From the moment I bought my first acne cleanser in middle school (that questionable citrusy formula that alllll my friends and, like, Vanessa Hudgens swore by), I committed to washing my face twice a day. Seriously, even when I hit happy hour a little too hard or snooze my alarm five times on Monday mornings, I wash my face morning and night like the responsible little beauty editor I am.
So when my sister told me her dewy, zit-free skin was the result of washing her face only once a day—skipping it altogether in the a.m.—I chalked it up to the good genes I definitely didn’t inherit. But in the spirit of journalism (and perfect skin), I decided to try washing my face only at night for an entire month to see what it was all about. Would I be a broken-out mess? Would I have to disown my sister and possibly sue her? As it turns out, no litigation was needed, because my skin...weirdly...loved it?
First things first: Let’s get on the same page about what I mean by “washing” my face. I’m not saying I allowed my face to get wet only at night during this experiment. I still splashed water on it in the morning, solely because it felt unnatural to wake up and go straight for my moisturiser and makeup. Also, I can’t help but feel more awake when I throw some water on my face (even if it’s for legit two seconds). I just mean that I wasn’t going to suds up with my face wash like I usually would every morning.
Not gonna lie—it definitely felt weird at first. It was almost like I had to unlearn my skincare routine (which, mind you, I was pretty damn satisfied with/proud of). The first few days, my skin felt...the same? It was all business as usual, until, at two-ish weeks into my experiment, my bimonthly jawline acne that is typically very punctual decided to ghost me. And the puffy, dull face I usually woke up to every morning was, suddenly, brighter and dewier-looking.
Even though I kept waiting for my skin to flake off and self-destruct, day 30 rolled around and my face looked like I just came out of the womb: no zits, no dull texture, no red spots—just plump, bright, and clear as hell. Did I finally find the answer to my skincare woes? Did my sister just prove me wrong for the first time in my life? According to experts, yeah, kinda.
Washing your face once a day: Is it better?
Glad you asked, because technically, there’s no official rule or guideline about how many times you should wash your face each day—it totally depends on your skin type and what works for you. “I only wash my face once a day, since I like to give my skin a chance to be in its natural state,” says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale. “I think it’s good when skincare gets simplified—the more products you introduce to your skin, the easier your barrier can become irritated.”
Basically, how often you cleanse (with a face wash) all comes down to what feels best for your skin. If you’re someone who slathers on a thick, occlusive oil or moisturiser every night, you might feel more comfortable washing with a cleanser when you wake up. Or if you’re like me and just sleep in a lightweight serum, you can probably swap your morning cleansing for a quick splash of water.
What about washing your face 2 to 3 times a day?
If you have oily, acne-prone skin, you’ve probably been led to believe that washing your face multiple times per day is the key to good skin—but you’re likely doing more harm than good, especially if you’re using an acne-fighting face wash each time.
“Many cleansers—especially acne cleansers—are filled with harsh detergents called sulfates, which are the same thing you’d find in your dish soap,” says Dr. Gohara, adding that “these washes destroy your skin barrier by stripping away all its moisture, causing inflammation, redness, and a worsening of breakouts and oiliness.” Awesome.
So even though the act of wetting your face twice a day isn’t going to ruin your face (provided you always, always use a moisturiser afterward, since water naturally dries out your skin), using a harsh cleanser each time could. Instead, look for a face wash that’s creamy, gentle, and hydrating, like one of these dermatologist-approved faves:
The bottom line
After I stopped washing my face in the morning, my skin felt—and looked—noticeably better. I’ve literally gotten two zits since I changed my face-wash schedule (which, for me, is huge, since I’ve been breakout-prone for the entirety of my adult life). Although I’ve always used a creamy, super-gentle cleanser, I was probably washing my face more than I needed to and possibly drying it and irritating it.
Like I said, everyone’s skin is different, but I’ve decided that mine really likes when I do the bare minimum. But that might not be your experience. The best way to decide if washing your face once a day works for you is, uh, to actually just try it out. And unlike with the majority of beauty trends, there really isn’t a risk in experimenting here.
Still, if you’re really on the fence, consider this: “I’ve been a dermatologist for 14 years, and I have never once told a patient they needed to wash their face twice, no matter their skin condition,” says Dr. Gohara. “I really think the magic number is one when it comes to skincare.” But hey, if a two-a-day cleanse is your thing, keep on washin’ the good wash.