Surveying the counter-space in my bathroom, it is clear I have a problem with hoarding skincare products*. Each genre is clustered together; my assortment of facewashes buttress the right-hand side, followed by an impressive collection of serums, antioxidants, moisturizers, and other ointments and potions that promise healthy, vibrant skin. With a plethora of beautifully packaged, medical-grade products at my daily disposal, my skin doesn’t want for much. In fact, so many products have found their way into my bathroom that it would be almost impossible for one human to use them all in a timely fashion^.

What would happen to my skin though, if one day I just completely flipped the skincare-script and stopped doing the most basic step in skincare? What if I went totally skincare-AWOL and just quit washing my face? Would I break-out like crazy? Would the effects of this cause lines and wrinkles and sun-spots to suddenly pop-up everywhere? Would I be able to tell any difference at all?

Too big of a wuss to ever actually undertake this endeavor (with 40 rapidly approaching, and suspicious lesions getting cut off at every annual skin check, I’m too afraid of the possible consequences to ever purposely hurt the efficacy of my skincare products) it doesn’t stop me from wondering…

What would happen to my skin if I stopped washing it?

What happens when you skip washing?

“It depends a lot on the kind of skin you have — oily, dry, combination — when you stop altering the natural course your skin wants to take, your skin’s true nature will take over,” says Naomi Fenlin, owner of Philadelphia based About Face Skin Care.

If you have oily skin, it will get oilier, and likely you’ll see a dramatic increase in breakouts, blackheads and whiteheads.

If you have dry skin, it will likely continue to look (and feel) dry, dull, and thick as time goes on.

If you have combination skin, your different combo areas will react as described above. (So for example, my t-zone would get slick and blackhead-infested, while my cheeks would get dull and duller.

So, why is face wash important?

Out of your entire skincare arsenal, some may argue that facewash is the MOST important step in your skincare regimen.

<I know, this was a novel concept to me as well. My gentle facewash is more important than my sunscreen and antioxidants?? Hard to initially accept, but the rationale does make sense…>

“Washing your face removes whatever layer of gunk has accumulated on your skin. Makeup, oil, dirt, pollution, other debris.” shares Raelle Levicke, lead-aesthetician at About Face. “Even if you don’t wear makeup, just consider all of the pore-clogging elements your skin comes in contact with. From the outside; there’s air-pollution, hair products, dirt, phone-screens, whatever is on your hands that you’re then resting against your face. Couple this with the skin-debris coming from the inside; oil, sweat, dead skin cells, etc. In your everday activities, there is an ever increasing build-up of gunk collecting on the surface of your skin.”

Without cleansing, it’s this ongoing buildup that leads to pore congestion and dullness, especially because it prevents your skin from being able to renew and exfoliate itself.

And!

By skipping the important step of washing your face, your other products and cosmetics cannot work properly. Without washing your face, your skincare products cannot penetrate through the barrier of build-up to ever reach your skin. Also due to this surface buildup, your cosmetic products won’t work as effectively because they will not be able to adhere correctly to the uneven layers/textures of your skin.

But don’t over do it!

“Over-washing is one of the major causes of dry, irritated skin — for all skin types — especially during winter months.” says Fenlin. If your skin is feeling unusually dry or tight, rinsing with just a gentle cleanser can help remove any debris-accumulation while allowing your skin to restore itself.

Typically, the more urban your environment, the more cleansing your face will need, but even if you live in the heart of NYC it’s possible you may not need to use a medicated facewash twice a day. Usually the more rural your area (as long as you’re not spending your days farming and sweating and surrounded by flying dirt — no judgement being passed whatsoever — but different lifestyles require different skincare habits) the less cleansing you can get away with.

If it’s too late and your skin is already feeling the repercussions of over-washing, it’s OK. Just proceed with gentle facewashes, and make sure to apply gentle oils and moisturizers to help soothe and hydrate your sensitized skin until it returns to normal.

Cleansing needs to be a habit

Long story short, if you decide one day to stop washing your face — you may gain an extra 3 or 5 minutes of free time — however you may not enjoy the reflection in the mirror. (Or maybe you wouldn’t mind, which is totally fine too. #chocolateandvanilla)

The first step in insuring healthy, happy skin is to get in the habit of appropriately washing your face on a daily basis. Make this as easy a process for yourself as possible, leave your favorites in plain sight, in accessible places.

It appears that my perviously somewhat neglected collection of facewashes needs to be moved from the outer-edges of my skincare menagerie, and instead placed front and center like the skin superstars they are. It’s almost like if our skincare products were a sports team, Face Wash was the lead-position of the offense. LHA, AHA/BHA, Porification and Gentle would be the first ones out on the field to clear the path, and make sure it’s a slam-dunk for rest of the team to do their job.


*To be fair, it comes with the job-territory. Whether I want it or not — which who am I kidding, I always want it — our kindly skincare vendors are always providing samples of their latest and greatest. This seems to have a way of adding up, quickly.

^ To this end, my husband and family-members are only too happy to help relieve me of skincare hand-me-downs.