For the last six months, my skin-care routine involved cleansing my face three times a day. I figured more washes would lead to clearer skin (I mean, wouldn’t you?!), but when I shared this information with an esthetician and a dermatologist, they had one thing to say: Stop that. Right now. Turns out, too much washing can lead to a dry, irritated complexion, and pros recommend limiting washes to once, maybe twice (depending on your skin type) a day, max. News to me!
With that in mind, I was told that my a.m. cleanse should be the first one to go. “As you sleep, you don’t have much grease, bacteria, or sebum that builds up, which are the things that you need to remove to prevent breakouts,” says Aegean Chan, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Santa Barbara. While she recommends sticking with a gentle cleanser in the morning, Tiara Willis, an esthetician and content creator, takes things one step further and suggests simply using a splash of water in lieu of any type of cleanser at all.
“Think of why we wash our face: it rinses things out,” says Willis. “But your skin heals at night. It’s not out and about collecting bacteria, which is why you can get away with just using a splash of water in the morning.”
Armed with this new knowledge, I decided to embark on a two-week skin-care journey, leaving behind my morning cleanser and instead just using a splash of lukewarm water. Read on to see how it went.
Preparing to ditch my cleanser
Unbeknownst to me, I was overdoing it with my facial cleansing. I was washing my face as soon as I woke up (approximately 7:30 a.m.), after running (usually about 11:30 a.m.), and before going to bed (usually around midnight). Per Willis’s recommendation, I committed to changing things up so that I was rinsing my face with only water (instead of using a cleanser) during that first, pre-8 a.m. morning skin-care session. Then, I planned to wash my face as usual after my workout and again before bed.
Before starting the experiment, my biggest questions were all about water temperature. Is super-hot water the best option for breaking down oil and bacteria? Or does icy-cold work best because it adds a little energy jolt first thing in the morning? Turns out, the answer is… “neither.”
“The issue with really hot water is that it’s going to dry out your skin—it’s going to take out all those natural oils, so you don’t want to use water that’s too hot,” says Willis. “And you don’t want to use water that’s too cold because it won’t be effective in cutting through any of the oil or sebum.” (FWIW: Dr. Chan “doesn’t see a problem” with using ice-cold water if you’d prefer to go that route). I took the happy medium and decided to use lukewarm water for my a.m. splash.
The pros predicted that I would see results within two weeks of starting the experiment. Since I would no longer be over-cleansing—which Willis says can “strip your face of your oils and impact your skin barrier, potentially leading to irritation, sensitivity, and breakouts”—she predicted that my skin would improve. Dr. Chan has a similar forecast: “I suspect that if you replace your morning cleanser with just a splash of water, you may notice you might not need to use as much moisturizer. Or maybe you can switch to a lighter one.”
Let’s just say these two are experts for a reason (or they have some sort of skin-care crystal ball), because their predictions were pretty much spot on.
What happened when I washed my face with water for 2 weeks
Before getting into the nitty gritty, it’s worth noting that I have non-reactive skin. It doesn’t overproduce oil, but it does sometimes feel a little oily in my T-zone. I’m also not acne-prone, but—like clockwork—I get hormonal acne when I’m menstruating.
With that in mind, I was a bit scared to embark on this two-week journey because I felt like I would inevitably break out if I stopped cleansing in the morning. Willis quickly corrected my erroneous thinking and reminded me that ceasing the over-cleansing would be good for my skin barrier.
On day one, I didn’t observe a big difference, which is to be expected in the early stages of any skin-care experiment. It wasn’t until about day five that I realized my skin was holding onto a bit more oil—which I hadn’t even realized I needed until I noticed my complexion looking slightly dewier. By the middle of the experiment, which was around day 10, I got a “Wow, your skin looks amazing—did you do anything to it?” from my boss.
Clearly, my skin was grateful that I’d stopped washing it in the morning, and the moist, radiant glow it started giving off was its way of thanking me.
The benefits didn’t stop there, though. Most notably, I didn’t get any new pimples throughout this test run—a minor miracle considering that I’m majorly prone to hormonal acne and was starting my period going into week two. I also observed that my skin no longer had a tightness to it, which I had been struggling with during these colder winter months. Lastly, on a non-skincare note, swapping a full-on cleanse with a two-second splash gave me more time in the morning, and that’s a big win for me because I perpetually run five to 10 minutes late.
Needless to say, I will absolutely be continuing this practice long past the experiment’s expected end date. Not only am I saving product, time, and water, but I’m also keeping my barrier intact—which is one of my top priorities. Simply put, the only way I see myself reverting to using a cleanser in the morning is if I forget to wash my face the night before.