Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Is not washing your face good for your skin?

Q. I wash my face very little because I have heard soaps, no matter how mild, dry out the skin. What do you think — what should I wash my face with?

A. Most facial skin is quite sturdy and stands up to repetitive trauma very well. It has many pores and heals quickly and well after injury. But as time passes, the effects of chronic exposure to the environment become evident. The skin thins and becomes less elastic and a bit more porous. Other effects of chronologic aging and cumulative photodamage include freckling, subtle changes in the lines of expression, and fine lines and wrinkles. We get concerned about the appearance of "aging," so the question arises about what is the best way to clean the face.

Excessive cleansing of the skin with soap and water or solvents can interfere with the barrier function of the skin, leading to redness and dryness. However, it's a problem that usually affects the hands, not the face, and people who are exposed to water frequently or who wash their hands often for work, such as surgeons and nurses and bartenders — as well as the occasional person who is obsessed with cleanliness. Washing your face, even if you do it fairly often, shouldn't cause a problem unless you have an underlying disorder, such as eczema (atopic dermatitis).

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