I'm going to speculate for a second that your face washing routine goes something like this: Mid-way through a shower, you realize there’s a thing you were supposed to do. Pay rent? Buy your name domain on Squarespace? Figure out how to “apologize”? Oh right, it was to wash your face. So you go through the motions. Slap some water on your face, maybe a pea-sized amount of cleanser, more water, boom. Or maybe you add 15 steps to that, double cleanse, exfoliate in three separate ways, and dirty up three wash cloths in the process. Whatever you do, you’ve probably been doing the same thing for months, years, decades.
I am not here to tell you that everything you've ever done is wrong. Live your life, do your thing, I don’t really care tbqh. But I am saying it could probably be better. It’s these small things I strive for, nothing more. So I called Kate Somerville, goddess of face washing and patron saint of exfoliating, to give me some intel. Let’s get to it.
Mistake #1. The Water's Too Damn Hot (Or Too Damn Cold)
“People are kind of lazy” when it comes to water temperature, Somerville told me, though we both know this is a universal truth beyond cleanser. The biggest secret to actually effective face washing is something that costs nothing: steam. Get the water warm-to-hot, but not too hot or you’ll dry out your skin. Use your favorite cleanser to wash, and then—wait for it—use a washcloth to take the cleanser off, allowing a moment for it to sit on your face or problem areas (my nose). Your pores will feel like they've opened up so much they’ll write a memoir. (Sure, maybe pores don't actually open, but it's the feeling—and the softening of sebum—that counts.) My pores had an alcoholic father who gave them a deep distrust of men and Budweiser but it’s all OK now and they found love on a vacation in Peru? I NEVER KNEW THAT BEFORE I STEAMED. Also it will feel nice and relaxing! For super bonus points, finish with a splash of cold water and that will calm everything back down, make your skin feel taut and smooth, and wake you the hell up at 6 a.m.
Ignore all the other tips in this article but this one, and I guarantee you’ll see results.
But please keep reading!!
Mistake #2. Quickie Cleansing
Double the cleanse, double the fun, it’s the right one, Doublemint gum! If you’re taking off a LOT of makeup, which you have every right to wear and happens to be a trend right now, you probably need to double cleanse. No more quickie single cleanse at the end of the day because you don't have the energy.
“I'm seeing crazy acne,” because of heavy makeup use, Somerville said, “One cleanse is not going to do it.” It could be cleared up with both the steam tip above, and turning the face washing routine into a 2-punch deal. Wash with a gentle daily cleanser first, then a stronger one second (the acne wash if you need it, or something like the ExfoliKate foam cleanser, or OG ExfoliKate itself). After Somerville’s been on TV, she uses a Clarisonic for the second cleanse to really get in there and clean [clap] that [clap] skin [clap]!
Mistake #3. Using Too Many Products
Like taking molly before church, it’s never good to be overstimulated. And this definitely applies to your face washing lineup. Is that an exfoliant and a glycolic acid peel I see on your counter next to a resurfacing mask and a rough washcloth? PLEASE CHILL OUT. You don’t need to 1. Exfoliate every damn day and 2. Perform so many acts of skin cell turnover at one time. I learned that fancy term from Somerville, who said she has to back clients off from using too many products at once, which can wear down the skin's barrier function and cause a ton of surface dryness. It can also drain your bank account. There’s a super popular peel out there right now that’s supposed to make your skin as smooth as a baby’s ass, but Somerville is seeing a lot of clients overdoing it by following it up with even more exfoliation. Scale back, and pepper different products throughout the week or month so you don’t accidentally wake up one morning a Faceless Man (chic Game of Thrones reference).
Mistake #4. Exfoliating With Actual Shards of Glass
Duh! Somerville also nixes any exfoliation with nuts in it. “When I get somebody who's kind of green,” she said, “exfoliation is something they don't do a lot of. I feel like it's the one step that people don't do enough of. Then I have those crazy exfoliators”—whose skin gets red and irritated from too much abuse. “I am not a fan of any kind of nut scrub, because the particle is sharp, and all it does is irritate and tear skin. Whatever bead you're using, make sure it's round, small, and gritty.” We’ve written about ExfoliKate before because it falls under the criteria, and it’s the best one in the game. This isn’t spon con, it’s just really freaking great.
Mistake #5. Using Medicated Cleanser Everywhere
This is mostly an acne issue. If you have zits on your chin and forehead, and you use a medicated acne cleanser all over, you’re “annihilating everything,” warned Somerville. “Back in my day it was SeaBreeze,” and everyone was a “dry mess.” Not as fun as a hot mess. So only use the acne wash where it’s needed, and make sure to keep the rest of the face hydrated with a less intense cleanser. “You have to look at your skin and face as having different ecosystems,” said Somerville.
Mistake #6. Using a Pea-Sized Amount
Me = trying to save cash, so for the longest time I wasn’t using enough cleanser. Once I started using a little more, my face felt cleaner (psychosomatic?) and there was less residual makeup on my towel. It’s more of a nickel-sized amount, Somerville told me, depending on how concentrated the product is. Her stuff is super concentrated (I’m all about the KS Detox Daily Wash, which is the gentlest wash I’ve ever used for oily/combo skin). Whereas a drugstore product, or something that feels watery might require more of a quarter-sized amount.
We also chatted briefly about the relaxing power of face massage—why not spend a few extra seconds massaging your mug while washing? “We carry a lot of stress in our face,” she said, adding that she’s been doing this lately and never had done it before. You’ll hit some pressure points near your temple and release some tension, at least for a few minutes until you check your email. Because there’s only so much soap can do.
Photo via Getty.