Why washing your face became so complex
By Sherine Youssef •
The thing is, for all the cleansing enthusiasts out there, there are many more of us who think a bit of cleanser, a splash of water and a vigorous towel rub is sufficient at the end of a long day, and it obviously isn’t.
Just think of what you face every single day—car fumes, cigarette smoke and sunlight, plus the sweat and oil your skin excretes, sunscreen, tinted moisturiser, foundation.
Thoroughly removing the grime of the daily grind won’t just improve skin’s clarity, health and resilience, it will also help all your skincare products and active ingredients work to their full potential. So let’s get back to basics.
A decent cleanser will remove oil, dirt, pollutants and dead skin cells, without affecting the skin’s barrier or ideal pH level, which is between 4.5 and 5.5 (quick recap: pH is the balance between acidity and alkalinity that keeps skin healthy).
Too much cleansing and you get that ‘squeaky clean’ feeling, redness or flaking. You also risk disturbing the skin’s microbiome (the microorganisms that naturally live on the skin’s surface) and the bonds in your skin that form the skin barrier.
Experts can tell when skin isn’t correctly cleansed. Inadequately cleansed skin can also appear dull.
Skin naturally renews itself, but the process slows down as we age, so if you’re not cleansing your face, “you’re not helping that cellular renewal of the top surface,” explains dermatologist Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan.
“Skin looks a little more sallow, the dark circles are slightly more prominent and skin doesn’t have that luminosity.”
At least once a day, at night. Is the morning cleanse necessary? Depends on who you ask.
Dr Gunatheesan says that unless you have really oily or congested skin, you don’t need it, as skin is pretty proficient at looking after itself, so just splash of water and proceed with your regimen.
Using a cleansing oil, balm or micellar water, the first cleanse breaks down make-up, sebum and pollutants, so that the second, water-based cleanser can actually cleanse the skin, and remove any pollutants lurking in pores.
Tight, dry or prickly skin, or patches of redness, can indicate damage.
“Skin that’s too clean has a compromised barrier, so you might become sensitised to products that you’re not truly allergic to,” warns Dr Gunatheesan.
“A lot of people don’t realise this is one of the long-term effects of over-cleansing skin.”
Check ingredient labels carefully. Many formulas now include exfoliating acids, so it’s easy to accidentally over-exfoliate the skin.
Whatever your skin type, Dr Gunatheesan implores you to tread lightly and take your time.
“We’re too quick with our cleansing. There’s no need to be vigorous; the idea of the technology behind cleanser formulas is that they do the work themselves—we just need to pat them on in a circular motion, not pulling the skin, but almost doing a gua sha massage with fingertips,” she explains.
I asked Dr Gunatheesan where a makeup wipe fits in a dermatologist-approved skincare routine.
“In the bin?” she joked. “I don’t like wipes, they just dry you out too much. It can be a first removal step, but there’s been a huge outbreak of people getting rashes because of one ingredient, a preservative called Kathon, and dermatologists have petitioned to have it removed.”
Face and muslin cloths are a nice extra (“they’re very relaxing, and I use them once a month, but they can be harsh,” she warns), and washing your face in the shower is strongly discouraged. “Hot water ages skin, giving you redness and rosacea,” she warns. “It’s so wrong – don’t do it!”
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