How often should you wash your face, according to the experts

We asked dermatologists and aestheticians, how often should you wash your face? This is the definitive answer

A woman on a blue background washing her face with bubbles, to illustrate how often should you wash your face
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

How often should you wash your face is one of the few beauty questions that applies to just about everyone. Young or old, man or woman, skincare obsessive or beauty skeptic, we all clean our faces on a regular basis. Or at least, we should all do so. 

In fact, cleansing your skin is up there with shampooing your hair and brushing your teeth in terms of day-to-day maintenance. It's a nailed-on essential, however basic the rest of your regimen may be. "Cleansing is the cornerstone of all good skincare routines," explains Fiona Brackenbury (opens in new tab), aesthetician and skin expert with 30 years of industry experience, "get it wrong and it can play havoc with your skin."

Luckily, it's actually very simple to get it right. Picking the best cleanser for your skin type and clarifying how often should you wash your face is pretty much all there is to it. Let this expert-approved cheat sheet be your guide. 

How often should you wash your face?

As a general rule, most skin experts agree that twice daily is best. "You should cleanse twice a day, both morning and evening," says Nurse Dawn Attewell (opens in new tab), skin specialist and founder of Dawn Attewell Aesthetics. The reason for doubling up is that your AM and PM cleanses play different roles. "In the morning, it's important to wash your face to remove excess oil," says Dr Elif Benar (opens in new tab), dermatologist and founder of Dr Elif Clinic. "In the evening, I'd recommend a double cleanse to rid the skin's surface of makeup, SPF, debris, and toxins that may have built up throughout the day."

Just as it sounds, double cleansing means using one product to dissolve makeup and surface grime, then another to wash the skin more deeply. Brackenbury agrees a double cleanse is a good idea for your evening cleanse. "This is based on the skin being exposed and bombarded with environmental aggressions such as pollution, dirt, and grime during the day, which adhere to the skin as well as SPF and makeup." 

Is it ok to wash your face once a day?

You may question if a morning face wash is strictly necessary after going to bed with double-cleansed skin. But actually, sleeping is dirtier work than you might think. "Washing your face in the morning can help prevent a buildup of bacteria that you may have picked up from your pillow or hair during the night," explains Attewell. "A morning wash will also remove excess oil from the skin, preventing blemishes and breaking out and helping our skin to absorb ingredients."

The rare exception to this rule is those with very sensitive skin that gets irritated and inflamed by over-cleansing. So how often should you wash your face if that's the case? "Over washing the skin can cause irritations, dryness and that 'tight' feeling that occurs when the skin is stripped of its natural oils," says Dr Benar. "If twice a day is too much for your skin type, take it down to once in the evening." 

However, this shouldn't be the case for most people. If your skin is feeling tight after washing, switching to a gentler cleanser may be a better first call than ditching your morning wash altogether. 

How do you know if you over cleanse?

Learning how often you should cleanse is the basis of a great skincare routine, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. "There’s no need to wash your face more than twice a day - any more and it may dry out your skin," says Aparna Salaskar (opens in new tab), senior beauty and laser therapist at Aesthetics International.

According to Brackenbury, this is because, "Over cleansing will damage the protective skin barrier, leaving the skin vulnerable and for bad bacteria to flourish causing breakouts. Natural oils will also be stripped from the skin leaving it feeling dry and dehydrated which can cause sensitivity and redness." 

If you are an ultra-diligent cleanser, follow a skincare routine for acne or just love the feeling of a fresh and foamy face wash, it can be tempting to over-cleanse. But twice a day really is the limit for everyone. 

Is it ok to wash your face with just water?

A woman washing her face with water

(Image credit: Getty images)

Washing with water alone offers the sensation of having cleansed, but not the benefits, explains Dr Victoria Manning (opens in new tab), of River Aesthetics. "This will not remove debris, dirt and makeup. Water alone won't cleanse your skin or break down these oils which have built up throughout the day." Our experts agreed there's no harm in a refreshing splash of H20, but it's not a substitute for the real thing. "It's a bit like rinsing the dirty dishes with just water and putting them away in the cupboard ready to be used again," explains Brackenbury. That's us convinced!

What cleanser is best for everyday?

We've questioned how often should you wash your face, and learned the purpose of each individual cleanse, the final piece of the puzzle is what to wash with. Much of this comes down to skin type, as the best cleanser for acne will not be the same as the formula you need for dehydrated skin, or rosacea. 

For an all-rounder that you can use morning and night, gentle yet effective is the name of the game, Salakser recommends the best cleansing oils, as they "are great for removing traces of makeup and dirt as they bond with impurities on the skin." While Brackenbury advises using balms that transform into a milky texture as well as "cleansers that contain enzymes to aid the removal of dead skin cells, which can trap dirt and impurities causing breakouts and the skin to look dull."

If you want to take a more targeted approach, some cleansers are better suited to particular times of the day. "I highly recommend using a gentle cleanser in the morning and then the evening, an exfoliant," says Dr Manning. Dr Benar agrees that gentle skincare acids make excellent PM washes. "An AHA [alpha hydroxy acid] cleanser is excellent for daily use, once in the evening," she says. "AHAs weaken the bonds that hold dead skin cells together to brighten skin, make tone more even, reduce fine lines and improve hydration."

For more guidance on cleansing effectively, our guide to how to wash your face properly has all the expert tips and beauty editor-approved products you need for a sparkly-clean, happy and healthy complexion. 

Fiona McKim
Beauty Editor, womanandhome.com

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.