Vyvian (XueQing) Jiang, BSc Pharm Student
Do you struggle with acne? While some of us may have experienced it more than others, we’ve all had moments where we get pimples on our face and wash our faces frantically multiple times in hopes of minimizing the imperfections. But does washing your face help or makes things worse for you? In today’s article, we’ll discuss the optimal cleansing frequency as well as agents that could be used to reduce acne lesions.
How Often Should I Wash My Face?
Contrary to popular beliefs, washing your face multiple times a day may not actually work in your favour. In fact, it does the exact opposite. Current evidence suggests that washing your face twice a day helps reduce the number of acne lesions, while anything less or more frequently leads to an increased number of lesions.1
What Should I Use to Wash My Face?
What we use to wash our face is just as important as the frequency of washing. Cleansers play an important role in removing the dirt, sebum (oil), sweat, microorganisms and exfoliating dead skin cells; but it’s also important to consider appropriate options to avoid harm to our skin.2
#1 Syndet Bar
Also known as a synthetic detergent, a syndet bar is a type of soap with a complex formulation comprising of moisturizers, emollients, preservatives, fragrances, and lather enhancers.2 True soaps, on the other hand, are of simpler composition, often made from an alkali and a fatty acid. Using either type of soap allows the elimination of dirt in an emulsified form. However, for the purpose of reducing acne lesions, syndet soaps have shown to be more effective while causing fewer side effects on the skin, such as redness, dryness, and irritation.3,4 Examples of syndet bars include Cetaphil® Gentle Cleansing Bar, Dove® White Beauty Bar, Dove® Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar. Or just simply look for “soapless” on the product labels.
#2 Benzoyl Peroxide
Cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide are other great agents that will help reduce pimples on your face. It’s been shown that benzoyl peroxide is effective in reducing papules (red pimples) and pustules (pimples with pus) that are caused by bacteria. In fact, cleansers may even be a better alternative than leave-on benzoyl peroxide gels as they result in fewer side effects, such as skin irritation and bleaching of clothing. However, this may not necessarily apply to cleansers that are combination products with benzoyl peroxide and other medical ingredients. Studies suggest that there is no difference in lesion reduction when comparing benzoyl peroxide cleansers and other benzoyl peroxide combination products.
Chlorhexidine 4% cleansers such as Hibiclens® have also shown to be just as effective as benzoyl peroxide in reducing papules and pustules; however, they have also shown to cause more skin irritation compared to other cleansers.
#4 Salicylic Acid
Cleansers containing salicylic acid as the main ingredient are also commonly seen acne medications; while commonly used and recommended, there is not enough evidence to establish the effectiveness of salicylic acid in comparison to benzoyl peroxide. However, depending on the individual, it may still provide the benefit of reduced acne lesions.
The Bottom Line
Acne can cause significant distress and is a concern for many individuals. Although tempting, washing your face more than twice a day is not advised for reducing acne lesions. Additionally, choosing syndet soap or a benzoyl peroxide cleanser may enhance the benefit associated with washing the face, while causing minimal skin irritation.
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- Stringer, T., Nagler, A., Orlow, S., & Oza, V. (2018). Clinical evidence for washing and cleansers in acne vulgaris: a systematic review. Journal Of Dermatological Treatment, 1-6. doi: 10.1080/09546634.2018.1442552
M, C., M M, L., M, Z., A, B., & A, V. (2010). Surfactants, skin cleansing protagonists. Journal Of The European Academy Of Dermatology & Venereology, (1), 1. doi:10.1111/j.1468-3083.2009.03349.x
- Korting HC, Ponce-poschl E, Klövekorn W, et al. The influence of the regular use of a soap or an acidic syndet bar on pre-acne. Infection. 1995;23:89–93
Subramanyan, K. (2004). Role of mild cleansing in the management of patient skin. Dermatologic Therapy, 1726-34. doi:10.1111/j.1396-0296.2004.04S1003.x