How Often Should I Wash My Face When I Have Acne?

Woman cleansing her face -- how often should you wash your face if you have acne?
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Although acne isn't caused by not cleansing your face, there's no doubt that regular cleansing is an important step in your acne treatment routine.

But exactly how many times a day should you be washing your face? 

A Twice-Daily Cleansing is Typically all Your Skin Needs

The magic face-washing number is generally agreed to be two. A twice daily cleansing, morning and night, is just enough to clean away makeup, dirt, and extra oil hanging around on the skin, but not too much to be irritating.

In  you get sweaty or especially dirty, a third cleansing might be needed. After hitting the gym, maybe?

What products you use to cleanse your face is also important.  Stronger isn't always better. 

The skin on your face is delicate, so you don't want to use harsh cleansers or soaps.  That antibacterial hand soap is out.  So are bar soaps that leave your skin feeling tight and stripped.  And rubbing alcohol?  Never use it to cleanse your face!

Instead, choose a cleanser that leaves your skin feeling clean but not overly dry or stripped. For help in finding the perfect cleanser for your acne-prone skin, check out the article How To Choose the Right Acne Treatment Cleanser.

Remember, Acne Isn't Caused by a Dirty Face

It's important to remember, though, that acne isn't caused by a dirty face.  If you're breakout-prone it doesn't mean you aren't taking proper care of your skin. 

In fact, most people with acne are fastidious about keeping their skin clean—but the breakouts still happen.This is because acne is caused by factors completely independent of your skin care regimen.

People with acne have skin cells that don't shed away properly, and are more sensitive to irritation caused by acne-causing bacteria called Propionibacteria acnes.  Hormones play a role in acne development, too.

Washing Too Often can Make Your Acne Worse

Over-washing your face can be just as bad (or even worse) than not cleansing at all.

If you wash your face too often, you can easily strip away all of the good oils your skin needs to stay supple. You can also break down the acid mantle, which is a protective coating that we have over our skin made up of sweat, oil, and good bacteria. For strong, healthy skin you need a strong, healthy acid mantle.

Cleanse too often and you can easily end up with skin that is dry, red, flaky and irritated. Probably not the result you're looking for!

Scrubbing is also a no-no.  Harsh scrubs won't clear your skin any faster but can irritate your skin and aggravate breakouts.

Cleansing Alone Isn't Enough to Clear Up Acne

Good skin care obviously helps remove dirt, excess oil, makeup, and the like, and can help reduce pore blockages. But cleansing with simple soap, or face wash, and water just isn't enough to clear up acne.

Consider your twice-daily cleansing as step one in your acne treatment routine.  Step two should be regular use of an acne treatment product.

For mild breakouts, you might try over-the-counter acne products first. Those with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are the most effective. Use them regularly for a few weeks and see if that helps smooth away bumps and clear pimples.

More severe or inflamed breakouts won't improve with store-bought acne products. Instead, you'll need a a prescription acne medication from your doctor. These will give you a better shot at clearing your skin.

Just remember, all topical acne treatment medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription, work best when applied to freshly washed, but thoroughly dried, skin.

Sources:

Choi YS, Suh HS, Yoon MY, Min SU, Kim JS, Jung JY, Lee DH, Suh DH. "A study of the efficacy of cleanser for acne vulgaris." Journal of Dermatological Treatment. 2010 May; 21(3):201-5.

United States. NIAMS. "Questions and Answers About Acne." Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.

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