Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Can Over Washing Your Face Cause Acne? April 4, 2010

For some reason the idea exists that if you over wash your face – that is wash your face too many times during the day or use a cleanser that leaves your face feeling “squeaky clean” – your body will begin to  produce more oil and you will get more acne.  Now if this was true – how would there be anyone with dry skin?  And since there are many people who have dry skin obviously there must be another explanation here for this theory.

The issue here isn’t over washing your face.  The issue is really balance.  It is actually quite easy to over wash your face so it is important to find the right cleanser for your skin type.  You never want to use a cleanser that consistently makes your face feel dry and tight.  And that “squeaky clean” feeling?  You never want that feeling when it comes to washing your face.

Over washing your face can lead to irritation and redness.  Over washing your face breaks down the very top layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, and that leads to bacteria entering your skin since your skin can no longer protect itself.  More bacteria can mean more acne.  Over washing your skin can lead to excessive dryness which in turn can cause inflammation.  Since acne is an inflammatory disease more inflammation can lead to more acne.

(Please see my earlier posts What Causes Acne? and How Acne Forms for more in-depth information about acne.)

I do think that cleansers that contain additional, active ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or glycolic acid can be beneficial for the skin – in moderation.  At the first sign of flaking, irritation, dryness, or redness take a break from using such a cleanser.  In my opinion only teenagers or young adults with moderate to severe acne should and can use a cleanser with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide twice a day.  Remember – the cell turnover rate for a teenager and young adult is very high so their body is constantly shedding and producing new skin cells. As such cleansers with added active ingredients are less likely to cause them irritation and more likely to help their skin. 

Once you are in your mid-20s and certainly once you are in your 30s I recommend using a mild cleanser on a daily basis.  (For more information about how to wash your face see my previous post – Is There A Correct Way To Wash Your Face?)  If you suffer from breakouts I do think it is a good idea to have a cleanser with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide on hand to use once or twice during the week or a few times a month.  You can definitely have a cleanser with glycolic acid on hand to use twice a week or so to exfoliate, as long as you aren’t using other products with AHA or a retinol. 


It’s all about balance


You want to clean your face without drying it out or irritating it.  You can still remove all your make-up, extra oil, and dirt from your face without stripping your face of its needed protective barrier.  Keep in mind that healthy skin is soft, moist, and slight acidic.  Over washing your face will upset that “ideal” balance.  So when it comes to washing your face – less is definitely more.


Recommended Mild Cleansers





5 Responses to “Can Over Washing Your Face Cause Acne?”

  1. Janice Says:

    I am a teenager with oily skin and it gets extremely uncomfortable several hours after washing my face as the oil surfaces.
    What if I wash my face four times a day, using a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil for Oily Skin to remove that oil build up? Also, that oily layer is a magnet for dust, dirt and bacteria; especially with hair falling on the face that encourages the spread of pore-clogging debris. Thus leaving the oil there may actually cause more pimples than overwashing it.
    Would it be more harmful or beneficial? Thank you I am really desperate

    • I am sorry to hear that you are suffering so much from your oily skin. I would suggest seeing a doctor immediately in order to get a version of Retin-A to use nightly. When used regularly Retin-A will help control your skin’s oil production. In the meantime, carry blotting papers with you to use during the day. There are many more oil control products on the market. For more information see my previous post – Shine Free:

    • Diane Says:

      Hi Janice,
      I have had oily skin for years due to my proactiv drying out my skin and making my body produce more oil to compensate for the amount taken away. But the proactiv worked and I just had oily skin which I didn’t mind. Until about a year ago when I graduated from H.S. and decided to change to a different cleansing wash (BIG MISTAKE!) I also had chronic stress which attributed to alot. But anyway I started breaking out with horrible acne which I have never had acne so I was devastated. So I started over and for your oily skin I would HIGHLY suggest witch hazel (I use dickinsons and the alcohol in it is 100% natural). It has done wonders! Everytime you feel oily rub some WH on and your good to go. It doesn’t remove essential oils and doesnt cause you to produce more oil. It also cleanses at the same time! I would cleanse with a wash at night and put some WH on then let dry and follow it up with a moisturizer. Then in the morning just rub some WH on let dry and follow with a OIL FREE moisturizer. hope this helps!

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