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How often should you wash your face? Here's what a dermatologist recommends

Lathering up too little — or too much — can leave skin vulnerable, experts say.

With so many self-proclaimed skin-care gurus on social media dishing out beauty advice, it's hard to know who to trust. It may be best to speak to the pros, especially if you've seemingly tried all the tips and nothing seems to work. With this in mind, we reached out to a board-certified dermatologist for an answer to one of our burning skin-care questions: How often should you wash your face? The answer may be a little more complex than you think.

Why is face washing so important?

Like regular showers, routine face washing is imperative to maintain your skin's health, experts say. In fact, failing to wash your face can lead to acne, bacteria buildup and prematurely aging skin.

"Face washing is important to avoid the buildup of dead skin, sebum, bacteria, yeast, face products, dirt and pollution," said Dr. Hadley King, a New York-based dermatologist. "If we don't wash, [this buildup] can lead to acne as well as skin irritations and exacerbations of conditions like seborrheic dermatitis."

King added that product buildup — think makeup, sunscreen, moisturizers and more — aren't the only layers you need to get off your face. Environmental pollution causes buildup that you can't see, but it also needs to be washed away. If not, it can lead to even more damage. "Free radicals in pollution can also contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin and lead to aging of the skin," she said.

Woman washing her face, how often should you wash your face
How often should you wash your face? The answer differs depending on your particular skin type. (Getty)

How often should you wash your face?

While washing your face seems like a simple everyday practice that demands little forethought, experts say that more care and specifics should go into the decision.

"For most of us, twice daily is a good frequency for face washing — once in the morning and once before bedtime," King said. But it's not that simple if you have dry or oily skin.

"For those who are particularly dry or sensitive, skipping the morning wash or using only water in the morning without a cleanser may work for their skin," King said. "For those who are particularly oily, additional cleansing, even with a wipe, may be helpful during the day to keep oil and breakouts at bay."

Cleansing your face before bedtime is important for all skin types, however, since it's the only opportunity you have to remove any makeup, dirt, oil and pollution that accumulated throughout the day.

This facial cleanser is a popular, affordable, dermatologist-recommended option that doesn't strip the skin and leaves it feeling soft and hydrated.

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How long should you be washing your face?

There are plenty of "rules" circulating the internet on the ideal duration for washing your face. According to King, however, it may vary depending on the type of cleanser you use.

"Washing the face for one to two minutes is adequate to thoroughly cleanse the skin and will avoid unnecessary drying from exposure to water," King said. She also stressed that it's important to "keep the water temperature lukewarm rather than hot."

If you're using a cleanser with active ingredients and exfoliants, however, King recommends washing "for at least three minutes" to "allow more time for these ingredients to be effective."

This versatile product is a cleanser and exfoliant in one. "The jojoba beads provide gentle physical exfoliation, while lactic acid from goat milk gently chemically exfoliates and hydrates the skin," King said.

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Is it possible to over-cleanse your face?

If you've noticed that your skin feels tight, extra sensitive or irritated while washing, this may be a direct result of over-cleansing — a problem King said is extremely common.

"Over-washing is a common issue, particularly when someone with dry or sensitive skin is using a cleanser that contains harsh detergents and/or exfoliants," King said. "Dry skin, a tight feeling, redness, irritation and flaking can all be signs of over-washing."

She recommends switching to a gentler cleanser that "contains moisturizers to help support and nourish the skin barrier. Avoid cleansers that contain harsh detergents and exfoliants."

If your skin is still feeling dry or irritated after swapping cleansers, "then switch to cleaning once daily — preferably before bedtime," King recommended.

King recommends this cleanser for anyone with sensitive skin. "[It] gently foams and thoroughly cleanses but is free of harsh detergents," she said. "Contains humectants to hydrate the skin and emollients to support the skin barrier."

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