How Often You Should Wash Your Face if You Have Acne

Acne isn't caused by neglecting to wash your face. There are other factors, like bacteria or changing hormones, that cause this skin condition. That said, regular cleansing is an important step in your acne treatment routine.

But there is such a thing as getting your skin "too clean." When it comes to how many times a day should you be washing your face, the magic number is generally agreed to be two.

This article explains why and offers you a few ways to protect your skin while keeping it clean. It also covers other strategies you can try to keep your acne under control.

A teen rinsing her face in the sink
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Twice-Daily Washing

If you wash your face in the morning and at night, it will be just enough to clean away makeup, dirt, and extra oil on your skin that can contribute to breakouts.

What you use to cleanse your face also matters. The skin on your face is delicate, so you don't want to use harsh soaps. Antibacterial hand soap and bar soaps are not good for your skin if you have acne. You should never use rubbing alcohol on your face either.

Stronger isn't always better. Instead, choose a cleanser that leaves your skin feeling clean but not overly dry or stripped.

Acne Isn't Caused by a Dirty Face

If you're prone to breaking out, it's important to know that that doesn't mean you aren't taking proper care of your skin. 

People with acne have skin cells that don't shed away properly. They are more sensitive to irritation caused by Propionibacteria acnes, an acne-causing bacteria.

Hormones play a role in whether you develop acne, too.

Recap

Acne is caused by factors like bacteria and hormones—not a dirty face. Still, you should remove dirt and oil by washing your face morning and night with a gentle cleanser.

Washing Too Often Can Worsen Acne

Washing your face too much can be just as bad (or even worse) than not doing it at all. Scrubbing hard is also a no-no. 

You can easily strip away all of the good oils your skin needs to stay healthy, leaving you with skin that is dry, red, flaky, and irritated.

You can also break down the acid mantle. This is a protective coating layer on skin that's made up of sweat, oil, and good bacteria. Strong, healthy skin needs a strong, healthy acid mantle.

One exception to this? A third cleansing in a day is recommended if you get particularly sweaty or dirty.

Cleansing Alone Isn't Enough for Acne

Good skin care means removing dirt, excess oil, and makeup. It can help to keep your pores from being plugged up. Still, water and a simple soap or face wash isn't enough to clear up acne.

Think of your twice-daily cleansing as a first step in treating your acne. Step two should be the routine use of an acne treatment product.

For mild breakouts, you might try over-the-counter acne products first. Products that have salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in them are the most effective. Try to use them regularly for a few weeks and see if that helps clear things up.

You may find facial scrub products on the same store shelves as these treatments. Harsh scrubs won't clear your skin any faster, but they can irritate your skin and make your breakouts worse.

More severe or inflamed bouts with acne usually don't get better with a store-bought acne product. Instead, you'll need a prescription acne medication from your healthcare provider.

Keep in mind that all acne medications that go on your skin, whether over-the-counter or prescription, work best when they are applied to freshly washed and thoroughly dried skin.

Recap

Cleansing your face more than twice a day can irritate it and degrade its natural protective layer. Wash your face as advised, the follow up with an OTC or prescription acne treatment.

Summary

The first thing to know about your acne is that how often you do (or don't) wash your face is not the cause of it. But you can make things worse by washing too often and using the wrong cleansers.

Twice a day is enough for most people, unless you get really sweaty or dirty. Be sure to choose a product that won't irritate your skin. When you wash, avoid scrubbing too hard. This can remove healthy oils, dry up your skin, and make matters worse.

Cleansing should be part of an overall acne treatment program that also involves either an OTC or prescription medication.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can washing your face too much cause acne?

    It may not directly cause acne, but it is likely to irritate your skin and make it more susceptible to breakouts if you're prone to them. It also can dry out your skin, stripping away the protective layer of oil and microbes that help protect your skin from the bacteria that contribute to cystic acne.

  • What happens if you don't wash your face enough if you have acne?

    Your skin is likely to break out. Although dirty skin is not the cause of acne, allowing grime, oil, perspiration, makeup, and other products to build up on your skin creates a perfect storm for pimples and other acne lesions.

  • If I have acne, should I wash my face more often than someone with clear skin?

    Regardless of whether you have acne or not, it's important to keep your face clean. Most people should wash in the morning before applying sunscreen, moisturizer, and makeup, and at night before bed to remove those products plus any grime accumulated during the day. You also should wash your face after you've been sweating heavily.

  • Why should I wash my face in the morning if I have acne?

    Whether you have acne or not, bacteria build up on your skin during the night, no matter how well you cleansed it the night before.

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10 Sources
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