Most of us assume that cleansing is a task so basic it can be accomplished even when you’re completely exhausted or slightly tipsy—which of course, it can. But it turns out that there’s a lot more to it than soap and water. “With so many sophisticated, gentle cleansers that won’t strip the skin, using the right one allows moisturizing and anti-aging products to absorb more effectively.” Clearly, an old-school splash and scrub won’t do. Here, the new rules for getting your freshest face.
MYTH 1 : WASH AND GO
It’s more of a two-step process. “Remove your makeup before you wash your face,” says Montclair, New Jersey, derm Dr. Jeanine Downie. “Many cleansers can’t take off concealer or foundation completely, especially around the eyes and nose.” Use an oil-based cream, an emollient wipe, or a cleansing oil to dissolve stubborn sunscreen and makeup. Follow with lukewarm water and a dime-size amount of cleanser (look for the ingredients cocamidopropyl betaine or caprylic triglyceride, which are sulfate-free surfactants) on your fingers or a clean, damp washcloth.
MYTH 2 : BRUSH YOUR SKIN TO A HEALTHY GLOW
“A brush removes oil, dirt, and dead skin better than your hands can, and it’s less aggressive than most exfoliating cleansers or scrubs,” says Day. “But it’s not something you have to use every night, especially if you’re also applying ingredients like retinoids or acids. Too much exfoliation can cause inflammation.” Basically: Use, but use sparingly. (Right now we’re obsessed with Clarisonic’s new acne-cleansing brush head, below.) To keep your brush bacteria-free, rinse and air-dry after use. Oh, and hey, clean freak, like you do with your Brita, replace the brush head every three months.
While the jury is still out on how often to cleanse (every a.m. and p.m. or just once at night), all derms agree that over-washing can lead to irritation and a lack of moisture. The rule is to use common sense: Always wash your face after a workout to prevent breakouts, and wash excessively oily skin morning and night. For very dry or sensitive skin, stick to cleansing once daily in the evening.
No matter what kind of skin you have, make sure the ingredients list doesn’t contain fragrance, which can be irritating; parabens (potentially toxic preservatives); or harsh soap (it’s drying). “If a cleanser fits that bill, the formula itself [cream, lotion, foaming, etc.] is more a matter of personal preference,” says NYC dermatologist Dr. Brad Katchen. Of course, people with dry skin may prefer formulas with added moisturizers, like glycerin or shea butter. And “if you have oily skin, you might want a foaming wash that leaves skin feeling super clean.
A salicylic- or glycolic-acid cleanser is gentler and more effective than grainy scrubs, and both offer anti-aging benefits and help prevent breakouts. Alternate with your regular wash (start with three times a week), and adjust depending on how your skin is looking and feeling.
“An alcohol-based toner strips off natural oils,” explains Day. Not good. “Gentle toners calm the skin and balance pH levels, but with the right cleanser, you don’t really need this step.” Love the feeling anyway? Choose gentle, alcohol-free versions.