle if you wear makeup, but as you've no doubt discovered, you'll look better with that extra wash. Also, if you work out or sweat for some other reason during the day, you will want to gently wash afterwards. Resist the urge to use a towel to rub your face free of sweat.


When searching for the perfect facial cleanser, take into account your skin type. Sensitive skin requires fragrance-free cleansers that are specially formulated to be gentle. Those with acne-prone skin should also use a gentle cleanser so as to not irritate the skin further [source: Mayo Clinic: Acne].

The water you use can also make or break your skin care routine. Read on to learn why water temperature is so important.


Face Washing Water Temperature

For the best results, use warm, not hot, water to wash your face. Hot water might dry your skin too much. After cleansing, use cool water as a final rinse to close your pores.

Along with warm water, use products that are meant for your face, not your body. Also look for cleansers that are formulated for your specific skin type. For example, if you're prone to acne, there are a wide array of gentle cleansers and antiseptic washes available.


Skin is slightly acidic, with a pH around 5.5, and the cleanser you use should have a similar pH. Soap, which is alkaline (the other end of the pH spectrum), can sometimes irritate the skin [source: DermNet]. Soap-free cleansers, on the other hand, such as beauty bars, mild cleansing bars and sensitive-skin bars will have a lower pH and are a good choice, if your skin isn't terribly oily.

A dermatologist may recommend that you use a wax- and oil-free cleanser for very dry or sensitive skin. Some ingredients that might be in this type of cleanser are glycerin, cetyl or stearyl alcohol, sulfate or sodium laurel. Another option for extremely dry or sensitive skin is a cleansing cream, which both removes makeup and cleans the face.

A scrub both cleans and exfoliates (removes dead skin). Scrubs can be too harsh for many people, but there are gentler versions available. Some of the more abrasive scrubs contain ingredients such as ground fruit pits. The alternative is a gentler scrub made of polyethylene beads or sodium tetraborate decahydrate granules -- these options might work for people who can tolerate some exfoliation [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Avoid facial products containing fragrances -- they are a leading cause of irritation from skin products. Fragrances are a common ingredient in body cleansers and just another reason to use a product specifically designed for the face.

Now that you know how to look for a suitable cleanser, read on to learn specific face-washing techniques.


Face Washing Methods

Just a dollop of cleanser -- abut the size of a nickel in your palm -- should be enough to clean your face well. Beyond water and your cleanser, all you really need to wash your face are your fingers or perhaps a washcloth. If your skin is dry or sensitive, skip the washcloth. As always, no matter what you use, a light touch is best so as not to irritate skin. Use gentle circular motions when washing.

Never scrub your face. It may be tempting, especially if you have acne, but scrubbing can backfire and create more problems than it solves [source: TeensHealth].


Your eyes deserve special care. The eyelids have the most sensitive skin of any place on your body, so it's important to be extra gentle when washing around your eyes. Many easy-to-use and mild eye-makeup removers are available. For simplicity, use products that can be removed with water. Waterproof makeup is much harder to remove, and may require you to use too much force when you're trying to get it off.

If you'd like to use more than your fingers, a washcloth is all you really need to exfoliate your skin. Products specifically designed for facial cleansing are an option as well. Woven mesh products exfoliate, and some come with a mild cleanser. Disposable facecloths are usually dry but lather up when wet. An open-weave cloth will be gentler on skin than a more tightly woven cloth [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Read on to find out how to finish up your daily face-washing routine.


Drying Your Face

Gentle is the word that you should use to sum up the entire process of washing your face. And like every other step of the face-washing process, drying needs to be done with a light hand as well. Pat your face; don't rub it. Also use a clean towel so that you're not putting bacteria or dirt back onto your newly cleaned face.

After you have dried your face, don't rush to perform the next step. If you use a topical face medication, wait several minutes. Your skin is at its most absorbent after you wash, and applying a medication too soon can be irritating. The American Academy of Dermatology warns that applying medication too soon can irritate skin and help perpetuate a cycle of further breakouts. Waiting five to 15 minutes should do the trick [source: American Academy of Dermatology: Twelve].


What you put on your face after you have gently dried it can greatly affect your skin's overall health. Fragrances and preservatives in products are what usually cause allergic reactions. If you have a reaction to something in your facial care regimen, one or more of the following might be the culprit:

As you can see, proper face washing involves a bit more than soaping up your face in the shower. With the proper tools, the right cleanser and the most conscientious drying technique, your face will look and feel its best. To learn even more, check out the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Cosmeceutical Facts and Your Skin." (Accessed 8/21/09)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Cutting Through the Clutter: Making the Most of Your Facial Cleansing Routine." (Accessed 8/21/09)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "12 Ways to Get Better Results from Acne Treatment." 1/14/09. (Accessed 8/21/09)
  • DermNet. "Acne Management." New Zealand Dermatological Society. 8/22/09. (Accessed 8/23/09)
  • DermNet. "Soaps and Cleansers." New Zealand Dermatological Society. 6/15/09. (Accessed 8/23/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Acne: Prevention." 4/30/08. Accessed 8/21/09
  • Mayo Clinic. "Hand Washing: An Easy Way to Prevent Infection." (Accessed 8/23/09)
  • National Rosacea Society. "Facial Cleansing for Rosacea." (Accessed 8/23/09)
  • Rhodes, Lisa. "How to Wash Your Face." (Accessed 8/23/09)
  • Silver, Jackie. "How to Make a Facial Mask." 9/18/08. (Accessed 8/23/09)
  • TeensHealth. "Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin." (Accessed 8/21/09)