Cleansing seems like it should be the easiest step in your routine — wash, rinse, repeat. But if your skin feels dry or tight post-rinse, you might actually be overwashing skin. Skin feels best when it’s balanced, and over-cleansing is an all too common way of tipping the scales. In fact, it can be almost as bad as not washing your skin well enough. The good news? A few tweaks to your routine can go a long way.
What Does Overwashing Skin Mean?
Over-cleansing skin means exactly what you think it is: You’re either cleansing too often for your skin type or with ingredients that are too harsh. (Your skin type is a major factor in how often you should cleanse, which you can learn more about here.) In either case, it removes too much sebum from your skin, stripping it of those natural lipids that are key to the integrity of your skin barrier.
“By stripping away natural oils, lipids, and emollients from the skin, the barrier can’t perform its important functions,” explains Nava Greenfield, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in Brooklyn, NY. “This results in an inability to keep water and moisture inside the stratum corneum cells.” And it ultimately leaves skin wide open to both dryness and dehydration, not to mention sensitivity and irritation.
How to Tell You’re Overwashing Your Face
The most obvious sign of over-cleansing is that “squeaky-clean” feeling you get after drying your face. Tightness and dryness are the biggest side effects. “The cells become dry and cracked, and release small molecules called chemokines, causing itchiness,” explains Greenfield. Plus, your skin may also feel red or uncomfortable once you’ve rinsed and moved onto other active ingredients, such as acids or vitamin C — since an impaired skin barrier also leaves it more vulnerable to irritation and allergens.
How to Fix Skin After Overwashing
If the above sounds familiar, the first thing to do is take a good look at the ingredients in your cleanser. Certain ingredients, such as sulfates, may be too harsh for everyday use, particularly if your skin tends to be dry as it is. Some exfoliating ingredients, such as glycolic acid, may be best saved for less frequent use, especially if they’re at a high concentration; that said, chemical exfoliants at low concentrations are usually gentle enough for daily use.
New York City dermatologist Michele Green, MD suggests looking for cleansers that contain humectants. (A popular one? Hyaluronic acid.) “A cleanser that contains humectants will leave your skin feeling hydrated,” she says. You can find it in the Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser alongside soothing blueberry extract.
Also, consider how often you’re cleansing. “You should resist the urge to wash your face more than twice daily,” says Green. In the mornings, cleanse with either a foam-based cleanser or an oil cleanser based on how your skin feels and looks — if it’s super-oily or you’re breaking out, go with foam. Got dryness? Oil is best. Our Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm has an oil base to nourish as it cleanses.
At night, double-cleansing is the way to go. An oil-based cleanser like Papaya Sorbet actually delivers those all-important lipids to your skin barrier while dissolving stubborn waterproof makeup and SPF, leaving skin feeling balanced and nourished. “Using an oil-based face wash as your daily skin cleanser will nourish skin,” she says. “That will stimulate your body’s healing and repair process to naturally help your skin shed those excess layers of dead cells that make it rough, uneven, dull, and scaly.”
Afterwards, a sulfate-free foaming cleanser (such as the Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser) removes water-soluble makeup without stripping skin. Double-cleansing, which we put our own twist on with the (1+1) Method, is so effective that you don’t have to worry about scrubbing or tugging skin.
Cleansing isn’t a one-size-fits-all skincare step (clearly!). It’s essential to figure out what works best for your skin, and however it feels and looks on a given day. The My Glow Diary has everything you need to track your cleansing habits and new products so you can learn what’s actually working for you — and what’s not.
With these tweaks, you’ll go from overwashing skin to cleansing just the right amount — leaving skin balanced, bright, and healthy.
Read more about maximizing your cleansing routine: