How To

15 mistakes you’re making when you cleanse your face


Regardless of which face wash is best, you could be derailing your skin care efforts due to a few common cleansing mistakes.

In a bid to mitigate the harmful effects of pollution and makeup (hello dullness, ageing, and acne) we tend to take measures into our own hands to address our skin concerns as we see fit.

But what if we found out that our everyday routines – or lack thereof – were, in fact, doing more harm than good on our road to pristine complexions?

Scroll for the list of common skin cleansing mistakes you could be making:

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Mistake #1: Forgetting to cleanse your face before bed

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Thou shall not hit the hay without cleansing one’s face. Even if you don’t wear makeup, natural oils and sweat accumulate on our face as does the dirt and pollution from the environment. By not removing this dirt at the end of the day, you’re opening the door to irritation, inflammation and acne breakouts.


Mistake #2: Skipping the morning cleanse

Irrespective of how thoroughly you cleansed the night before, over the course of your slumber, oil and bacteria from your hair and saliva reside in your pillowcase enabling germs to transfer onto your skin. Do yourself and your morning skincare products a favour and dabble in a morning cleanse for optimal freshness and absorption.


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Mistake #3: Having the water temperature too high

Hot water beaming down on your face in the shower may feel effective but is instead harming your skin’s ability to maintain its natural barrier. “Extreme temperatures, such as hot, steamy showers or hot water, can cause dilation of blood vessels and breakage of delicate tissue,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Further, the hot water naturally strips skin of the necessary oil barrier that helps maintain skin integrity.”


Mistake #4: Using your face cleanser to remove makeup

Makeup is formulated to stay put, withstand smudging and/or resist water to some extent. While these traits make them lower maintenance throughout the day, their removal goes beyond the capacity of a basic cleanser. Use a gentle makeup wipe or cotton pad with micellar water before you cleanse to lift long-wearing makeup.


Mistake #5: Using ONLY a makeup wipe to clean your face

Conversely to mistake #4, only using a makeup wipe to cleanse your face is also a no-no. “The cloths are formulated with many preservatives that allow them to be shelf-stable and sit in your bathroom without growing bacteria and fungus,” says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York and New Jersey. “Although they remove makeup and dirt, they also leave behind a residue.” Instead, wipes should be usedto remove stubborn makeup and grime before a gentle cleanser.


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Mistake #6: Using the wrong face wash for your skin type

Using a run of the mill cleanser or a cleanser your BFF raves about may be doing your complexion a disservice. It’s important to choose a cleanser that is compatible with your skin type or for your skin concerns.


Mistake #7: Reaching for a bar of soap to wash your face

The skin on your face is different to the skin on the rest of your body. While those of us with sensitive skin wouldn’t dream of reaching for a regular bar of soap to cleanse their face and call it a day, others might be tempted to do so. Unlike harsh soaps and body cleansers which inflame and strip the natural hydrators from the skin, cleansers for our face are designed to respect your pH balance and be gentle enough to be used twice daily.


Mistake #8: Reusing dirty washcloths

It may seem excessive, but the experts advise away from using the same washcloth twice. Reusing the same washcloth, again and again, spreads bacteria to your face. Not ideal.


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Mistake #9: Using a shower towel to wipe your face off

Using the same shower towel you use to dry off your body post-shower to dry your face is also a common mistake. With various microorganisms living in different parts of our body, using the same towel spreads bacteria that ought not to be there to your face – again, derailing your skin care efforts.


Mistake #10: Scrubbing and lathering for too long

Any more than 20-30 seconds of face scrubbing can be harmful to your skin. When we over scrub, we subject our skin to irritation and redness. Jerome Garden, M.D., director of the Physicians Laser and Dermatology Institute in Chicago, recommends wetting your face with lukewarm (not hot!) water and using your fingertips to apply cleanser in a circular motion. Once you’ve built up a nice lather, rinse, and carefully pat dry with a soft, clean towel. “Make sure to wash the T-zone and U-zone (around the jawline), as these are areas people tend to ignore,” he adds.


Mistake #11: Exfoliating more than once or twice a week

“Exfoliating can help remove dead cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin to improve skin radiance,” says Dr. Zeichner. “But over-scrubbing can lead to microscopic tears in the outer skin layer leading to inflammation and irritation.”


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Mistake #12: Cleansing your face too often

“Not only does too much washing lead to dry, irritated skin, but it can actually lead to the skin paradoxically producing too much oil,” explains Dr. Garden. The golden rule: If you didn’t wear makeup, work up a sweat, or use heavy sunscreen, stick to the twice-a-day routine.


Mistake #13: Cleansing after a face mask

In a similar vein to mistake #12, cleansing after a face mask is unnecessary and excessive. Most masks work best on a cleansed face for optimum ingredient absorption/penetration so you needn’t cleanse again.  In fact, in doing so, you’re halting the mask’s ability to deliver hydration long after you’ve removed the mask. Let’s keep it economical, people.


Mistake #14: Misusing your toner

Back in the day, toners were a one trick pony and often alcohol based to strip excess oil or makeup after cleansing. Today, however, there are plenty of toners designed to tackle different skin complaints be it sensitivity, hydration, makeup removal or even as a primer. Do your research and get to know your toner and how it fits into your routine. Start out by using it once daily to prevent drying, discomfort or acne before upping to twice daily after cleansing.


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Mistake #15: Not moisturising right after cleansing

“If you wait even a few minutes, the surface cells dehydrate and are actually harder to moisturise,” says Ellen Marmur, M.D., dermatologist in New York City. “Moisturisers provide key nurturing ingredients to your skin, leaving you with a clean and hydrated surface.” If your daytime moisturiser doesn’t have an SPF, apply a sunscreen on top. “The SPF will help protect all the hard work you’ve been putting into your skin care,” says Dr. Garden.

Words: Terri Dunn
Photos: Getty Images

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