Skincare tips & advice
6 Common Face Washing Mistakes & How To Overcome Them
Washing your face is an essential first step in any well-rounded skincare routine. But although it may seem like a straightforward skincare step, there are certain cleansing mistakes that can lead to skin issues—including redness, dryness, and irritation. According to one CeraVe Skin Survey, approximately 80% of Americans make avoidable mistakes in their face washing routine, while 60% feel uninformed about how to properly cleanse their skin.1 Read on to discover some of the most common cleansing mistakes, along with our skincare tips and advice to help you overcome them.
When it comes to your skincare routine, proper cleansing should be a top priority. The right face washing regimen can help keep your skin feeling balanced, hydrated, and comfortable—while helping to keep various skin concerns at bay. But if you cleanse incorrectly, you may not see the same results. In fact, making face washing mistakes can leave your skin feeling tight, dry, or stripped. In this skincare guide, we’re covering six common cleansing mishaps (and solutions) to help you feel more confident in your cleansing routine. We’ll reveal the right water temperature to use, how to properly dry your face, and tips to help you find the right dermatologist-recommended face wash for your skin type.
Face Washing Mistakes To Avoid
Choosing cleansers with harsh, drying ingredients that can strip your skin of natural oils
Over-washing or under-washing your face, which can dry out your skin or leave behind acne-causing dirt, oils, and bacteria
Taking long, hot showers, which can weaken your skin’s natural moisture barrier
- Using water alone to wash your face, which is typically not sufficient to thoroughly remove dirt, oil, cosmetics, and environmental pollutants
What Are Some of the Most Common Cleansing Mistakes?
Face washing habits can have a big impact on how your skin looks and feels. Washing too often or using the wrong cleansing formula can leave your skin feeling dry and stripped, while not cleansing effectively can leave behind pore-clogging dirt and oil on your skin. To help ensure you’re on the right path to achieving your skincare goals, we’re taking a closer look at some of the top face washing mistakes ahead.
1. Washing Your Face Too Often
If your skin feels tight and dry after cleansing, there’s a chance you may be washing your face too often. This is especially true for those with dry or sensitive skin, which is more prone to experiencing moisture loss. Over-washing your face can strip away important oils from your skin and may disrupt your skin’s protective barrier, which can lead to uncomfortable skin symptoms like itchy, flaky skin.
2. Not Washing Your Face Often Enough
According to one poll, more than half of people surveyed admitted to skipping face wash before bedtime.1 However, skimping on your cleansing routine can cause pore-clogging dirt and oil to build-up on your skin. This can result in breakouts, excess shine, and an overall dull appearance.
Along the same lines, washing your face with water alone is typically not enough to properly cleanse your skin. This is because much of the “gunk” your skin accumulates throughout the day isn’t water-soluble (meaning it can’t be broken down by just water). This is why choosing the right gentle cleanser is so important.
How many times should I wash my face per day?
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends washing your face two times per day (once in the morning and once at night), as well as after sweating.2 However, the right cleansing frequency for your skin’s needs can vary depending on your skin type, lifestyle, and any pre-existing skin conditions (such as eczema). If washing your face twice daily with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser is leaving your skin feeling stripped or dry, speak to your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist to help address the root cause of your dryness.
3. Using Harsh Cleansers on Dry, Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin is more reactive. And this means you may experience sensations of burning, stinging, or irritation if you apply overly harsh face cleaning products. Fortunately, there are plenty of non-irritating options to choose from, such as CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser. Developed with dermatologists, this fragrance-free cleanser is allergy-tested and pH-balanced. It also features a delicate foam texture that effectively removes dirt, oil, and makeup without leaving your skin feeling tight or dry.
What type of cleanser should I use for dry, sensitive skin?
For sensitive skin, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using gentle facial cleansers that are fragrance-free (since some fragrance chemicals can be irritating).3 It can also be helpful to avoid other harsh or potentially drying ingredients, such as alcohol or rough exfoliating granules. On the flip side, certain ingredients can be beneficial, such as hyaluronic acid and CeraVe’s three essential ceramides, which lock in moisture and help maintain the skin’s protective barrier. If you’d like to learn more about ceramides, visit our Strength of Ceramides page.
4. Choosing the Wrong Formula for Your Skin Type
It’s not only sensitive skin types that need a cleanser that suits their skin. In fact, all skin types can benefit from choosing a targeted cleanser formula. But despite all of the options available, not everyone reaches for a cleanser that caters to their skin type. Some even use products that aren’t meant for your face. That’s right, about 52% of people in one survey reported using body wash or hand soap to wash their face.1 However, these products are not always interchangeable. If your face feels tight or stripped after cleansing, it’s possible that you’re not using the right formula for the area or your skin type.
How to choose a face wash for your skin type
It’s important to always read the label carefully when choosing a facial cleanser. The packaging should tell you whether the formula is designed for use on your face, body, or both. The label should also tell you which skin types the formula is suitable for and any active ingredients that may help you target specific skin concerns.
If you have dry skin, for example, you may want to look for gentle, non-foaming formulas that focus on preserving and enhancing moisture levels—such as CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser. Formulated with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, this face wash is designed to cleanse and refresh your skin without over-stripping it.
On the other hand, if your skin is oily, it can be beneficial to choose a foaming formula, such as CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser. This foaming gel cleanser offers a gentle, yet effective way to deeply cleanse, remove excess oil, and refresh your skin—without disrupting the skin barrier. For additional help choosing a cleanser for your skin type, take our facial cleanser quiz.
Note: Your face cleanser shouldn’t burn, sting, or cause irritation after use. If irritation occurs, it’s best to stop using the product and seek the advice of a dermatologist.
5. Turning the Water Temperature Too High
There’s a misconception in skincare that washing with steaming hot water will give your skin a more thorough cleanse. In reality, this can do more harm than good. According to studies, hot water is more aggressive on your skin than cold water and can disrupt your skin barrier.4 That’s why the American Academy of Dermatology recommends limiting showers to 5-10 minutes and avoiding cleansing with water that’s excessively hot.3
Is it better to wash your face with cold water or hot water?
Rather than washing your face with hot or cold water, we recommend using lukewarm water. In general, keeping the water temperature lower can help support the integrity of your skin barrier and help prevent dryness after cleansing. For specific questions regarding what’s best for your unique skin type, consult with your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist.
6. Poor Towel-Drying Habits
What you do after cleansing can also be a key part of a well-rounded face washing routine. For instance, you want to use the right technique to dry your skin. It may seem foolproof, but it’s possible to be too harsh during this step. Rubbing or scrubbing your face with a rough, abrasive towel can cause redness or irritation, particularly if you have dry, sensitive skin. Towels that are not properly cleaned may also collect dirt and bacteria that can transfer onto your face and result in clogged pores or breakouts.
What should I use to dry my face after cleansing?
Once you’ve finished cleansing, we recommend patting (not rubbing) your face dry with a soft towel. This gentle approach can help remove excess water without irritating your skin. Next, apply a fragrance-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer for daytime or nighttime—such as CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion and PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion.
This facial moisturizer duo is developed by dermatologists and features hyaluronic acid and three essential ceramides to lock in moisture and help maintain your skin’s protective barrier. To help seal in moisture most effectively, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying moisturizer to clean, slightly damp skin.3
For help choosing the right products for your specific skin type and skin concerns, use our Find My Skincare Solution tool.
“National Study Reveals up to 80 Percent of Americans Wash Their Face Incorrectly.” CeraVe, 27 June 2018.
“Face Washing 101.” American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2022.
“Dermatologists’ Top Tips for Relieving Dry Skin.” American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2022.
Herrero-Fernandez M, Montero-Vilchez T, Diaz-Calvillo P, Romera-Vilchez M, Buendia-Eisman A, Arias-Santiago S. “Impact of Water Exposure and Temperature Changes on Skin Barrier Function.” J Clin Med. 2022 Jan 7;11(2):298. doi: 10.3390/jcm11020298. PMID: 35053992; PMCID: PMC8778033.
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