Can changing how you cleanse be the answer to clear, youthful skin? Research says yes. Learn why a few easy tweaks can be transformational.
For years, the conventional wisdom about washing your face was that the process was so quick, its impact on your skin was inconsequential. Turns out that’s just not true. Experts now know that cleansing is the key to a healthy, radiant and youthful complexion. The grime you come into contact with daily inflames the skin, which can damage collagen and lead to premature ageing. “Proper cleansing not only gets rid of that gunk, it also makes the things you apply to help your skin, like serums, more effective,” says Dr Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. In fact, new research suggests that cleansing may be all you need to manage your skin problems: A Japanese study found that simply washing your face twice daily with a mild cleanser reduced acne, without any medication. Still, this everyday habit is a critical balancing act. “Cleansing needs to remove all the stuff you don’t want without stripping skin of its moisture,” Dr Gohara says. “There’s a surprising amount that can go wrong.” Here, the plan for doing it right.
THE NEW BASICS
What makes cleansing deceptively tricky is the need to keep your skin’s natural barrier intact, starting with the beneficial, and precarious, biofilm that’s on top of the skin’s surface. “Inside the biofilm are antimicrobial peptides and good bacteria, which are meant to protect your skin – and body – from the outside world,” says Dr Zoe Diana Draelos, a dermatologist in High Point, North Carolina. “If you wash your face too much and too hard, or with a harsh soap, you disrupt the biofilm and remove the lipids that are underneath it, making your skin dry, flaky and itchy.” Conversely, if you skip washing your face, oil builds up, fuelling the bacteria living in the biofilm, which can lead to acne.
By now, you know not to reach for regular soap – its alkaline pH level wipes out your acidic biofilm. You should also avoid hot water, which leaches moisture from your skin. Keep it lukewarm instead. Be mindful of your pressure, too. “Many women have the false hope that they can scrub away acne or wrinkles,” Dr Draelos says. But abrasive puffs and washcloths remove the ceramides (waxy lipid molecules) and free fatty acids found in your skin, which keep it hydrated. “Instead, cleanse with your hands, so you can massage skin with gentle, circular motions,” Dr Gohara says. “You’re stimulating blood flow, which helps skin look more radiant.”
After rinsing, pat your face dry with a clean towel, so that you leave the skin barrier unharmed. Then apply the rest of your skincare.
YOUR CLEANSING SCHEDULE
Your goal here is to remove surface cells that have accumulated overnight, and residue from your night cream, says Dr Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist in New York City. It doesn’t take much to accomplish that. If you have sensitive skin, simply wet your face with lukewarm water and massage it with your fingers so that you don’t remove too many lipids.
If you do feel a lot of residue on your face, try a mild, fragrance-free cleanser like (1) Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($21.90, leading pharmacies). Normal to dry skin types can use a wipe or gentle face wash such as (2) Eucerin Dermatoclean Mild Cleansing Milk ($23.30, leading pharmacies). Those with oily skin will want a foaming, non-soap option that breaks down oil like (3) Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser ($32, www.sephora.sg).
Wash your face only in the morning and evening, unless you have a sweaty workout, Dr Draelos says. (A recent Pond’s survey found that two-thirds of women believe that washing more than twice a day is best. In fact, it’s worst. “Over-cleansing strips skin of its protective lipids,” she says.) When you exercise, sweat and oil can mix with bacteria – a cocktail that can lead to breakouts, rashes and infections. To avoid over-washing, use only water or a non-soap cleanser such as (4) Alpha-H Balancing Cleanser With Aloe Vera ($50, www.sephora.sg).
Now you want to do what’s called a double cleanse – washing your face with two mild cleansers: the first to gently dissolve makeup and grime, and the second to sweep away dead skin and microscopic debris. “It ensures that you remove particles of all sizes,” Dr Gohara says. Do this when you get home. If you wait until you’re going to bed, you’ve spent all those extra hours marinating in the day’s grime. “Plus, giving your skin time to recover from cleansing before you put on a retinoid at bedtime lessens your risk of irritation,” Dr Fusco says.
The two cleansers you’ll use depend on your skin type. For dry skin or heavy makeup wearers, start with a cleansing oil such as (5) Frank Skincare 100% Organic Cleansing Oil Magic Wipe ($52, Naiise). Apply it on dry skin, then emulsify with water. Follow with a creamy pH-balanced wash like (6) Hada Labo Mild Exfoliating Face Wash ($13.50, leading pharmacies).
Normal skin types can use the same cleansing oil and wash, or their second cleanser can be a wipe or foaming cleanser, Dr Gohara says. If your skin is sensitive, your first cleanser should be a micellar water, which is a super-gentle makeup remover. Pour it onto a cotton pad, then swipe the pad across your skin. Try (7) Simple Kind to Skin Micellar Cleansing Water ($16.90, leading pharmacies). Next, use a fragrance-free cleansing lotion or cream formulated for sensitive skin, like (8) Philosophy Purity Made Simple 3-in-1 Cleanser for Face and Eyes ($34, Sephora).
Last, those with oily skin or breakouts should start with a gel or foamy cleanser, and follow with a toner that contains glycolic acid or salicylic acid, such as (9) Porcelain Revive Glycolic Toner ($59, Porcelain Aesthetics). “The toner cleanses while depositing active ingredients on your skin to fight acne,” Dr Fusco says. 1Once or twice a week, use a face brush like the (10) Clarisonic Mia Fit ($270, Sephora) to dislodge sebum – the excess oil, not the beneficial lipids – in your pores. And, now, you’ve truly come clean.