One of the best and simplest pieces of skincare advice I can give is this – stop washing your face so much. Wash your face once in the evening and if you really feel the need, splash your face with water in the morning, pat dry (quickly) and apply your usual skincare routine straight after. You’ll be amazed at the difference not doing something can make. It’s like realising your rest day full of restful activities like meditation, yoga, pilates… isn’t restful anymore because you’re running from one session to the next, to the next. You are an awesome multi-tasking superwoman and sometimes that awesome also comes from knowing what not to do. Less is more.
Not washing your face so much does great things for your skin health for these 4 reasons…
1. Wash Your Face Too Much & You Change Your Skin’s pH
Ok, so I have your back here – pH, huh? What is that? Your skin, dear friend, has a few parameters that are like the factory settings on your smart phone. Thing is, we don’t have one of those handy reset buttons to take us back to soft as a baby’s bottom skin. Instead we have to show skin a lot of love and respect to keep those parameters within healthy.
Your skin pH is one of these.
Skin pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity. It’s a measuring ruler that goes from 0-14, with 0 being stingier than stingy (acidic) lemon juice in the eye, 7 being neutral (and about the pH of water) and 14 being the most alkaline, something like bleach.
Your skin pH is not neutral. Your skin pH rests somewhere between 4.2-5.5… meaning it’s actually acidic.
When your skin is in a happy place, it’s pH will be resting comfortably within this bracket. A healthy skin pH keeps bacteria and viruses out and also helps to lock hydration in.
Here’s the kicker. Water has a pH of 7, hard water has a pH of >8.5 and many face washes and cleansers have pH levels way above 10 (e.g. this paper shows Johnson’s baby oat soap has a pH >12)
Wash your face and you upset your skin’s pH. It’s like adding cold water into a hot bath.
Wash your face once and studies show your skin’s pH will return to normal within a few hours. Wash your face more than once a day with a strong cleanser regimentally for months and that recovery time gets longer and longer. Instead of taking 2 hours to recover, your skin could be taking the whole day. The result – dry, irritated, dull looking skin.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 10 April 2017
What should you do to help keep your skin’s pH healthy? The quickest advice, is you guessed it… stop washing your face so much. Most people, without thinking, wash their face once in the evening and then once again in the morning. Washing your face in the evening makes a lot of sense. If you wear make-up it removes it before sleeping and if you don’t it removes daily SPF and pollution build-up. Then, without thinking about it, we somehow also add in a second wash of skin in the morning. Skip this second wash.
2. Wash Your Face Too Much & You Disrupt Your Skin’s Delicate Microflora
We’ve learnt a lot about gut health in the last few decades, most specifically that a healthy gut has a loving community of friendly bacteria. One side of the coin doesn’t exist without the other. If you have hot, you also have cold. If you have happy, you also have sad… and, if you have bad bacteria that cause stomach upsets, you also have good bacteria that help to protect against them.
Scientists are slowly learning that skin has the exact same community. Sometimes called a microflora and sometimes called a microbiome. However you hear it, it means the same thing – a balanced tribe of skin healthy bacteria.
When your skin’s tribe of bacteria are in the right pecking order, your skin is healthy. Each bacteria knows its place, does its thing and loves its neighbour.
When your skins tribe of bacteria are upset, your skin health takes a little dive.
Let’s take a look at a specific example… there’s a certain strain of bacteria naturally present on everyone’s skins and it goes by the name of Propionibacterium acnes or p.acnes for short. Healthy skin types have a relatively small population of Propionibacterium acnes, these are bottom of the pecking order kinda guys. However when given the opportunity to thrive and grow, they cause all sorts of havoc, namely and most obviously redness and inflammation, can you take a guess at what that looks like? Spots, pimples and acne.
The science is still learning here. When it comes to your skin microflora we don’t have all the answers… yet. What we do know is that over-washing causes damage to skin and that damaged skin picks up bad bacteria fast.
What should you do to help keep your skin’s microflora healthy? Wash your face less. It’s also a good idea to use mild cleansers in replacement for strong, SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) containing ones. Something like, DHC Deep Cleansing Oil £11.00/70ml or First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser £14.00/140ml.
3. Wash Your Face Too Much & You Disturb Your Skin’s Ability to Stay Hydrated
Here’s a little fact not many people know, the top layers of your skin are all oil based. Think about it, when water falls onto your skin, it repels off right?… it beads up and trickles downwards. It acts exactly as a raincoat would. Your skins only able to do this because its top layers are oil based and water and oil don’t mix aka, they don’t like each other. They’re like Batman and the Joker.
Being oil based means your skin’s existing hydration levels get locked in and pesky diluting ones (like rain) get locked out… until you wash your face.
Traditional face washes are like mediators. They sit Batman and the Joker down to participate in some good ol’ counselling. While the two are together, they get mixed up and washed away.
Here’s how it works. Traditional cleansers contain ingredients called surfactants. Ever heard of SLS or sodium lauryl sulphate? Well, that’s just one type of surfactant… it’s also a very strong one. To claim membership to the surfactant family, an ingredient has to have the ability to make oil and water love each other. Usually, oily stuff loves oily stuff and watery stuff loves watery stuff. They seek each other out and remain separated from their arch-nemesis. However, when a surfactant turns up, in one hand it grabs water and in the other hand, it grabs oil. They’re mixed together with no questions asked.
This can be bad news for your skin. Wash your face too much and your skin’s natural oil base is washed away. Without it, skin loses hydration quickly. This is the defining feature of a dry skin type, it lacks in natural protective oils.
What should you do to help keep your skin’s oil balance healthy? Wash your face less. Use mild cleansers and even rotate out for oil-only cleansers like our Honesty Protect Nourishing Cleanse Balm £15.00/90ml (which just received the Beauty Shortlist Editors Choice award – exciting!) or the The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser £40/75ml. Oil only cleansers work with your skin’s natural biology. They dissolve away makeup with ease and can never snatch away too many of your skins natural oils. That’s a scientific fact.
4. Wash Your Face Too Much & You Cause Yourself Skin Irritation
…and that irritation doesn’t always rear itself as itchy irritation. Before reaching that peek, skin irritation shows as redness, inflammation and flaky skin… and even before getting here, skin can be irritated and just be ‘lack-lustre’ i.e. your skin is being tugged in a different direction to healthy and that means it cannot reach peek glowyness.
Washing your face too often, changes all those factory setting parameters we’ve been chin-wagging about, as well as inserting something else into the matrix. Think of your skin like a wall, skin cells are the bricks and your skin’s natural oils are the mortar. Because surfactants are very good at dissolving into everything, they also dissolve into your skins oily mortar. Ever seen a bird nesting in an old flint stone wall? That’s kinda like what a surfactant can do. It can wiggle its way into your skin mortar, poking holes along the way.
After you wash your face with a strong cleanser, some surfactant residue can be left behind. These nesting surfactant molecules/birds, lodge themselves in-between your skin cells, increasing your skin’s permeability and resulting in loss of hydration, irritation and poor skin health.
When dermatologists and scientists want to test the skin-soothing ability of a new cream, they purposefully pre-irritate skin by using strongly cleansing surfactants like SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate). Traditional face washes contain traditionally strong surfactants like SLS. Therefore wash your face too often and you’ll be giving yourself a good ol’ dose of skin irritation.
What should you do to help keep your skin soothed and healthy? Wash your face less, pro-actively switching out strongly cleansing washes for gently acting alternatives.
How often do you wash your face? What do you use? Wondering whether there are mild, gentle surfactants in your pick? Tell me what you use below and we’ll take a look together…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.