For someone who isn’t afraid of neon eye shadow or a full contour, the way I’ve washed my face has always been relatively simple: I’ll do a once-over with a makeup wipe, splash some tap water on my cheeks, and call it a day.
I never saw anything wrong with this and it had always served me well enough, until a few months ago, when all my friends were extolling the virtues of double cleansing over drinks.
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“Double…what?” I asked. I was met with blank stares. Apparently, I was missing out.
What is double cleansing?
As the name of the technique implies, double cleansing involves washing your face with two different cleansers. The process originates from multistep Korean skin care routines. “The first step of double cleansing is using an oil-based cleanser to wash away oil-based impurities such as makeup, sunscreen, and pollution,” says Charlotte Cho, founder of K-beauty retailer Soko Glam and founder of Then I Met You. “The second step is using a water-based cleanser to ensure that the remaining impurities are removed from your skin. It’s a gentle way to clean your face and ensure that everything from the day is removed.” According to Cho, double cleansing is also an effective way to remove impurities that can cause acne and premature aging.
I’ve lived in New York City nearly my entire life and my skin is sorta-maybe-definitely coated in a permanent level of subway dirt and car-exhaust fumes. Still, I was slow to try it. Did I really need to wash my face twice? In this economy? Who has the time?
Then on a fateful night a couple weeks ago – with my face covered in pink eye shadow and glitter – I realized I had run out of makeup wipes and searched through my cabinets for an alternative. I reached for an unopened bottle of Glossier’s Milky Oil and Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser, plus some cotton rounds. I had bought them a couple months ago because I drank the Glossier Kool-Aid (it’s definitely pink) and liked how pretty they looked next to my sink. Since I’ve always relied on makeup wipes, I’ve only ever stared at these bottles instead of actually using them.
Liquid makeup removers have never been very good at removing my thick layers of mascara, so I was surprised to see how effectively and quickly the Milky Oil removed all of my mascara and all of my makeup. I had tons of eye shadow and glitter on too, and yet it took only three pumps and two cotton rounds to remove nearly everything. I followed it up with the creamy Jelly Cleanser, which, at the earlier recommendation of Cho, I massaged into my skin for a full 60 seconds with lukewarm water to reap its full cleansing benefits. My skin immediately felt so fresh and smooth.
The next morning I woke up and didn’t find stray traces of mascara on my cheeks. Usually I wake up feeling groggy and dry (morning person is not a term anyone would use to describe me), but this time was different. I felt refreshed, mostly because my skin felt clean – really, really clean – for the first time in as long as I could remember.
Now that I’m a dedicated convert, I too feel the need to pass the gospel on. Here’s everything else you need to know about double cleansing.
What product should you use after double cleansing?
If you’re following a full 10-step K-beauty routine, Cho says exfoliating would be the natural next step in the process. But if you’ve got sensitive skin or use acids that are only recommended for once or twice a week, she recommends applying a toner (like the Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner) afterward to help prep your skin for moisturizer. It’ll also help remove any leftover residue from your cleanser.
At the very least, though, you definitely do want to use a moisturizer. NYC dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., says applying one immediately after double cleansing will help your skin retain hydration. Otherwise it will compromise the integrity of your skin barrier, which can lead to irritation, redness, and acne.
Who does double cleansing work best for?
Double cleansing works for all skin types. “Whether you have oily, acne-prone, or dry skin that needs some added moisture, double cleansing will help make sure any and all impurities are removed, which will leave your skin looking dewy and with a soft glow,” says Cho.
Zeichner agrees but says your skin type determines what cleansers you should use. If you’re dry or sensitive, he recommends Tatcha Pure One Step Camellia Oil Cleanser followed by Bioderma Micellar Water, which are both hydrating and gentle. If you have oily skin, he recommends Erborian Black Cleansing Oil, which is formulated with purifying charcoal to remove excess sebum, followed by a foaming cleanser like Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Foaming Cleanser.
Is it possible to overcleanse?
Both Cho and Zeichner say it’s definitely possible to overcleanse. Even though you should be washing your face twice a day, you can skip the double cleanse in the morning and incorporate it only into your nighttime routine – that way you’ll avoid drying out your skin. Plus, if you’re doing a thorough enough job at night, all you really need is micellar water in the morning.