Why You Might Want to Start Washing Your Face Twice

Photo: Laurent Darmon/ Trunk Archive

It’s been well-documented that going to bed with a face full of makeup is one of the worst things you can do for your complexion. Your makeup – plus the oil your face produces naturally and pollutants you pick up during the day – can clog pores, resulting in breakouts, a dull complexion, and even accelerated aging.

Rather than using a harsh scrub to scour the heck out of your face, there’s a better way: double cleansing. Yes, it means washing your face twice. (And no, it’s not something germaphobes invented.) But it’s pretty much the norm in Asia, particularly in skincare-savvy countries like Japan and Korea, where women are obsessed with achieving “perfect” skin. It’s also taught at the prestigious Dermalogica Academy, according to Charlotte Cho, an expert on Korean beauty and the founder of Korean beauty e-commerce site Soko Glam. (She is currently studying in Dermalogica’s aesthetician course and was pleased to find that the cleansing method she’d been championing for years is considered legitimate by dermatologists as well.)

Double cleansing traditionally means washing with an oil-based cleanser first, before using a more traditional cleanser. (If you use makeup remover, many of which contain oils, you’re technically already using this technique, but use it on your whole face, not just your eyes.) It makes sense chemically: oil-based cleansers, which come in both liquid and solid forms, attract sebum and oil-based products, removing them more gently and effectively than water-based cleansers. (Remember the expression “like attracts like” from chemistry class?) They also don’t strip as much oil as cleansers containing harsh surfactants, which can sometimes lead to increased oil production to compensate for your skin turning into the Sahara. The second step is to remove all the water-soluble gunk like sweat, dirt, dead skin cells, and any excess oil with a water-based cleanser, which can penetrate better now that the oil-based grime blocking your pores is gone.

Here are the steps, according to Cho: 

1. Massage the oil cleanser onto dry skin in a gentle upward motion. “NEVERdown, because you don’t want to help gravity,” Cho says. Try a Korean brand, like Banila Co Clean It Zero Purity Balm Cleanser ($29) or The Face Shop Rice Water Cleansing Oil ($13), or grab Garnier’s Clean & Nourishing Oil for Dry Skin ($8) at your local drugstore.

2. Add a bit of water to emulsify the oil and rinse it off. (Scrubbing with a washcloth isn’t recommended, but the muslin cloths that often come with cleansing balms are fine.) Remember, it’s your face, not a dirty pan that’s been sitting in your sink for two days. Be gentle.

3. Wash with a cream or foam cleanser, like Skinfood Aloe Vera Foaming Cleanser $10 or Yes to Carrots Daily Cream Cleanser ($8). (Avoid any cleansers that are too stripping.) As an adult acne sufferer, I’m a convert to the double cleanse and I prefer cleansing milks or creamy cleansers because they’re less harsh, but some people like foamy cleansers. Just remember, the goal is more soft and dewy than squeaky clean. 

4. Let skin dry, then apply your skin care products, which will be more effecting now that you’ve cleared your skin of dirt and dead skin cells.