Does Washing Your Face Make Acne Worse?


Washing your face is an essential part of any good skincare routine. But could something as simple as cleansing your skin actually be making your acne worse?

It's a common question many acne sufferers ask. The idea of washing away dirt, oil, and bacteria from your face makes sense for preventing breakouts. However, over-washing can strip your skin of moisture and cause more harm than good.

So does washing your face make acne worse? The short answer is - it depends. Cleansing too aggressively or too frequently may irritate skin and worsen acne. But when done properly, face washing helps prevent breakouts by removing excess oil and bacteria.

The key is finding the right balance for your unique skin type. Read on to learn how over-washing contributes to acne, the best face washing practices, and tips to avoid irritating your skin.

Does Washing Your Face Make Acne Worse

How Can Over-Washing Cause Acne?

Washing your face removes excess oil, dead skin cells, pollutants, and bacteria that can clog pores and lead to acne. So how could something meant to treat breakouts actually make them worse?

Here are some ways over-washing can negatively impact acne-prone skin:

1. Strips Away Protective Oils

Sebum is the oil produced by our sebaceous glands. While excess amounts contribute to clogged pores, this oil also protects and moisturizes the skin. Over-washing strips away sebum along with dirt and bacteria. This leaves your skin vulnerable to irritation, inflammation, and more acne.

2. Disrupts Skin's Moisture Barrier

Frequent scrubbing dries out the skin by damaging its protective moisture barrier. This outermost layer traps water inside the skin and keeps irritants out. Without this barrier, your skin becomes prone to transepidermal water loss. The resulting dryness signals your glands to produce more oil, leading to - you guessed it - more acne.

3. Triggers Inflammation

Harsh cleansers and aggressive washing create micro-tears in the skin that provoke inflammation. Inflammation is an acne trigger. The redness and irritation caused by over-washing can make breakouts worse.

4. Promotes Bacterial Overgrowth

Our faces contain a mix of good and bad bacteria. Healthy bacteria help keep the skin balanced and acne-causing bacteria in check. Over-washing can destroy populations of good bacteria. This allows P. acnes and other acne bacteria to flourish.

Acne-Friendly Face Washing Tips

Now that you know how too much washing contributes to acne, let’s go over some best practices for keeping your face clean without irritation:

Use Lukewarm Water

Washing with hot water strips your skin’s natural oils. Really hot water damages the skin barrier. Stick to lukewarm temperatures when rinsing your face.

Don't Scrub Too Hard

Gentle circular motions are best when massaging cleanser into skin. Excessive scrubbing can cause microtears and inflammation.

Focus on Problem Areas

Concentrate washing on acne-prone zones like the forehead, nose, and chin. Avoid over-cleansing clearer areas which need less attention.

Rinse Thoroughly

Leaving cleanser residue on your skin can clog pores. Rinse your face until the water runs clear.

Pat Dry

Rubbing your face with a towel creates friction that irritates. Gently pat your skin dry instead.

Moisturize Afterward

Always follow cleansing with a non-comedogenic moisturizer. This replenishes hydration and repairs your skin barrier.

Use Gentler Products

Harsh ingredients like alcohol, menthol, and fragrances can dry out and irritate skin. Opt for gentle cleansers without these additives.

How Often Should You Wash Acne-Prone Skin?

There's no universal rule for the perfect cleansing frequency. How often you should wash your face depends on your skin type and climate. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Oily skin - Twice daily is usually sufficient. Over-washing oily skin leads to more oil production.
  • Dry/Sensitive skin - Limit cleansing to once daily, ideally at night. Too much washing aggravates these skin types.
  • Combination skin - Focus on washing oily zones twice daily while limiting cleansing of drier areas.
  • Humid climates - Wash skin once daily or every other day during hot, humid weather when oil production is higher.
  • Cold, dry climates - Reduce cleansing to 2-3 times weekly in cold, dry conditions that dehydrate skin.

Pay attention to how your skin looks and feels to find your optimal face washing frequency. Scale back if your skin feels tight, flaky or irritated.

The Best & Worst Cleansers for Acne-Prone Skin

Choosing the right cleanser for your skin type is key to preventing acne without over-washing. Here are some ideal and problematic ingredients to look out for:

Best Cleanser Ingredients

  • Salicylic acid: Clears pores and reduces inflammation
  • Glycolic & lactic acids: Exfoliate dead skin cells and debris
  • Sulfur & charcoal: Absorb excess oil and draw out impurities
  • Hyaluronic acid: Boosts hydration and repairs moisture barrier
  • Niacinamide: Controls oil and redness
  • Tea tree oil: Has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties

Ingredients to Avoid

  • Alcohol: Extremely drying and irritating
  • Fragrance: Common irritant and allergen
  • Menthol & eucalyptus: Cause redness and dryness
  • Harsh scrubs: Can damage skin and worsen acne
  • Sulfates: Strip the skin’s protective oils

Look for non-comedogenic, fragrance-free cleansers labeled for acne-prone skin. Avoid irritants and opt for gentler formulas with acne-fighting ingredients.

Other Acne Skincare Tips

Washing your face is just one part of an effective acne treatment plan. Here are some additional tips for clearing up breakouts:

  • Use oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer
  • Exfoliate 2-3 times per week with salicylic or glycolic acid
  • Spot treat pimples with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
  • Consider acne medications like retinoids or antibiotics for moderate/severe breakouts
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure which exacerbates acne
  • Manage stress levels with self-care practices like meditation, exercise, etc.
  • Stick to an acne-friendly diet low in refined carbs and dairy
  • Change pillowcases frequently to avoid transferring bacteria
  • Never pick, pop or touch acne as this worsens breakouts

When to See a Dermatologist

Persistent acne that fails to improve with basic skincare may need professional treatment. See a board-certified dermatologist if you experience:

  • Severe acne with painful cysts/nodules
  • Acne unresponsive to over-the-counter products
  • Acne leaving scars or dark spots
  • Signs of skin infection like honey-colored crusting

A dermatologist can prescribe stronger acne medications like isotretinoin or laser/light therapies to clear up stubborn breakouts. Don't hesitate to seek medical advice for difficult acne.


Does washing your face make acne worse? Over-cleansing and scrubbing can actually exacerbate breakouts by irritating skin and destroying the skin's moisture barrier. But when done properly, face washing is an essential step for preventing acne by removing excess oil, dead skin, and bacteria.

Be gentle, stick to once or twice daily, avoid harsh ingredients, and follow cleansing with moisturizer. Pay attention to your skin's needs and adjust your face washing routine accordingly. Combine cleansing with proven acne fighters like retinoids and salicylic acid for clear, healthy skin. See a dermatologist for professional treatment if over-the-counter methods fail.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of cleanser is best for acne-prone skin?

Gentle, non-comedogenic cleansers are ideal for acne-prone skin. Avoid harsh scrubs or cleansers with fragrance, menthol, alcohol, or sulfates which can irritate skin. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid or sulfur that treat acne without stripping the skin.

Should you wash your face after sweating?

Yes, gently cleanse your skin after heavy sweating or workouts. Sweat can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Use a gentle, non-foaming cleanser and lukewarm water to remove sweat and bacteria without irritation.

Is washing with cold water better for acne?

Washing with lukewarm water is best for acne-prone skin. Hot water strips natural oils, while cold water constricts pores which can trap oil and bacteria. Lukewarm water helps cleanse skin without irritation or dryness.

Should I use a face wash with exfoliating beads?

Avoid harsh, gritty exfoliants with beads or crushed shells/seeds/nuts. The jagged particles can cause microtears and worsen acne. Instead use a chemical exfoliant with salicylic, glycolic or lactic acid 2-3 times per week.

Can I just rinse my face with water instead of cleanser?

For some skin types, rinsing with lukewarm water may be sufficient in the morning. But using a gentle cleanser is important at night to remove makeup, oil, and bacteria before bed.

How do you prevent acne when wearing makeup?

Use an oil-free makeup formulated for acne-prone skin. Remove makeup thoroughly each night with a gentle cleanser. Disinfect makeup brushes regularly. Avoid wearing makeup when home to allow skin to breathe.

What foods or drinks should I avoid for acne?

Limit dairy, high-glycemic foods, sugary drinks, caffeine, alcohol and trans fats which may trigger breakouts. Drink plenty of water, eat more greens, fruits and omega-3s for clear skin.

Can using too many acne products make my skin worse?

It's best to introduce acne products slowly one at a time. Using too many drying agents like benzoyl peroxide or retinoids can irritate skin. See a dermatologist to develop a tailored acne regimen.

How can I prevent acne scarring?

Never pick or pop pimples which pushes bacteria deeper and causes scarring. Treat acne early with topical medications. See a dermatologist promptly for painful nodules/cysts. Lasers, peels and fillers can minimize scarring.

Why does my acne get worse right before my period?

Hormonal fluctuations before your period increase oil production and inflammation leading to breakouts. Try over-the-counter retinoids, prescription anti-androgens, or oral contraceptives to treat hormonal acne.

Does stress cause acne breakouts?

Stress doesn't directly cause acne but can worsen breakouts. High stress levels increase inflammation and lead to unhealthy habits like poor diet, sleeplessness, and skin picking which aggravate acne.

Sign up to our newsletter and enjoy 10% off one order

Which product do I need?