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?
Photo: Flying Colours Collection / Digital Vision/Getty Images

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? 

How often should you wash your face?  This is the magic number!

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

If you get sweaty or especially dirty, a third cleansing might be needed. After gym class, maybe?

What you use to cleanse your face is also important.  Here is where stronger definitely isn't always better. 

The skin on your face is delicate, so you don't ever 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 dry or stripped.

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 acnesHormones play a role, too.

Washing too often can actually make your acne worse.

Good skin care obviously helps remove dirt, excess oil, makeup, and the like, and can do a bit to help reduce pore blockages.

Plus, all topical acne treatment medications just work better when applied to clean, dry skin.

But over-washing can be just as bad not cleansing at all. If you wash too often, you can easily strip and over-dry your skin (especially if you're using an already drying acne treatment medication).  Super dry skin easily gets 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.

Washing alone won't clear up your skin.

So, cleansing your face more often won't clear acne faster. On the other hand, cleansing your face twice a day just isn't enough to clear up acne either.

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, try an over-the-counter acne product.  More severe or inflamed breakouts will benefit from a prescription acne medication you get from your doctor.

Next steps:

How to Choose the Right Acne Treatment Cleanser

Everything You Need to Know About Cleansing Your Acne-Prone 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." J Dermatolog Treat. 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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