Can you overwash your face? Definitely! And your skin has lots of different signals to let you know that you are overwashing. Your skin might feel overly tight, produce excessive oil, or you might even have breakouts. If you’re wondering, “Am I overwashing my face?” be sure to read the article below for three signs of an overwashed face, plus what to do if you have been committing this skincare sin.
Your Skin Feels Tight and Itchy
Overwashing your face strips your skin of the moisture it needs to maintain a healthy skin barrier - which is essential for maintaining beautiful, glowing, blemish-free skin.
And in your quest for blemish-free skin, you may search for a cleanser that leaves your face feeling squeaky clean - if so, you’re not alone. A lot of us grew up with the idea that squeaky clean skin was the key to banishing blemishes.
But that squeaky clean feeling can actually be a signal from your skin barrier that you’re overwashing your face.
So if your skin feels tight and dry after cleansing, take that as a sign that your skin needs a break.
An overwashed face can be the result of cleansing too often, but more commonly it’s because you’re using a cleanser that’s too harsh for your skin.
Using a harsh cleanser is an understandably typical response if you have oily or acne-prone skin, but it might be doing more harm than good. We’ll dig into that below.
Your Skin is Oily
If you have oily or shiny skin, you might be tempted to use an intense cleanser or wash your face repeatedly throughout the day to get rid of the shine. But actually, this could be making your problem worse.
Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami, explains, "Drying products tend to make our skin overcompensate by producing more oils."
When we continually strip our skin of oil (especially with the harsh cleansers we think will help treat our shiny skin issues), this signals to our skin that it should produce more oil - leading to a vicious cycle of us washing the oil off our skin, and our skin producing more and more oil to try and catch up.
Our skin behaves in this way because it needs oil (aka moisture) to maintain a healthy skin barrier. So the key is to know what our skin needs. If your skin is oilier or shinier than you want it to be, try using switching to a cleanser with a gentle formula.
You Develop Acne
If you’re dealing with acne, it’s natural to feel like you should be washing your face as often as possible to clear out your pores and get rid of blemishes, but this might be making your skin problems worse.
This can get a little confusing, but just remember that oily skin is a skin type, while dehydrated skin is a skin condition - so all skin types can be affected by dehydration (even oily skin!).
In fact, having dehydrated skin might lead your skin to overproduce oil.
Renée Rouleau, a celebrity esthetician in Austin, TX, explains, “Dehydrated skin is common among those with oily and acne-prone skin who use harsh products that strip the skin of water.”
So if we develop acne, we might think the answer is harsher cleansers - when in reality, that could be damaging your skin barrier by drying it out and leaving it dehydrated.
This compromises your skin barrier and leaves you susceptible to bacteria that can cause blemishes.
If you do have acne, try a gentle cleanser that contains a chemical exfoliant, like salicylic acid.
This helps clean out your pores without stripping moisture from your skin or leaving the micro-tears that physical exfoliants are prone to cause, which leaves your skin susceptible to blemish-causing bacteria.
So How Often Should You Wash Your Face?
The general advice is that you should wash your face twice a day - in the morning and in the evening.
Expert opinions do differ about whether washing your face in the morning is absolutely crucial.
“Bacteria builds up on your skin when you sleep at night, so you need to wash it off in the morning,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Other dermatologists advise that it’s not strictly necessary to wash your face in the morning.
"There's really no reason to wash your face in the morning, especially if you thoroughly cleansed the night before,” says dermatologist Ranella Hirsch.
“But, at the same time, there's nothing wrong with cleansing the face every morning, as long as you're not over stripping the skin with harsh, drying cleansers. It’s just a matter of personal preference,” Hirsch advises.
Pretty much all experts do agree, however, that washing your face at night is a step that you cannot skip.
This comes down to the fact that as we move through the day, our skin is exposed to environmental pollutants, toxins, and other harmful elements that, if left on our skin, can cause breakouts and - especially if you wear makeup.
Makeup really holds onto free radicals, which accumulate on our skin throughout the day due to pollution. It’s important to wash these off every evening. If we don’t, our skin is tasked with fighting the free radicals off at night, which causes the collagen in our skin to break down at a faster rate.
And as our collagen becomes depleted, fine lines and wrinkles show up on our skin. So ridding your skin of those environmental toxins is a crucial step in your anti-aging skincare routine.
How to Not Overwash Your Face
If you suspect you’ve been overwashing your face, you’ll want to give your skin a break by reducing the number of times that you wash your face, and be sure that you’re using a gentle cleanser.
Try cleansing only one time per day - in the evening. You can also consider taking a break from using any products at all on your face, with the exception of gentle cleansing oil.
Cleansing oils don’t disrupt our skin’s natural oil barrier, so you don’t need to worry about stripping the essential oils that our skin barrier needs.
Do be wary of using cleansing oils that may contain essential oils, which can contain potentially irritating ingredients (think tea tree or peppermint oil).