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Can you overwash your face? Here's what an expert says

We asked a dermatologist to break down everything you need to know about cleansing your face.
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Washing your face before bed is one of the cardinal rules of beauty. Your mother probably ingrained the practice into you when you were young, and it's become second nature ever since.

But for something that's so simple and such a common part of your routine, we still have quite a few questions. For example, how often should we really be washing our faces? And is there such a thing as overwashing? So, to get the intel, we turned to Dr. Jordan Carqueville, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Derm Institute of Chicago, who walked us through the best practices for washing your face.

How often should you be washing your face?

Washing your face helps remove dirt, makeup and pollution and replenish the moisture in your skin, Carqueville said. And if you're you're not doing it frequently enough you might notice a buildup of skin cells and clogged pores, which could result in acne.

How often you wash your face often depends on your skin type and your goals, but on average, you should be washing your face one to two times per day, she said. Of course, not everyone has the time or patience to wash their face in the mornings, which, in many cases, is OK — Carqueville said that if you're only doing it once, you should prioritize the nighttime wash. "It's at night when you're going to be able to remove the dirt, makeup and pollution," she said.

Can you wash your face too often?

Yes, much like showering or washing your hair, you can overdo it when it comes to cleansing your face — particularly if you have sensitive skin. "When you wash your face, removing that oil barrier can actually be detrimental," Carqueville said, "So if your goal is hydration, and you've got really sensitive skin, overwashing your skin is going to remove the natural oils that are serving to protect you."

When should you wash your face in your skin care routine?

By removing some of those oil barriers, you're actually making it easier for other products to penetrate into the skin. "If you are someone who is trying an acne routine, anti-aging routine or a rosacea routine — something that you're trying to treat and get active ingredients [into the skin] — then I usually would suggest washing your face before the active ingredients are applied," Carqueville said. After applying the product that contains an active ingredient (like, say, retinol or salicylic acid), you want to replenish the lost moisture on the surface of the skin with a hydrating formula that contains humectants (like hyaluronic acid).

How to choose a face wash

The type of face wash that you use will depend on your skin type and needs. As previously reported by TODAY, those with oily and acne-prone skin should consider a cleanser with acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, as well as hydrating additives like ceramides and lipids, which might counter some of the dehydration that the actives can cause.

If you have sensitive skin, you're going to want a fragrance-free, gentle cleanser, Carqueville said.

Though, regardless of your skin type, reaching for a gentle cleanser is a pretty safe bet. "There are some rosacea cleansers, some acne cleansers, some anti-aging cleansers," Carqueville said. But in general, she said, you should be using a gentle cleanser to remove the dirt, oil and makeup and then applying your active ingredient, "because it'll enhance your active ingredient absorption by removing the oils that are serving as a barrier."

With that in mind, we're sharing six top-rated and expert-approved cleansers that you can add to your routine.

Best face washes and cleansers

Vanicream Liquid Cleanser

Through the years, multiple experts have recommended this cleanser to Shop TODAY as a good option for those with sensitive skin, rosacea and more. Free from dyes, fragrances, lanolin, parabens and other potentially irritating additives, the brand says that the formula is gentle enough for everyday use and can be used on the face, hands and body.

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

Currently the No. 1 bestselling facial wash on Amazon, CeraVe's popular Hydrating Facial Cleanser promises to help wash away dirt and oil without leaving your skin feeling tight or dry. The cleanser is said to have a lotion-like consistency and features hydrating ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

More than 33,000 Amazon shoppers have given this cleanser from Cetaphil a five-star rating. And customers of all skin types, from acne-prone to sensitive, have raved about its gentle cleansing abilities. "Prior to my cystic acne days coming to a glorious end, I began using this cleanser," one shopper wrote. "For my fellow sufferers, you understand that finding an effective cleanser is near impossible. This cleanser, however, was the answer to many prayers. I have tried a billion cleansers over the years. This product is superior to them all — no doubt. It gently cleanses my skin leaving my face feeling healthy, soft, and oh so clean."

CeraVe Acne Foaming Face Wash Cream Cleanser

If you are looking for a formula with active ingredients to help your acne, this foaming face wash is a popular choice. Dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo previously recommended this product for people with oily skin. "This combines antibacterial benzoyl peroxide with ceramides to balance bacteria and healthy oils in the skin,” she said.

Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Daily Facial Cleanser

Free from oils, fragrances and parabens, this expert-approved cleanser was developed for "even the most dry and sensitive skin." It's made with a polyglycerin formula that is said to bind dirt and oil to water, cleansing skin while helping to preserve your skin's barrier.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser

According to the brand, this cleanser has a milky consistency that helps your skin retain moisture while still removing makeup, dirt and the like. Made for those with normal to dry, sensitive skin, it features skin-friendly ingredients like ceramide-3, La Roche-Posay Prebiotic Thermal Water, glycerin and niacinamide.

What about double cleansing?

Double cleansing has grown in popularity over the last few years as a way to take the washing process to the next level. It involves two steps: Washing with an oil-based cleanser and then following it with a water-based cleanser.

While it may seem like a lot of effort, it can be helpful to get a deeper clean — especially for those who wear makeup. As previously reported by TODAY, oil attracts oil, so using a cleanser that features the ingredient will draw out oil-based impurities, like makeup or sebum.

"Removing makeup can be a challenge with just conventional washing, and so sometimes using a gentle oil to remove the makeup I would say is better than a makeup wipe," Carqueville said. While some experts suggest using an oil-based cleanser or cleansing oil, Carqueville said that you can also use some of the oils you have in your pantry, like coconut or olive oil.

After cleansing with the oil, use a warm, damp washcloth to wipe it off and then follow it with a water-based formula (any of the above might work). Here, some popular cleansing oils to try.

Oil cleansers and cleansing oils

Bioderma Cleansing Oil

Start your double cleansing routine with this popular cleansing oil from Bioderma. Reviewers say that the formula, which can be used on both the body and face, effectively removes all traces of makeup — even waterproof mascara.

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil

DHC's deep cleansing oil has an impressive average 4.7-star rating from more than 10,000 ratings. Made with olive and rosemary leaf oils, it's said to be rich in vitamins and antioxidants. "LOVE this cleansing oil for double cleansing," one reviewer wrote. "Does a fabulous job taking off makeup & especially mascara in a much gentler way than makeup wipes or cotton balls soaked in makeup remover."

Biossance Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil

Biossance's cleansing oil is designed to dissolve impurities and remove makeup to leave skin feeling fresh and clean. Made for all skin types, it contains squalane, an ingredient that is said to help boost the skin's hydration levels. Shop TODAY senior commerce editor Alexandra Deabler says she can definitely feel a difference on the days when she doesn't have enough time to double cleanse with this. "My skin is so much softer when I add this to my routine," she said.

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