Do I always have to wash my face at night? Ask The Kit (2023)

“Is it really such a darn big deal to not wash your face every night? I’m so wiped after a long day of work and parenting and chores that by the time I get ready for bed every night a skin care ritual feels impossible. I make this a resolution every year, but I ditch it by the end of the month. Can you give me either motivation to do it, or a good excuse not to, please? — Amy, Mimico

I’m writing this response to you, Amy, with my own face not yet washed to start the day, which is also the same face I cooked and ate dinner with last night. By the time dishes were done for a table of eight, and the kids were busy setting up the firepit and card games and Netflix viewing station, I had grabbed my old dog and crawled into bed without passing the sink basin. I’m not afraid to admit it is not the first time that has happened, but I wear very little makeup so I always think, who could I be hurting? Stay tuned, because I was surprised by the answer to that question.

There is really only one expert I would go to for the definitive answer for you here and that is Toronto dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, who literally wrote the book on this subject. Her 2018 skin care bible has won her fans and celebrity around the globe, and the text has been translated into multiple languages (most recently, she is big in Russia).

“Beyond Soap: The Real Truth about What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It to Get a Beautiful, Healthy Glow” explains — in an unexpectedly enjoyable, readable, practical manner — how the way we care for our skin is damaging our barrier layer (the skin is the largest organ in the body, after all) and screwing around with the microbiome that keeps skin in a healthy balance. Skotnicki is also great on the subject of the industrial personal-care-product marketing machine we’ve all been manipulated by: we’ve been made to believe we are dirty and require multi-product bathing and facial care rituals, when we really don’t.

You do need to read the book for its nuance, but the short takeaway is that the solution to a vast array of skin sensitivities and reactions is simply to use less product (especially detergents) and fragrance, and to go for the simplest formulations. There are lots of things Skotnicki does recommend and we’ve picked her brain for a few great washing-up examples at right in our Shop the Advice guide.

Here are the straight goods: you do need to wash your skin at nighttime. It’s in the morning that you could, and probably should, skip this step. But there is a great shortcut for us lazy/pooped folks, so keep reading!

“You don’t do anything to your skin at night,” said Skotnicki, “so why would you wash in the morning? It is important to wash the skin at night,” she said. “We need to remove all the stuff we’ve put on our face during the day: makeup, sunscreen, and the other thing we need to address is pollution.”

This is a biggie and an emerging area of research, said Skotnicki. The past 20 or so years, the messaging from scientists and doctors has been about the damage sun can do to our skin and the importance of wearing SPF religiously, but it isn’t the only thing that can harm skin.

“Pollution can damage your skin and lead to premature aging,” Skotnicki said. She points to some recent studies from the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany, which show air pollution (traffic is a huge contributor) contains tiny particles, nitrogen dioxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chemicals that can cause pigmentation issues (“age spots”) and wrinkles.

What else can happen if you don’t wash your skin at night? “If you have comedogenic skin, or acne-prone skin, you may clog your pores.” It’s as simple and logical as that. In fact, Skotnicki’s whole book is logical and intuitive, albeit with all her assertions backed by science, a combination that makes her messaging so resonant.

“Clean is different than a stripped face,” said Skotnicki. “You don’t need five steps, or a double cleanse and a scrub! You just want a clean base if you are putting on nighttime cream or lotion or cosmeceuticals.” If you have sensitive skin, you can use a cream cleanser, she said. “Then if you don’t feel everything is removed — if you have used chalky sunscreen, for instance, or three layers of primers or glitter — use a micellar water.”

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Skotnicki admits some people will feel they need a foam cleanser, especially in the summer, but they aren’t her top choice (again, it’s about stripping the skin of its barrier function and upsetting the apple cart of the microbiome). She does have praise for micellar waters, which cleanse without actual water (which has a drying effect).

“It’s an urban myth out there” — social media, Dr. Skotnicki is looking at you!—“that micellar waters leave soap on the skin.” Though she says it’s true, they’re not all created equal and she recommends the OG micellar water by Bioderma.

“Follow the science,” she said. “They tested that! It doesn’t leave soap on the skin!” It also removes makeup and impurities without disturbing the skin barrier. So the bottom line is if there is no way you’re going to get to the sink to do a proper wash, a swipe with a cotton pad and micellar water is a pretty dependable life choice.

If you’re going the cleanser route, Skotnicki recommends Biologique Recherche Lait VIP 02 Cleanser, a unique product you “lather” into skin and remove with a damp cotton pad. “It’s pH balanced,” she said, “and works well specifically to remove environmental impurities and irritants.” Another top choice is Avène Cleansing Lotion and for the foaming fans out there, the perennial winner is CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, the well-priced classic formulation beloved by dermatologists everywhere.

As far as moisturizers go, Skotnicki said, “There are so many!” We can talk about star ingredients, but what you need to know is what makes a good moisturizer. It has to have three things: a humectant (glycerin or hyaluronic acid), to draw water into the outer layer of skin, plus emollients to lock moisture in and occlusives to form a protective barrier. “A good moisturizer has all three and not much else.”

Fragrance, she said, is personal preference, and both natural and synthetic fragrances can be an irritant, so if you have sensitive skin just say no to pretty smells.

The larger problem, said Skotnicki, is society’s promotion of guilt and shame around the idea of “being clean enough.” Look, “if you miss cleansing your skin at night periodically, your skin isn’t going to die.” Nevertheless, in the time it took me to write this, I have cleansed my morning face twice, with micellar water and with a lotion cleanser. To make up for last night. Better late than never! Cheers to a new year of great skin habits for all!

Send your pressing fashion and beauty questions to Leanne at ask@thekit.ca.

Shop the advice

The simple rule is that nighttime cleansing is more important than morning cleansing. But when you do cleanse, go for gentle choices to protect your barrier layer and its delicately balanced microbiome. Here are some gentle face wash options, both rinse-off and leave-on, to take for a spin

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water, $20, well.ca SHOP HERE

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Do I always have to wash my face at night? Ask The Kit (1)

Bioderma is the OG micellar water, the first one to market (back in 1995), and highly tested in the intervening years. European women swear by this stuff. If you haven’t tried micellar water, you just apply some to a cotton pad and wipe away the makeup and dirt and oil and environmental impurities. No rinsing. It is that easy, so there really is not excuse not to cleanse at night.

Biologique Recherche Lait VIP 02 Cleanser, $73, one2oneonline.com SHOP HERE

Do I always have to wash my face at night? Ask The Kit (2)

A fabulous splurge, this brightening cleansing milk eliminates impurities, calms and hydrates the skin. Massage onto face and remove with a damp cotton pad. Feels really quite luxe, a great way to motivate you to cleanse before bed.

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, $21, shoppersdrugmart.ca SHOP HERE

Do I always have to wash my face at night? Ask The Kit (3)

If you really feel better with a foam face wash, this perennial dermatologist’s pick for cleansing gets everything off your skin without disrupting the skin barrier.

Avène Tolérance Extremely Gentle Cleanser, $30, shoppersdrugmart.ca SHOP HERE

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Do I always have to wash my face at night? Ask The Kit (4)

Another no-rinse cleanser, this one has a gel texture and no fragrance, for sensitive skin.

Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide Hydrating Moisturizer, $45, shoppersdrugmart.ca SHOP HERE

Do I always have to wash my face at night? Ask The Kit (5)

A good simple moisturizer made with tried and true ingredients (also fragrance free), this is another pick from Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, and a cult favourite of beauty fans everywhere.

When you make a purchase through the links in this article, we may earn a small commission. Our journalism is independent and not influenced by advertising. Learn more.

Leanne Delap is a Toronto-based freelance contributor for the Star and The Kit. Reach her via email: leannedelap@hotmail.com

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FAQs

Do I always have to wash my face at night? ›

Tempted to skip washing your face at night? That's not a good idea, says dermatologist Laurie Polis, MD. "Just going overnight without washing your face isn't going to age you five years," Polis says. "It's more of a missed opportunity.

Can I skip a night washing my face? ›

While forgetting to wash your face for one night is unlikely to cause lasting damage to your skin, one night is all it takes to clog pores and cause a breakout. Makeup left on skin overnight can prevent the skin from “breathing,” and can also inhibit the skin's process of repair and regeneration while you sleep.

Can I go without washing my face in the morning? ›

It protects your skin's natural barrier

Your skin works hard all night building its own natural barrier against the world (a layer of helpful oils keeps skin soft), so why strip it all away as soon as you wake up with a face wash? “Washing your face in the morning can strip your natural defense barrier,” says Carlen.

Can I wash my face in the morning instead of night? ›

Both Emer and Zeichner agree that if you're only going to wash your face once a day, nighttime is the best time to do it. "Most dermatologists recommend face-washing twice daily, once in the morning and once before bed," says Zeichner.

Why does my skin look better when I don't wash it? ›

You may be using unnecessary products. "Some people may just not be genetically predisposed to breakouts or may produce less [oil],” says Batra. If that sounds like you, you may actually find your skin looks better when you ditch your cleanser.

How long should I go without washing my face? ›

Dr. Chwalek still recommends that her clients wash their face at least once a day with a gentle cleanser, preferably at night (when your face is coated with a day's worth of dirt).

Can I wash my face with water only? ›

Those with very dry skin or eczema will find that water-cleansing helps to retain the skin's natural moisture. However, persons with oily, acne-prone, or combination skin might need soap or liquid cleanser to dissolve excess oil which often clogs pores and causes breakouts.

Should I wash my face if I stayed home all day? ›

The answer, according to the experts, is a resounding yes. "You should definitely still be cleansing your skin as you normally would," said celebrity aesthetician Toska Husted.

Is washing face once a day enough? ›

How often should you wash your face? No matter your skin type, you want to wash your face at least once a day — in the evening to remove any dirt, makeup, oil, and grime that's built up on your skin throughout the day.

What is the best way to wash your face at night? ›

Use a brush.

Facial cleansing brushes provide a great way to smooth skin, clear pores, remove dead skin, and prevent breakouts. Simply apply your favorite facial cleanser to your face and then gently massage it in with your facial cleansing brush, relaxing your skin and your face as you prepare to go to sleep.

Is it okay if I don't shower one day? ›

Some people don't shower every day. While there's tons of conflicting advice about how often you should shower, this group might have it right. It may sound counterproductive, but a shower every day could be bad for your skin. Some dermatologists only recommend a shower every other day, or two to three times a week.

What happens if you don't wash your face at night? ›

You could experience dryness, breakouts, or dermatitis.

As Dr. Kikam explains, a one-night break from your face wash routine won't cause too much damage, but it is important to rid your skin of dirt before dozing off.

Should I wash my face with cold water? ›

Lukewarm water is advisable to wash your face with, but cold water has its benefits, too. Cold water tightens the appearance of your skin, so it may make you look renewed and refreshed. It also helps boost your circulation, which can help give your skin a healthier appearance, albeit temporarily.

Should I let my skin breathe at night? ›

You should always use a moisturizer at night. Some people avoid using night cream to let their skin breathe, but this is far from the truth. Avoiding using a night cream offers no positive benefit to the skin. When skin is bare, any existing moisturize evaporates right out of it.

Can I use moisturizer without washing my face? ›

As the back of the bottle says, you should always apply moisturizer to clean skin—and for maximum results, shortly after cleansing, before your skin is totally dry. Moisturizers are most effective if you use them while your skin is still damp because damp skin absorbs the product more readily.

Why does my skin look better when I wake up? ›

Do you ever feel your skin looks better in the morning? The reason is often attributed to the fact that your skin gets thicker in the morning, as it prepares to protect against stressors throughout the day. And yet, even at its thickest point, our skin is less than a tenth of an inch thick.

What happens if you skip skincare one night? ›

Without moisturizer, skin can become dry as soon as one missed application, and it might feel tight or itchy, too. It can start to look dull and flaky, and makeup may not apply as smoothly. Hydrated skin can hide fine lines and wrinkles, so without moisturizer your skin might show those more clearly.

What happens if I skip a night of skincare? ›

Not doing so can lead to a host of skin problems like premature aging, clogged pores that may lead to breakouts or large-looking pores (an often overlooked sign of skin aging), and texture changes.

Can I wash my face with just water? ›

Those with very dry skin or eczema will find that water-cleansing helps to retain the skin's natural moisture. However, persons with oily, acne-prone, or combination skin might need soap or liquid cleanser to dissolve excess oil which often clogs pores and causes breakouts.

Is it good to let pimples breathe? ›

“If you pop the pimple, it becomes a micro-wound,” explains Kazin. At this point, it's best to apply a little antibiotic ointment like Neosporin ($6, drugstore.com) at night to help speed up healing. Allowing it to “breathe” during the day without anything on it, if possible, will also help it mend faster.

Why is my skin better when I don't use skincare? ›

"It's because their skin is not meant for the products that they're using, so it's causing irritation and maybe even acne." If your skin-care regimen is giving you anything other than the gorgeous skin you deserve, Dr. Lain suggests taking a few days off from what you've been using and starting back at square one.

Is it good to let your skin breathe without moisturizer? ›

No, you should never avoid using moisturizer in an effort to give your skin a break or let your skin “breathe.” In this post, I'll explain why the consistent use of nighttime moisturizer is critical for hydrated, healthy-looking skin—no matter your skin type!

Should I let my skin breathe? ›

It's very important to let your skin breathe, or go without products for at least a few hours a day,” says Dr. Patel. “A good time would be when working out. Going product-free lets the sweat come out of the pores.”

What comes first in night skin care routine? ›

Nighttime Skincare Routine
  1. Step 1: Cleanser. ...
  2. Step 2: Differin or other acne topical treatment. ...
  3. Step 3: Serum. ...
  4. Step 3: Eye Serum. ...
  5. Step 4: Moisturizer.
6 Jul 2021

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