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Somehow, double cleansing went from the realm of skin care super fans to the everyday lives of, well, everyone.

But what is double cleansing? Why should you bother adding an extra step to your routine? And is it really for everyone?

Keep reading for all the answers to your burning questions.

Double cleansing is as simple as it sounds. It involves thoroughly washing your face with two cleansers.

The only catch is that the cleansers need to be two different types to have the desired effect.

The first is usually an oil-based cleanser. This is followed up by a water-based one.

However, it’s possible to double cleanse with two regular cleansers if oils aren’t right for you.

Why do you need to use two cleansers? Well, here’s where the types matter.

An oil-based cleanser is designed to remove oil-based impurities, including makeup, sunscreen, sebum, and pollution.

By getting rid of this stuff first, the second water-based cleanser can really work its way into the skin, removing the likes of grime and sweat.

Not only is a double cleanse meant to give a more thorough cleanse, but it can also revitalize dull skin and allow other skin care products to penetrate more effectively.

Double cleansing isn’t a necessity, but certain skin types may find it to be more worthwhile than others.

Take people with oily skin. Two gentle formulas are generally a better way to combat excess oil than one strong formula that could leave skin feeling too dry.

Acne-prone individuals may also want to gently double cleanse to help remove the bacteria that can lead to breakouts.

Finally, the technique can be useful for those who wear heavy makeup.

Japan and Korea are the founding fathers of double cleansing.

According to reports, Japanese geishas used cleansing oils followed by a foamy cleanser to remove their white makeup.

The technique also became popular as part of the Korean 10-step skin care regime, which has migrated into Western culture in recent years.

Whether you pick a cleansing oil or oil-based balm followed by a gel, lotion, or cream, the method is the same.

Apply the oil-based cleanser to your palm, and use your fingers to gently massage it into your skin using circular motions for around a minute.

Don’t forget the area around the eyes and the hairline. Oil-based cleansers should be fine to remove eye makeup as long as they’re free from fragrance.

When it comes to rinsing, use either a washcloth or your hands and lukewarm water to avoid dehydration.

Oil-based cleansers that contain an emulsifier are typically easier to remove, as the oil combines with water to create a milky-type substance.

Ready for the second cleanser? Keep your skin damp and apply the water-based formula in exactly the same way as before.

You shouldn’t need to use a lot — just a dollop that’ll nicely cover your face.

Once the minute is up, rinse off with lukewarm water and pat skin dry with a soft towel.

Remember to read the instructions on product labels and amend your technique to suit.

It’s common to only double cleanse at night. After all, this is the time when skin is likely to be covered in makeup and grime.

But you can adopt the technique in the mornings, too, as sebum can be produced while you sleep.

Pick a frequency that suits your lifestyle, and try to stick to it daily for the best results.

If you forget to double cleanse one morning or evening, don’t panic. Just pick it back up again the next day.

The cleansers you choose all depend on your skin type. But there are a few general rules to stick to.

Avoid cleansers containing sulfates, which can strip natural oils, or potentially irritating ingredients like fragrance and alcohol.

And examine the pH level of products. The skin’s average pH level is around 5, so try to find a cleanser with a similar level to keep things balanced.

Here are a few recommendations for each skin type.

If you have normal skin

Normal skin types don’t have to worry about a particular concern, though it’s still best to opt for moisturizing or creamy formulas.

Try Tatcha’s Camellia Cleansing Oil and Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel Cleanser.

Shop for Tatcha’s Camellia Cleansing Oil and Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel Cleanser online.

If you have dry or sensitive skin

No matter the product, people with dry or sensitive skin should always look for a gentle, nonirritating formula.

A neutral pH level can help ensure skin isn’t dried out further, and ingredients such as jojoba oil and shea butter can help with hydration.

Avène’s XeraCalm Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil is formulated especially for dry or easily irritated skin, while Clarins’ Gentle Foaming Cleanser is designed to nourish.

Shop for Avène’s XeraCalm Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil and Clarins’ Gentle Foaming Cleanser online.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin

Stick to lightweight cleansers designed to regulate oil production.

For acne specifically, pay special attention to products containing anti-inflammatory ingredients such as vitamin E and glycolic acid.

Blackhead-fighting polyhydroxy acids can be found in Hanskin’s Pore Cleansing Oil. For the second cleanse, try Garnier’s Shine Control Cleansing Gel.

Shop for Hanskin’s Pore Cleansing Oil and Garnier’s Shine Control Cleansing Gel online.

If you have combination skin

People with combo skin types need to look for cleansers that’ll avoid oiliness but won’t leave skin feeling dry.

Choose a rich, oil-based cleanser containing moisturizing ceramides, followed by a revitalizing foaming cleanser.

Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil offers a lightweight way to hydrate skin and keep oil at bay. Cetaphil’s Gentle Foaming Cleanser simultaneously cleans and softens.

Shop for Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil and Cetaphil’s Gentle Foaming Cleanser online.

As soon as you’re done with the double cleanse, you’ll need to seal in moisture before getting on with the rest of your skin care regime.

In the morning, follow up with a good quality moisturizer and sunscreen.

At nighttime, choose between hydrating serums, oils, and night creams, or a combination.

It’ll probably take around a week for you to notice the benefits of double cleansing, whether that’s a brighter complexion, fewer breakouts, or simply cleaner-feeling skin.

But if you’ve been trying the technique for a while with no visible change, consider investing in different products.

Still nothing? There are a few alternative methods. Try:

  • cleansing with a cloth or gentle cleansing brush instead of your hands
  • double cleansing with the same cleanser instead of two different ones
  • returning to your regular one-cleanse routine

Still unsure if double cleansing is worth your time and effort? Here are a few more important details.

Isn’t it time-consuming?

You may actually find you put in less effort with a double cleanse, as you don’t have to work as hard with each product.

Plus, you’ll probably only spend an extra minute all in all.

Do you need to double cleanse if you don’t wear makeup?

First of all, no one has to double cleanse. But it isn’t just beneficial for makeup wearers.

Oil-based cleansers get rid of sunscreen and other oily substances that naturally build up on the skin.

Once these are gone, the second cleanser doesn’t have to fight through an extra layer of impurities.

Won’t an oil cleanser cause breakouts?

This is a common misconception, according to some experts.

They say that oil plus oil doesn’t create more oil, pointing out that cleansing oils can remove pore-clogging substances that may lead to breakouts.

However, there’s little research to back this up, and the American Academy of Dermatology advises people with oily skin to avoid oil-based cleansers.

Is it possible to over-wash your skin?

Yes, and it’s easily noticeable, as skin is likely to show signs of dryness or irritation.

However, with the right cleansers and technique, double cleansing shouldn’t harm the skin.

Ensure you gently massage the skin, rather than harshly rubbing it, and stick to a nighttime double cleanse if you feel twice a day is too much.

Certain skin types should look out for specific over-washing signs.

People with dry skin will obviously notice further dryness, but oily skin types may notice their skin becomes oilier and more prone to breakouts.

Inflammation may occur in those who have acne.

There’s no harm in getting on board with double cleansing.

Remember: Gentle is the keyword, whether that’s the formula of your cleansers or the technique you use.

And if you really can’t be bothered, then don’t. A single cleanse may be just as effective when done properly.


Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.