I knew better than to fall for claims of achieving post-facial “glow” and “radiance” when I booked an appointment at my go-to spa downtown. I just wanted a little refreshing, and perhaps a suggestion for a new product or two that might lead me to those adjectives over time, even as the passage of time itself would increase their elusivity. I never expected, though, to emerge from under the esthetician’s gaze with a regimen so completely counterintuitive to how nearly every girl–every person–is taught to care for their skin: Stop washing your face.
Let me back up a few steps. I was then in my early twenties with fairly few skin complaints. Miraculously, my complexion isn’t marked by scars from the horrendous acne I had for about 12 years growing up, and if looking at the faces of my mother and aunts is an indicator of my genetic future I don’t expect to be blessed with wrinkles anytime soon. My facial appointment was not, then, to treat but mostly to learn and improve my skin care routine, which in my quest to minimize my makeup had taken a top priority. I explained to the esthetician my skin’s history–from those years of super oily to my current state of balanced/combination–as she nodded and gestured for me to lay back under the blinding lamp. As she worked, she confirmed that my face didn’t seem to require any special treatments other than regular sun protection and moisturizing, which are the best way to prevent premature ageing and other issues.
“What about a good cleanser?” I asked, knowing I was just about to finish what was currently in my vanity.
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about what you wash with. Make it gentle. I actually rarely wash my face. You might try that too if you want to even out any imbalance in dryness/oiliness; just once a day is enough to remove your makeup. Then rinse with warm water in the morning, and you’ll be fine.”
What? My head did a little somersault as I visualized the bottles of scrubs and cleansers and purifiers and drying agents I’d diligently rubbed over my face twice a day for years. I’d almost memorized the list of ingredients that were “good” for me: benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, any kind of alcohol. To beat the pimples I’d come to identify with, I had to lather, rinse, and repeat to dry out my pores as much as possible, and keep them that way to prevent a recurrence.
After I recovered from my shock, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying a no-wash week (including the need to restock my face wash for a little while longer). This resulted in another shock because…it worked.
Not washing my face has been one of my claims to a healthy, close-to-glowing complexion for the past several years. That’s not to say, though, that cleansing isn’t important. Removing makeup, as well as the environmental gunk that assaults the skin whenever you step outside no matter where you live, is required to prevent the build-up of toxins and bacteria that can lead to acne and blackheads. And anyone who’s come home late from a night out simply too tired to wash off her smoky eyes knows what a disaster you can wake up to when products, especially ones with synthetic ingredients, seep too long into the skin.
Instead of focusing on stripping skin of what’s on the surface, it’s better to consider cleansing as a recalibration process: a bringing back to nature rather than removing. Dermatologists agree that picking a cleanser that’s not too drying, not too moisturizing is key to your cleanest skin; i.e., a formula that’s juuuust right, and suitable to your normal state, rather than one you might think you need instead.
As the summer months approach, and along with them more sweat, stickiness, and sunblock, I did an inventory of my favorite ways to wash depending on the kind of clean I need. For everyday, I turn to Pacifica’s Sea Foam Complete Face Wash, which combines coconut water, papaya, and sea algae to balance oil, soften, gently exfoliate, and brighten. A pea-sized amount is enough to lather my entire face and is great for focusing around my hairline after exercise. My face feels “clean” but not tight, including from the slightly beachy scent of the wash itself.
When I come home at the end of a normal day, not necessarily post-exercise, I will often wash my face right away with Burt’s Bees Cleansing Oil. Although I tend to be somewhat sensitive to coconut oil, this formula (which also features argan oil) doesn’t irritate my skin or leave it greasy. Instead, the oil itself breaks down makeup and other debris, and then allows it to be washed away without removing any of skin’s existing oil. Spritzing a rose water toner on after the oil cleanser helps achieve that “clean” feeling.
One thing I’ll be increasing in my skin care routine during the summer is the frequency of exfoliation. Toxins aren’t the only thing that are important to remove at the end of the day: dead skin cells are also building up over time, and so a gentle sloughing is essential to having balanced and clear skin. You don’t need to break out the sandpaper to do so, though. Harsh exfoliants like walnut shells (I’m talking to you, St. Ives) will actually do more damage to skin than help it; similarly, microbeads touted for their cleansing abilities are extremely harmful to the environment. Instead, I scrub with something good enough to eat: the maize flour and popcorn found in LUSH’s Let the Good Times Roll cleanser. It’s both moisturizing and exfoliating, so I don’t have to sacrifice a deep clean for hydration (or scent–this stuff’s smell is literally addictive…).
Get ready for some good clean fun this summer–and wash up!