How To Wash Your Face To Help Prevent Acne

If you have acne, you may wonder if you are washing your face properly, and whether your cleansing routine is helping or hurting. In fact, research has shown that there is no relationship between inadequate face washing and the development of acne.  

Acne is a condition that is caused when sebum (the oil that your body naturally produces to lubricate your skin and hair), bacteria, and skin cells that have been shed block the pores or hair follicles of your skin. 

Although acne is not caused by poor face washing, the way you wash your face can either improve or worsen your acne. Careful, appropriate face washing¹ can be a useful tool to better manage your acne. 

Read on to find out how and when you should be washing your face to help prevent or get rid of your acne. 

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When to wash your face

You may think that washing your face as often as possible is the best approach if you struggle with acne. However, this isn’t the case as washing your face too frequently can actually have the opposite effect. Washing your face too often can irritate your skin, worsening your acne.

Your skin has a natural protective barrier that maintains a slightly acidic² environment which discourages the proliferation of harmful bacteria. Washing your face too often or using products that are too harsh can strip away the natural acid mantle that protects your skin.

If you are looking to minimize or prevent acne, you should wash your face:

Morning and evening (twice daily)

Washing your face twice a day in both the morning and evening should be enough to effectively remove any make-up, occlusive cosmetics, or sunscreen you may have used during the day.  Leaving cosmetics or products that can block the pores on your skin for prolonged periods can worsen your acne so it is important to thoroughly clean your face to ensure you have removed them.

After sweating or exercising

According to the American Academy of Dermatology³, working out can cause excessive sweating as well as a buildup of oil, dirt, and bacteria on your skin, which can cause or worsen acne. 

Washing your face directly after exercising or sweating, such as on a hot day, can limit how much the sweat aggravates your acne. If you can’t wash your face immediately afterward, wiping your skin with a pad soaked with salicylic acid can also help you keep your pores unblocked. 

How to wash your face if you have acne

The American Academy of Dermatology⁴ offers the following tips for washing your face if you have acne:

  1. Use your fingertips to gently apply face wash or soap to your face. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing too hard. 

  2. Avoid using abrasive cloths or mesh sponges which can irritate and damage your skin. Research⁵ indicates that disrupting the epidermal barrier function of the skin can trigger or worsen acne flare-ups.  

  3. Rinse products off your face with lukewarm water.

What to wash your face with if you have acne

What you choose to wash your face with is just as important as how and when you wash your face when you have acne. When selecting face care products, look for the words non-acnegenic or non-comedogenic. These products typically do not cause acne as they do not contribute to blocked pores. 

Maintaining the right pH level for your skin — how acidic or how alkaline it is — is important in preventing acne. Studies² have shown that skin that is naturally more acidic is less prone to acne flare-ups. Washing your face too frequently or using a soap that is too alkaline can disrupt your skin’s natural protective acidity. 

What to look for when buying a face wash

There are many different face washes on the market, so it’s helpful to have some guidance about what to look for in a face wash¹ when you have acne. 

When choosing a face wash to clear up your acne, look for the following features:

  • Gentle on your skin. A face wash that is too harsh or astringent will strip the natural oils and good bacteria from your skin’s surface, as well as disrupt your skin’s barrier function, leaving it irritated and dry.

  • Gentle enough to use if you are taking oral isotretinoin for your acne.

  • Retains its effectiveness at a low (acidic) pH.

  • Effectively removes surface debris such as dirt, make-up, and sebum.

  • Suitable for oily skin, normal skin, as well as combination skin (‘T-zone’).

Soaps containing salicylic acid⁶ can be beneficial for clearing acne. Salicylic acid acts as a physiological exfoliator by breaking down the bonds between skin cells. It also helps to break down sebum in blocked pores. 

Wash your hair regularly

Although not strictly part of your face-washing regimen, washing your hair⁴ regularly may be just as important as washing your face to prevent acne. Excess oil on your hair can be transferred to your face and exacerbate acne by blocking pores and introducing bacteria. If you have oily hair, it is advisable to wash your hair daily to prevent the oil from affecting your skin.

The lowdown

While not washing your face won’t in itself cause acne, if you do suffer from acne, how, when, and what you use to wash your face will make a difference to your acne. 

Aim to wash your face twice daily, as well as after sweating heavily or exercising. 

Use your fingers and warm water to gently cleanse your face. Make sure to avoid any harsh or abrasive cleansers. Opt for a gentle cleanser that keeps your skin at a slightly acidic pH to get rid of acne. You can also use a face wash containing salicylic acid which can also be beneficial in treating acne

Remember that cleansing your skin is only a small part of your skincare routine. For expert guidance on how best to manage your acne, you should consult a dermatologist.

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