How Often You Should Wash Your Face If You Have Acne

Although acne isn't caused by not cleansing your face, regular cleansing is an important step in your acne treatment routine. But exactly how many times a day should you be washing your face? 

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

The magic face-washing number is generally agreed to be two. A twice-daily cleansing, morning and night, is just enough to clean away makeup, dirt, and extra oil hanging around on the skin, but not too much to be irritating. If you get sweaty or especially dirty, you might need a third cleansing.

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

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

It's important to remember that acne isn't caused by a dirty face. If you're breakout-prone it doesn't mean you aren't taking proper care of your skin. 

Most people with acne are fastidious about keeping their skin clean—but breakouts still happen. This is because acne is caused by factors completely independent of skin care regimen.

People with acne have skin cells that don't shed away properly and are more sensitive to irritation caused by acne-causing bacteria called Propionibacteria acnes. Hormones play a role in the development of acne too.

Washing Too Often Can Worsen Acne

Over-washing your face can be just as bad (or even worse) than not cleansing at all. If you wash your face too often, you can easily strip away all of the good oils your skin needs to stay supple.

You can also break down the acid mantle, which is a protective coating that we have over our skin that's made up of sweat, oil, and good bacteria. For strong, healthy skin you need a strong, healthy acid mantle.

If you cleanse too often, you can easily end up with skin that is dry, red, flaky, and irritated. Probably not the result you're looking for. Scrubbing is also a no-no. Harsh scrubs won't clear your skin any faster, but they can irritate your skin and aggravate breakouts.

Cleansing Alone Isn't Enough for Acne

Good skincare helps remove dirt, excess oil, and makeup, and can help reduce pore blockages. But cleansing with simple soap or face wash and water isn't enough to clear up acne.

Consider your twice-daily cleansing as step one in your acne treatment routine. Step two should be the regular use of an acne treatment product.

For mild breakouts, you might try over-the-counter acne products first. Those with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are the most effective. Use them regularly for a few weeks and see if that helps smooth away bumps and clear pimples.

More severe or inflamed breakouts usually won't improve with store-bought acne products. Instead, you'll need a prescription acne medication from your healthcare provider. These will give you a better shot at clearing your skin.

Just remember, all topical acne treatment medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription, work best when applied to freshly washed and thoroughly dried skin.

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 accumulate 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 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 accumulate on your skin during the night, no matter how thoroughly you cleansed it the night before.

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10 Sources
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