How can I cleanse my skin without drying it out?

man rinses his face
If your main goal is just to have clean, moisturized skin, all you really need is a mild cleanser (with moisturizer, if that suits your skin type) and warm water.

Prior to the 20th century, cleanliness wasn't treated with the same regard as it is today. Now, we have a better understanding of the link between wellness and washing. And while it's great that our culture's hygienic standards have vaulted well past those of Medieval times, frequent cleansing can come with a price: dry skin.

This problem isn't nearly as bad as, say, catching the plague, but it can be uncomfortable and unattractive. That's because dryness can lead to itchy, flaky skin, as well as fine lines and wrinkles [source: Mayo Clinic].


It is possible to wash your skin without drying it out, but the task is twofold: You must change not only the products you use to cleanse it, but also your cleansing routine. The first step may seem intimidating -- particularly when you're confronted with an entire drug store aisle stocked with an array of face and body cleansers.

But once you make it past that phase and have the right product at home on your bathroom counter, you'll find that the next step is a lot easier. In fact, it's as simple as regulating your water temperature and knowing when it's best to wash -- and when it's not.

Fortunately, we have some easy guidelines for selecting and using cleansers that will help keep moisture sealed into your skin. On the following pages, we'll show you more about the different products, their ingredients and how often you should use them.


Choosing a Cleanser that Works for You

Are you ready to buy a new cleanser? First, ask yourself some basic questions.

  • Is your skin oily, normal, dry or a combination?
  • Are you adolescent, menopausal or somewhere in between?
  • Are you a man or a woman?
  • Is it currently summer or winter where you live?
  • Are you buying a cleanser for your face, body or hands?

Whew! Seems like quite an exhaustive checklist for something so seemingly simple. Why not just go pick up any bar of soap that happens to be on sale? Well, you could, but if your goal is also to avoid drying out your skin, soap isn't going to be a good option. Most soaps have detergents that are harsh on the skin and are more likely to remove moisture than replenish it [source: Curél® Skincare]. Cleansers without soap can get your skin cleaner with less chance of dryness. These will be your best bets if you hope to retain moisture in your skin.


You'll want to consider other factors as well. If your skin is more mature or already naturally dry, you might want to look into a cleanser that contains moisturizing ingredients. You should also probably avoid products with exfoliants, as they can irritate and exacerbate dry skin. If your skin is normal or oily, you might still want a moisturizing cleanser on hand for the winter months when skin is likely to get drier. If you're a woman, you can also get a cleanser that does double-duty and helps remove makeup.

Finally, you should consider where you're using the cleanser. Remember that the skin on your face is more delicate than skin on the rest of your body, so you'll want to use a separate cleanser there. Also, make note that the combination of dry air and frequent hand-washing during the winter months can create the need for a moisturizing hand soap.

Now that you know what kind of cleanser you'll need, read our next section to find out the best ways to use it.


Maintaining a Cleansing Regimen

man in tub washes face
Take time to give your face the proper care it deserves.

If you were to take the advice of a Hollywood aesthetician or a sales representative at a beauty counter, you might find yourself blocking out a big chunk of time from your daily schedule just to engage in an elaborate beauty ritual of prepping, cleansing and moisturizing your skin. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way. If your main goal is just to have clean, moisturized skin, you can do so without a lot of fuss and muss. All you really need is a mild cleanser (with moisturizer, if that suits your skin type) and warm water. The temperature of the water you wash with is quite important. Hot water will quickly dry out your skin by removing its oily layer. So as tempting as it may be to enjoy a steamy shower, it's better for your skin if you don't.

When it comes to how often you need to cleanse, it's probably not as frequently as you think. The most important time of day to wash your face is before bed. It's then that you'll be able to remove all of the day's buildup -- from sweat and pollutants to sunscreen and makeup. You don't need to wash your face again in the morning. Just splash it with a bit of water and you'll be ready to go. As far as baths and showers go, just one 15-minute excursion a day should be fine for most people. And as you cleanse, avoid the use of scrubbers and washcloths. Your hands are just as effective and are less likely to dry and irritate your skin. Afterward, be sure to pat, rather than rub, with a towel.


It's fine to follow your cleansing routine with other supplements for your skin, such as moisturizing lotions. However, to avoid drying, stay away from toners and astringents, which are generally alcohol-based.

Learn more about cleanser ingredients on the next page.


Watching out for Certain Cleanser Ingredients

Sometimes skin-product manufacturers make shopping easier by displaying whether a particular cleanser is mild or formulated for dry or oily skin right on the package. But that's not always the case. And even if it is, you still might want to verify those claims.

If you see any of the following types of ingredients in a cleanser, you'll probably want to avoid that product, as it may dry your skin:


  • Fragrances
  • Alcohol
  • Exfoliants, such as glycolic acid

When it comes to hand soaps, be aware that antibacterial formulas can be more drying than regular soaps. Excessive use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also damage your skin.

If you want to be sure the cleanser you're buying will help improve moisture retention and avoid drying, lean toward products that have synthetic ceramides in them. These ingredients mimic natural ceramides, which help keep moisture in the skin.

You might find that organic cleansers contain more of the ingredients you'd like -- or, at least, less of the ones you don't want. For instance, many of the organic products don't contain sulfates -- harsh, but effective, surface-tension-reducing surfactants found in most commercial skin and hair products. Just remember that many organic products aren't regulated by the federal government, and just because a company claims its cleanser is organic doesn't mean it is. If you want to ensure a skin care product you're buying is completely chemical-free, look for a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) logo on the label.

Keep reading for lots more information on skin care.


Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • Adams, Beth. "Body Lotion and Face Lotion?" Real Simple. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Cutting Through the Clutter: Making the Most of Your Facial Cleansing Routine." Feb. 21, 2005. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • The Beauty Brains. "The Truth About Skin Toners." July 30, 2008. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • Birnbaum, Cara. "Eco-Friendly Beauty Products." WebMD. Sept. 28, 2007. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • Cosmetics & Toiletries. "Study Finds Women Are Not Washing Face Properly." Jan. 2, 2008. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • Curél® Skincare. "Fighting Back Against Dry Skin: How to Clean Dry Skin." WebMD. Sept. 9, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • Fries, Wendy C. "6 Tips to Relieve Dry Skin Fast." WebMD. Nov. 10, 2009. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • L'Oréal. "Water, hygiene and beauty." (Jan. 6, 2011)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dry Skin." Nov. 23, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • P&G Beauty & Grooming. "Skin Cleansing." (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • P&G Beauty & Grooming. "Surfactants and the Skin." (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • Polis, Laurie J. "Dirty Secret: Do You Skip Washing Your Face at Night?" WebMD. July 27, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • Valdesolo, Fiorella. "Are You Allergic to Your Beauty Products?" WebMD. March 10, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)
  • WebMD. "Skin Care for Dry Skin." Aug. 31, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)