Lately, the skin on my face has felt like an overstuffed plastic grocery bag that’s stretched to the point that it’s juuuust about to break and dump my groceries all over the sidewalk: taut, that is, thanks to a seeming inability to retain any ounce of hydration, and unpredictable. I keep a container of Kiehl’s moisturizer in my bag and dab it on dry spots about as often as I blink my eyes or wonder what Kanye West is doing at this very moment. (So, often.)
Recently, as I spotted yet another flaky dry spot on my chin as I washed my hands in the office bathroom, I wondered, WAIT, what if I’m washing my face too much? After all, experts say that washing your body too much (chances are, you probably are, by the way) can dry out your skin, along with wiping out beneficial good bacteria. According to skin pros, you really only need to shower once — get this — every two to three days. What if the key to perfectly moisturized, Kendall Jenner-like skin was just to cut my number of face washes in half?
After this thought popped into my head, I made the decision: I wasn’t going to wash my face the next morning. Instead, when I woke up the next day, I just gave my face a quick rinse, moisturized and went to work. And my skin really did feel a bit less dry. I repeated the next day, but then I got worried about clogged pores and went back to my usual morning-and-evening face-wash routine. Then, this morning, I stumbled across a blog post on Man Repeller titled “You’re Probably Washing Your Face Too Much.” It was like they were talking directly to me.
The post outlines one writer’s struggle with irritated facial skin and her quest to cure it. Her fix? No morning face wash. She says that when she stopped washing her face in the morning and switched to just a morning rinse, the redness and irritation she was experiencing went poof. She quotes a dermatologist who says, “Winter is generally when sensitive skin becomes worse because of the heaters being on and low humidity in the air. You may need to change how you are washing and moisturizing in the winter compared to warmer months.”
The derm doesn’t really confirm that skipping a morning wash is the right move, though. She more just backs up the need to adjust your face-washing tendencies with the season.
I needed solid answers, so I reached out to Naomi Fenlin of About Face Skin Care and asked her straight up: Do I really need to wash my face in the morning?
The short answer: Yes. (Yep, it has been a whirlwind of a morning.)
As she explains, the reason a lot of us get dry skin in the winter is because, when it comes to moisture, our skin likes to create a state of homeostasis with its environment. In order to do this, our skin’s cells release moisture into the environment. So in the summer, when it’s humid out, our skin is comfortable and doesn’t lose much moisture — but come winter, when the humidity in the air drops, our cells tend to lose a lot of moisture in an effort to get to that homeostatic state. And the surface cells — the oldest, most damaged cells — release the most moisture.
And here’s where face washing comes in, my friends: At night, your skin goes into regenerative mode, and starts the shedding process to lose those old, damaged surface cells. And by washing your face in the morning, you help to move that shedding process along. Fewer damaged surface cells means there’s actually less of a chance your skin will feel dry, plus damaged cells are more susceptible to free radicals, which Fenlin says “make us age more quickly, cause cancer and make us look terrible.” No, thanks.
So Fenlin says, while the writer of that post that so got my attention found an immediate fix, skipping the morning face wash isn’t a longterm solution to anything, really. She says, actually, “You do want to wash your face twice a day with the appropriate super-duper face wash” to “fluff off the crud that’s come off in the night and help the skin shed the surface cells that you shouldn’t have anymore.”
When it comes to the appropriate face wash for skin that isn’t particularly problem-prone, that would be something that’s gentle and doesn’t have microbeads, Fenlin says. She also warns against using hot or cold water, which can also lead to damaged cells and dry skin — tepid is best when it comes to steering clear of irritation. Then, to really get up your moisture levels, she suggests using topical antioxidants and growth factors, which keep your skin cells healthy, limiting the amount of moisture they release, and therefore limiting dry skin. Her favorites are SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic and Senté. So I guess I will be adding those to my hydrating arsenal.
Now, finally, I can stop thinking about how often to wash my face and go back to thinking about Kanye.