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Are You Washing Your Face Wrong? 6 Common Mistakes

Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and
Are You Washing Your Face Wrong? 6 Mistakes You Might Be Making

Washing your face, it turns out, is very complicated. Who knew that your morning and evening ritual could come with so many roadblocks and potential hang-ups? And here's the thing: It's a step that so often gets overlooked for other fancier, more sensorial steps. But it really shouldn't. Without a proper wash, all the actives that follow might not be as effective. Or, even worse, improper face washing might lead to breakouts, skin inflammation, dryness, or more.

It's a vital step! So we talked to holistic esthetician Kimberly Yap Tan about the most common mistakes people make. Watch and read on below! Even as a beauty editor, I realized I was, um, screwing up a bit (hot water! brushing my teeth post-wash!). So no shame if any of these sound like your routine—they all have very easy fixes.

Mistake 1: Wrong water temperature

When your water temperature is too hot, Tan tells us, it can dry out and strip the skin. But don't go full-blast on the other nozzle, either: Too-cold water won't effectively dissolve and melt off the wash, makeup, or dirt. Both extremes can cause broken capillaries.


Mistake 2: Wrong washcloth

Take a look at the towel in your bathroom next time you pop in: When's the last time you washed it—like are there old mascara stains? What's the texture like—is it time to invest in a new one? Think about it: You just washed your face clean, and now you're rubbing it again with all your old residue. But here's my easy trick, so you're not running to the washing machine every day: Have a few towels on deck, and just use one side per wash. You can even break it up further and only use a corner per wash—with both sides included you'll get eight washes!

As far as texture goes, you don't have to find the softest, plushiest microfiber towelette out there. But when towels are too coarse, they can overexfoliate the skin and cause irritation—especially if you have easily inflamed skin.

Mistake 3: Getting distracted post-wash

Waiting too long between steps will dry out your skin, says Tan. After washing your face, your skin has a bit of moisture on the surface, and products like serums, moisturizers, and oils work by pulling in or trapping that water. When you don't work fast enough to seal in that hydration, the water will literally evaporate into thin air—leaving your cells dehydrated.

Mistake 4: Not removing jewelry

Jewelry can tug, scrape, and pull at the delicate skin on the face while you're giving your face a wash. (Depending on the jewelry, it might not be great for the jewelry, either.) It's also just good practice for the rest of your routine, says Tan. Moisturizers and other products can get stuck in the crevices of your rings, wasting good product!

File under this mistake: hair, too. When you take off your jewelry, make sure you pull your hair back, reminds Tan. Stray strands can fall on the face during the routine, adding oil back to the skin.


Mistake 5: Not adjusting methods based on type

Not all face washes should be used the same way: Each has very specific instructions that come with it, and yet, we all tend to stick to the same motions and steps. Here's a breakdown according to type from Tan:

  • Non-foaming: Think of your non-sudsing creams, balms, and oils. These should be applied to dry (oil and balms) or slightly damp skin (some creams recommend a splash of water first). Because these do not emulsify, adding water is just removing the product quicker. Plus, oils and oil-based balms literally repel water, so they really need to be on dry skin. Also, says Tan, if you wear makeup, you might consider a double cleanse with these options.
  • Foaming: These are going to build into a lather and need plenty of water to do so. Apply to wet skin and build it up with massaging motions. Foaming washes will more thoroughly remove any makeup.
  • Treatment washes: These are going to be your washes with actives, like AHAs or BHAs. (These are primarily going to be your acne washes.) Leave these on the skin a beat longer so the ingredients have time to do their work treating the pores.

Mistake 6: Brushing your teeth after your routine

Here's the big mistake I was making that Tan corrected me on: Always brush your teeth before washing your face. Brushing your teeth after, she says, might just wash off all the products you just layered on during your routine. Or, if you brush your teeth post-wash, pre-moisturizer you're right back to mistake No. 3: drying out your skin.

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