Cleansing both morning and night is something a lot of us do without really questioning why. It’s the start of every good skincare routine, and a part of daily life just as much as brushing your teeth. It leaves you with a squeaky-clean, fresh-feeling complexion that’s perfectly prepped for serums and moisturisers.
The evening cleanse is a no-brainer if you wear make-up, too—doing the job of lifting away dirt, pollution and oils that accumulate on the skin during the day. But with “skinimalism” (cutting down on unnecessary products and steps in your routine) on the rise, and an increased focus on protecting and reinforcing the delicate skincare barrier, is cleansing in the morning really necessary? Particularly if you do a very thorough cleanse before bed and change your pillowcases regularly, does your face really need to be washed again, or have we all just become obsessed with cleanliness?
A few months ago, more than 3.3 million people watched a TikTok video in which US-based aesthetician @nicolecarolineskin declared, simply: “Don’t wash your face in the morning. Unless you have acne, please stop doing it. Thank you.” Chaos ensued. In a follow-up video, responding to the extensive debate her viral clip had sparked, she clarified that “cleansing too much strips your skin of its natural barrier, it disrupts your acid mantle, and it disrupts your skin’s natural microbiome”, and added, “If you double cleanse properly at night… you can just rinse in the morning with cool water.”
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Dr Anita Sturnham MD founded skincare brand Decree as a way to demystify the often-confusing beauty industry for consumers. Products are each clearly labelled with either AM or PM—or both—including a Light Cleanse AM Cream Cleanser developed specifically for morning use. While Sturnham is critical of over-cleansing, too, she maintains that a morning cleanse is nonetheless crucial for healthy skin.
“Your morning cleanse should be light, hydrating and balancing. A good cleanser at this time of day is an essential ‘prep’ step, to get your skin in a good place. Your skin has a vital job, acting as a ‘shield’ against the environment,” she tells us. “This cleanse also removes remnants of pore-clogging overnight skincare, excess oil and debris that may have accumulated overnight. When skin is cleansed, your day serum will penetrate deeper and work more effectively, too.”
While a healthy barrier is important to keep skin looking and feeling its best, Sturnham believes that a good cleanser will support rather than hinder that, and that it’s actually incorrect cleansing that causes issues to arise.
“The biggest issues I see are people over-cleansing their skin by performing steps such as double cleansing, scrubbing away brillo-pad style, overdoing it with facial brushes and using harsh, exfoliative cleansers,” she says. “Over-cleansing can obliterate the protective layer called the epidermis, leading to redness, dryness, and sensitivity.”
What you’re looking for, then, is a cleanser light enough for morning use, ideally with some barrier-boosting ingredients for good measure. Sturnham recommends avoiding foaming cleansers that are rich in sulphates, which can be drying, and seeking out hydrators such as rosewater, aloe and algae extracts. While your evening cleanser needs to be powerful enough to remove make-up, SPF and more, this morning cleanser is more a gentle refresh for your complexion.
Consultant dermatologist Dr Emma Craythorne says it’s important to bear your skin type in mind when choosing, too. “For morning, I always recommend a gentle product that will cleanse, but has effective barrier control ingredients to avoid drying out or irritating the skin—SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser Cream is great for this,” she says. “For some patients I like synthetic detergent bars, for others with a tendency to acne I like cleansers with salicylic acid in, and for others they must be creamy cleansers with glycerine, ceramides or hyaluronic acid. Once you’ve ascertained your skin type, this will narrow down the options.”
And if any sort of reaction occurs, just stop. “There is no such thing as your skin ‘getting used to a cleanser’,” warns Craythorne. Instead, it’s all about a go-to everyday formula that leaves your skin happy, healthy and hydrated, and that’s all.
“I do think generally skincare has become overcomplicated to the point of being confusing,” she adds. “The aim is to understand you skin and then find the right cleanser, and stick with it.”
Shop some of the best morning-ready cleansers, below.
Elemis Superfood Cica Calm Cleansing Foam
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser
Fresh Soy Face Cleanser
The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Cleanser
Malin+Goetz Grapefruit Face Cleanser
Mario Badescu Gentle Foaming Cleanser
This story originally appeared on British Vogue.