How To Properly Clean Your Face

A step-by-step guide to exactly how you should be cleansing your face and what products you need to do the job right.

For most of my life, I’ve washed my face much like you see it done in a television commercial: splash with water, rub some cleanser all over the place (often a foaming cleanser… shudder), rinse it all off, and dry with a towel.  Pretty standard, right?  Well, yes.  It’s standard.  But, sadly, it’s not at all correct.

In continuation of my skincare series, today I’m sharing the results of my research and testing on the optimal way to clean your face.  After reading up, interviewing dermatologists and testing on my own face for many months, I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in my skin.  All it took was some slight tweaks to both the products I use and the methods I employ.

Properly cleansing your face is arguably the single most important part of any skincare regimen.  Not only is it important for removing dirt, grime, bacteria, makeup, SPF, and dead skin cells that build up, but it’s also critically important in preparing your skin for the serums, oils and moisturizers that you layer on top.  You could have the most expensive, luxurious skincare products on the planet, but if you haven’t first thoroughly cleansed your skin, none of it will be absorbed.  Might as well save your money for a trip to Vegas to see Celine Dion at Caesar’s Palace.  (Just a suggestion.)

Think, for a minute, about a large pan you just used for making dinner.  What if you put it in the sink, doused it in water, smeared soap on it and rinsed?  Without actually scrubbing any of the residue off, you’re never going to get that sucker clean.  Similarly, if you’ve spent an entire day with makeup and SPF baking into your porous face, then add in all of the environmental pollutants that collect on your skin over the course of the day, it’s easy to imagine that you need more than a quick slather and rinse to get your skin truly clean.

Today, I’m going to share the exact methods to thoroughly and properly clean your face, exactly when and how you should be cleansing, and what products you should use to do the job.



You should wash your face every day in the morning when you wake up and twice (DON’T PANIC, I’ll explain in a minute) at night before going to bed.  You should only wash your face more than this if you workout, in which case you should wash it again after sweating.  Pretty simple, right?  Well, I have to admit that some mornings when overly tired or running late, I would often skip the morning cleanse, assuming that my skin was still in pretty good shape from cleansing the night before.  Oh, how very wrong I was.



Dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells accumulate on your face during the night so it’s critically important to wash that off first thing in the morning to promote healthy, rejuvenated skin and to prepare the face for the absorption of daytime skincare products (which we’ll get to in a later post).  Since you are not worried about removing makeup or SPF in the morning (for the love of small pores don’t you dare sleep in that gunk), you can use any number of gentle cleansers—but milk, gel, balm or oil cleansers are best.  Personally, I almost always use an oil cleanser and my favorites are the DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Oil, and Shiseido Perfect Cleansing Oil.





Before we get to night-time cleansers, it’s worth mentioning that if you aren’t using an oil cleanser, you really. really. should be.  Please try to purge from your memory the lifetime of idiotic marketing gimmicks you’ve heard touting “oil-free” products—as if oils were the perpetrators of your skincare woes.  Our skin loves oil and needs it to be healthy, so plant-based oils (not mineral oil!) are AMAZING for skin in both cleansing and treating.  I will cover facial treatment oils (like this one from Elemis that I absolutely live for) in more detail in a separate post, but in the context of washing your face, you should absolutely get on board with a cleansing oil.  Cleansing oils are fantastic at removing dirt and grime because like attracts like—the oils in the cleanser will attach to all of the oil-based bacteria and excess sebum in your skin and carry it away when you wash it off.  EVEN FOR OILY AND ACNE-PRONE SKIN!  Not only are oils better at removing dirt and grime, but they are also much better for all skin types because they aren’t stripping the skin of its natural oils, allowing your skin to stay healthy and balanced.


At the end of the day before going to bed, you need to clean your face TWICE: first to remove your makeup and then to thoroughly cleanse your actual skin.  I know, I know, sounds excessive, but it truly makes a WORLD of difference.  Give it a try for a week or two and I can guarantee you’ll notice a change.  If you’re wearing makeup and SPF, those products are formulated to stay put all day, so the first wash is just targeted at removing all of those products.  Once they’re out of the way, you can get in there with a second cleanser and really make sure your pores are unclogged and grime-free.

In terms of products for each cleanse, I always use one of the oil cleansers mentioned above for cleanse number one because, in my opinion, nothing removes makeup better than oil-based cleansers.  For the second cleanse, you can use any favorite cleanser including balm, milk, gel and oil cleansers.  I often prefer a balm cleanser for the second cleanse, but you can absolutely use the same oil cleanser that you used for the first cleanse a second time (I often do).  Aside from the favorite oil cleansers listed above, some of my other favorite cleansers are CeraVe Hydrating Facial CleanserTata Harper Purifying Cleanser, Estee Lauder Advanced Night Micro Cleansing Balm and Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm.  This last one by Emma Hardie is quite possibly my favorite, and unfortunately, you can only find it on Amazon and Asos because it’s a smaller UK-based brand.  Huge shoutout to one of my favorite skincare bloggers (and people in general) Caroline Hirons for getting me onto this divine cleanser years ago.  Not only is it amazingly effective, but the texture and smell actually make me feel EXCITED to clean my face and do my night-time skincare routine.  Anything with demonstrated efficacy that also has that effect on the psyche is worth its weight in gold.




Alright, now that we’ve covered when to wash your face and what products you should use, it’s important to discuss the HOW.  Technique is just as important as having the right products so to make these technique tips easy to digest and quick to reference, I’m categorizing a few Do’s and Don’ts as follows:

DON’T WET YOUR FACE TO START  //  Always apply cleansing products directly to your skin.  You should never wet your face (or your hands) first.  Whether you’re using a gel, milk, oil or balm cleanser, the cleansing agents in each need to bond directly with the dirt, oil and bacteria on your skin in order to carry them away when you rinse off.  Wetting your face first just allows the water to act as a barrier between the grime and the cleansing agents, rendering them less effective.

DON’T RUB THE PRODUCT IN YOUR HANDS  //  As discussed in my post about top skincare myths (which you should definitely read if you haven’t!), never rub product (cleansers or anything else!) between your hands before applying to your face.  It’s a completely unnecessary marketing “ritual” step and simply leads you to waste product on your hands.  Apply cleansers directly to your dry face.

DO USE A WASHCLOTH  //  For most of my life, I was only rubbing cleanser on my face with my hands before rinsing off.  But, harkening back to the dirty, residue-encrusted pan example above, you need something more than just your fingertips to gently scrub the grime off your face which is where a washcloth comes in.  Once you’ve applied cleanser to your entire face, take a washcloth, douse it in hot water, ring it out, and rub your face all over.  You can use a classic cotton terry washcloth, but the more cotton is washed, the more brittle it becomes which is too harsh for your skin.  I recommend using a microfiber or bamboo washcloth which will be effective yet gentle.

DON’T USE A BATTERY-OPERATED CLEANSING BRUSH EVERY NIGHT  //  I love a good Clarisonic exfoliating cleansing brush as much as the next girl, but you should absolutely not be using one on a daily basis.  Once a week is fine, but harsh scrubs and battery operated cleansing devices are far too rough for your skin.  If you use those every night you’ll be left with dry, damaged skin and likely see rosacea and broken capillaries down the road.  You can achieve the same level of exfoliation by chemical means (i.e. acid toners which we’ll cover later!) instead of such damaging physical means.  I will be doing a dedicated post on exfoliation breaking all of this down, but just know that you should not be using any rough brushes or scrubs on a daily basis.  A gentle washcloth is the best for your skin.

DO RINSE YOUR FACE  //  This one might sound obvious, but I’m always astounded when reading advice that wiping your face and cleanser off with a washcloth is enough.  I’m here to tell you it. is. not.  Once you’ve covered your face in cleanser and thoroughly rubbed it all over with the washcloth, go back down to the sink and thoroughly rinse your face with warm water.  If you don’t rinse and simply wipe it away with the washcloth, you’re leaving lots of dirt and cleanser residue on your face.  No bueno.


And that’s about it!  Again, if you’re frustrated with dullness, acne or pre-mature aging, I implore (yes, implore!) you to employ these cleansing tips and I will eat my shirt if you don’t see demonstrable results.  If you have any questions or feel I’ve left anything out, please let me know in the comments!  So excited to continue sharing these skincare posts!


25 thoughts on “How To Properly Clean Your Face”

    1. Hello! I was super excited about this post, and decided to purchase Clinique’s take the day off oil cleanser. I have been using this nightly for three weeks now and unfortunately, I’ve completely broken out. Has anyone else experienced this?

  1. Thank you!! I LOVE this series and the range of products recommended – high budget and low budget. Thanks for doing the deep detective work here ????️‍♀️

  2. Hi Mary! These posts are great, and I can’t wait for the next ones! Question about cleansing twice at night – I use micellar water to first remove my makeup, then I wash with a cleanser. Do you think this is as effective as washing my face twice? Thanks!

  3. I read this blog even though the products showcased are mostly way out of my price range but a girl can dream. But I think I can contribute my 2 cents to other budget readers. Absolutely agree with everything you said. All of this is really being driven by a rise in the Korean beauty skin care regime which is very much trending. I just wanted to say, unless of course, you want to, there is no need to buy these branded face oils. Take a trip to the grocery store and regular grapeseed oil, pumpkin seed oil etc. are amazing at oil cleansing and moisturising. I discovered this blog post below that went a step further and looked at popular types of oils and what truly set oils apart for acne prone skin and it changed my life. This article was written in 2013 and spoke about using the microfibre technique which I’ve been doing for years and can attest that it works. And I just personally like the simplicity of just one ingredient listed on the bottle. I know exactly what it is i’m putting on my face. Lastly, let us not discount handy dandy Cetaphil for your second cleanser. I always knew about it but never tried it until about 3 weeks ago I purchased the oily skin cleanser and I have yet to see even one breakout! it is amazing and truly non-comedogenic, mild, non-irritating, soap-free and fragrance-free. and it’s available EVERYWHERE and the price cannot be beaten. for “exfoliation”, I will add baking soda to the cleanser for a truly gentle and non-abrasive exfoliation. Link to above-mentioned article below. please check her out!

  4. Can’t wait to try these tips! Do you have a recommended method for drying your face? I’ve been told to pat my face dry and not to wipe water away, but I’ve also always been concerned that drying my face on the same towel every day is reapplying some of that dirt and grime I’ve just washed away. I guess this goes for the washcloth too, can you use the same washcloth to clean your face more than once before washing it again?

  5. Been using DHC Deep Cleansing Oil for my parched skin for over 20 years. It’s that good. Heard about it years ago poolside with toddlers. All your advice is spot-on in my over-55 opinion!

  6. I love the hot cloth cleanser from Liz Earle for the second step nighttime cleanse! One thing I’ve heard from multiple medical aestheticians is that not everyone should cleanse in the morning. They said for many people, it can be too stripping of natural oils. They suggested just a splash of water. I thought it sounded crazy, but I do that most days, and it’s been working for me. Just thought that was interesting to share!

  7. Question – I love these tips, but I try to purchase from companies that do not do any animal testing… do you know of any substitute options? I know DHC says they are against animal testing, but nowhere does it say they are cruelty free. Clinique does animal testing too, so I am just hoping to come up with some alternatives?? (Please don’t see this as a critique or anything negative, it is just something I have been trying to be more aware of through my purchases.) Thank you!

    1. I also avoid purchasing brands that test on animals. A few that I love to use are Tata Harper, Dermalogica, Ilia, RMS. I just looked up the Emma Hardy brand recommended here and they are cruelty free as well. I’m looking forward to giving that one a try. I’d be interested to hear of any other cruelty free brands you use and love.

    2. Oh and of course (I can’t believe I forgot this in my recommendations) Caudalie. Lovely brand from France with very reasonable prices.

  8. Makenzie Gadberry

    Hi Mary,

    I love your posts and have spent a good chunk of my Sunday afternoon catching up on your last couple of posts. They are so educational and I’m super excited to start a new facial cleansing regimen. Thank you! My only question is whether or not you rub/washcloth exfoliate the make-up off your eyes the same way you do your skin? I specifically have very sensitive eye skin and thin eyelashes, so I’m always trying to be super careful, and always looking for eye make-up removal tips.

    Thank you!

  9. If you are sweaty after working out and need to wash tote face, would you recommend rinsing it with water first? You mentioned that you should put the cleansing oil right on your face without water because water blocks it!


  10. AMAZING POST! Is it weird that I’m seeing/feeling a difference after 2 days? I’m loving the Omorvicza thermal cleansing balm as the second cleanser. Could you possibly do some more posts-one all about cleansers, one all about serums, one all about eye gels, one all about moisturizers, etc? I would love!

  11. Hi Mary,

    My DHC Cleansing Oil came in last night, and WOW!!!! I’ve only used it twice and already my face is looking better. Normal makeup remover leaves my skin looking flushed and red (not in a good way), but this cleanser is so much more gentle and effective! Keep the skincare posts (and the product recommendations) coming!

  12. I bought the DHC Cleansing Oil immediately after your first post about it and just love it. My skin has already been feeling better. Quick question, do you also use the Cleansing Oil (and other products) for your eyes as well or do you use different products for the eye area? I have been using it on my lids and it seems to work okay, but I do still have trouble getting eye liner off without lots of scrubbing. Any tips? Thanks!

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  14. Hello! I was super excited about this post, and decided to purchase Clinique’s take the day off oil cleanser. I have been using this nightly for three weeks now and unfortunately, I’ve completely broken out. Has anyone else experienced this?

  15. Pingback: How To Properly Clean Your Face – Acne Information & Treatments

  16. Do you use anything to remove eye makeup before using the DHC oil cleanser? Or just begin to rub it off and finish it off with the wash cloth? I feel that I can’t get it fully removed (and I use easy to remove mascara).

    1. The DHC oil cleanser gets every last bit of eye makeup (even waterproof eye makeup!) off for me. If I ever have any remaining, I usually use micellar water on a cotton swab over my eye area to get the remainder removed.

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