For a long time, I thought the fastest way to a total skin meltdown was to stop washing my face. If I ran out of cleanser or traveled without the product, I was convinced I’d wake up to find my face covered in new acne. No matter what, I always went back to using face wash as soon as possible—usually the acne-fighting, salicylic acid-containing kind. I’d been using that type of cleanser since I was a teenager, and even though my skin and skincare routine had changed in the years between then and my mid-20s, cleanser is the one thing I just couldn’t quite let go of. All that changed when I quit my job in the beauty industry, moved to a different city, and (as you’ve probably also experienced if you’ve ever gone through a big move) ended up living out of boxes for a few weeks. I couldn’t find my cleanser, and for the first time in four years, I didn’t have access to a beauty closet to grab some free products. I kept putting off buying a new cleanser myself, but the longer I went without it, the more I noticed my skin improving. Now, I haven’t used cleanser in nearly half a year—and my skin has never looked better.
Before I stopped using cleanser, I used to deal with multiple, painful cystic acne breakouts every month that would linger for a week or more. I felt like the breakouts were inevitable and hormonal—just part of the natural state of my skin. Since I’ve eliminated cleansers from my routine, I’ve only had one to two hormonal, cystic pimples in six months (and even then, I think they were stress-induced). Now, I use micellar water to remove makeup and regular water to wash my face if I’m not wearing other makeup. I follow up with a liquid exfoliant or toner, and finish with a heavy moisturizer paired with a few drops of oil. That’s it. A few years ago, I would have told anyone that my 10-step beauty routine was completely necessary for keeping my skin in check—and that cleanser was the most important part. Now, I feel like my routine is manageable, affordable, and much better for my skin. Curious about whether or not skipping cleanser is something that pros would recommend, I spoke to a couple skin care experts about their recommendations.
Here's What the Professionals Say
Angela Kim, founder of Savor Beauty, tells me in her opinion, a more in-depth cleansing routine is a much better option than cutting it out altogether. As a Korean Beauty expert, Kim is a believer in double-cleansing (first cleansing/removing makeup with a nourishing oil and following by using a more traditional cleanser)—but only if someone is using the right cleanser. “If you want to change how your skin looks, change the way you cleanse. Use nourishing cleansers that won’t strip your skin as it cleanses your face effectively. Avoid cleansers made with sulfates/SLS that dries out the skin, and avoid synthetic fragrance that’s potentially irritating,” Kim says.
Meet the Expert
Angela Kim is a Korean beauty expert who, after a bad reaction to lotion, began studying ingredients and crafting her own skincare products in her kitchen. Now, Kim runs a group of holistic facial spas in New York City's West Village and Upper West Side, and in upstate New York. She continues to develop luxe organic products in the Beauty Kitchen with her team of Savor Spa Estheticians.
On the other hand, Julia Dalton-Brush, makeup artist and founder of skincare brand B3 Balm, tells me just because you stop washing your face doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not cleaning your face at all (for me, this is where micellar and toner water would come into play). “If you quit washing your face with harsh soaps and switch to say, a cleansing and toning routine, it can actually be very beneficial, far more hydrating and healthier all around,” Dalton-Brush tells me, suggesting B3’s Exfoliating Cleanser for a good option.
Meet the Expert
Founder of Brush Beauty, Julia Dalton-Brush has taught makeup classes to both individual clients and students for the past decade, and is a sought-after expert on how to look and feel beautiful at any age, shape, or size. She's known for her ability to create natural looks while emphasizing each client’s unique features and beauty.
Here's the Bottom Line
Confused about cleanser now? I wouldn’t blame you. But even though the experts may not encourage you to go cold turkey like I did when it comes to face wash, they all do seem to agree that re-thinking and reanalyzing your routine is never a bad idea if you aren’t totally happy with it. “I suggest rather than having someone stop washing their face all together, they should consider finding the appropriate cleanser for their skin type instead. Using the wrong type of cleanser can have an adverse effect on the skin,” Cristi DiBernardo, skin care expert and product manager of brand U.SK Under Skin tells me. “For example, a foaming cleanser with salicylic acid may be perfect for someone with oily skin prone to breakouts but would over dry someone with dry or sensitive skin, causing irritation, redness and flaky skin. Finding the right fit is key.”
It is possible that in my old skincare routine, the main thing I was missing was a cleanser that was hydrating and nourishing. Perhaps my salicylic acid-filled, drying cleansers were the problem rather than cleanser itself. For me, though, I feel more confident about my skincare routine than ever, and the less products I use, the more manageable the routine feels. Skincare is, contrary to what the industry would have us believe, never one size fits all—so don’t be afraid to experiment, or to cut products if you want to simplify your life or routine. Your skin (and wallet) just may thank you.