The Cleansing Guide: Avoiding Breakouts (and Getting Skin Glowing)
Of all the things I’m pretty strict about in my skincare routine, cleansing is the one thing I make sure I do no matter how late it is or how many hours I’ve been in the office/gym/bar.
And that’s because- used properly- cleansers clear excess oil, makeup, sweat, dirt, pollution and SPF from skin, and in turn help keep pores clean (an important first step in my eternal quest for glowing skin).
On the other hand, not cleansing thoroughly can cause dull-looking or flaking skin- because dead cells aren’t being removed properly- and prevent the products used afterwards from being as effective as possible (making that yummy moisturiser somewhat less of a bargain).
So although it’s tempting to reach for the nearest foaming cleanser followed by a splash of water, a thorough cleanse will keep skin brighter-looking and help avoid breakouts.
Here’s the step-by-step cleansing routine I use every night to make sure I’ve really cleaned away all my makeup/SPF/the day
1. Choose the Right Cleanser
Before even getting near the bathroom sink get skin off to the best start by taking some time to choose a good cleanser.
And by that I mean the right cleanser for your own skin type and budget. So don’t buy a really fancy cleanser if you know you’ll be tempted to underuse it.
But equally don’t pick up just anything at the drug store without taking a proper look first- just take some time to research what will work for your skin.
Oily and Acne Skin
For oily and acne skin types this could mean a gentle foaming or gel cleanser using mild vegetable-based surfactants like coco-glucoside to clean skin without stripping it.
Because although it’s tempting to reach for something high foaming or very astringent to get skin feeling really clean, harsh cleansers can do too good a job and at removing oil and actually remove those which make up skin’s protective barrier. This in turn can cause inflammation and skin to over produce oil- both major causes of breakouts.
Dr Sam’s Flawless Cleanser (£16 for 200 ml, Dr Sam Bunting) may be a little too drying on my sensitive skin for every day use, but when I’m oilier this is the perfect balance between a really thorough cleanse while still being gentle.
Containing aloe leaf juice powder, it also helps to calm redness at the same time as removing makeup, dirt and oil.
For active breakouts though, and for brightening, another favourite is Boscia’s Detoxifying Black Charcoal Cleanser ($30/£24, Boscia), a gently-foaming, self-heating gel cleanser which really helps to get my skin back on track if I ever have a breakout.
Containing charcoal to control oil product, as well as vitamin C to gently exfoliate and brighten skin, this one is on my permanent rebuy list for its abilites to tackle problem skin quickly while still being somehow gentle enough to use every day (even when I’m sensitive).
Finally, when I had cystic acne a couple of years ago there was one cleanser in particular that really helped to clear it up; the Cor Silver Soap* (from £15 for 10 g, Cult Beauty).
Made of silver to control acne bacteria and calm inflammation, as well as glycerin, aloe vera and avocado oil to nourish, this cleanser deals with breakouts fast.
To use this bar soap, lather it up between hands for a couple of seconds (you really don’t need a lot of this- somewhat justifying the price tag) before massaging over damp skin. Leave for around 3 minutes before rinsing.
Too drying for my skin to use when I’m not breaking out, I still always keep one spare just because I know this will deal with blemishes within days if I ever need to.
Sensitive Skin, Dry Types and Rosacea
Equally while sensitive skin, rosacea and dry types may still get away with some gels cleansers like Fresh Soy Face Cleanser (from £11.50 for 50 ml, Cult Beauty), formulas like oils, balms and milk cleansers also do a great job of removing dirt and makeup without irritating skin.
Some personal favourites include Bybi’s Swipe Clean* (£22.10 for 100 ml, Feel Unique), an all natural oil-based cleanser which turns to a light milk solution on contact with water.
Great for removing makeup (and hydrating skin) it’s gentle enough to even remove eye makeup, while the combination of oils here are really softening.
For more on this oil cleanser, check out my full review of Bybi’s Swipe Clean.
This oil to gel to milk formula is super gentle on skin while also offering an impressively thorough cleanse. Possibly one of my all-time favourite cleansers, this makes taking off makeup/SPF/the day super quick and always leaves my skin comfortable.
For a slightly more budget-friendly option that’s equally impressive, check out The Inkey Lists’s Oat Cleansing Balm (£9.99 for 150 ml, Cult Beauty), which contains oat kernel oil and oatmeal to calm skin.
In fact, it’s so good at soothing my skin if I ever overdo it with the retinol or acids- or even when cold weather has left it dry or stressed- that it’s my top choice for sensitive or rosacea types.
The fact that it’s scent-free and ultra-hydrating also makes this great for those just starting out with any drying retinols etc.
Skin that is dry in some areas and oilier in others can also benefit from a gentle, non-stripping gel cleanser like Fresh’s Soy Face Cleanser or Boscia’s Detoxifying Black Charcoal Cleanser.
For times when you’re a bit oilier this can always be used alongside a second cleanser like the ones listed for oily skin above.
Or alternatively this is when masks can come in really handy for picking up the slack- especially if you only find you break out occasionally.
Look for formulas containing ingredients like clay to mop up oil.
And again, if you find skin gets a little drier in the colder months etc, try switching to a balm cleanser or stepping up the moisturising.
2. Stay Cool
Whichever cleanser you go for, while it’s tempting to use whatever temperature water you use to wash your hands- or even just wash your face in the shower- remember that skin on the face is thinner and more sensitive than elsewhere on the body (except for the chest).
That means that water that’s too warm or too cold can irritate skin, while actually hot water can strip skin of its natural oils leaving it dry.
So instead just stick with cool or lukewarm temperatures and avoid any potential irritation.
3. Take Your Time
At the end of a long day I can honestly say I’d rather be snuggling up in bed rather than doing a really thorough job of cleansing my face.
But since I also don’t enjoy the dullness and breakouts that go with not doing it properly I always try to make sure I am thorough about massaging in my cleanser.
This means being really careful to get all those often forgotten places like the sides of the nose, neck, under the chin and around the hairline (all of which are common breakout spots).
It also means taking an extra couple of seconds more than I naturally would use to do it- since it takes around a minute of massaging a cleanser in to really break down all that makeup, dirt and oil.
4. Consider Removing with a Cloth
Rather than just splashing cleanser off with water, consider using a damp (and clean- use a new one every time) cloth or towel to gently remove it.
I really like this step because it provides some gentle exfoliation as well as giving you an indication of whether you’ve actually fully removed all dirt and makeup (especially if you use a white cloth).
In fact, sensitive types might want to use this step as an alternative to any scrub exfoliators which can stress skin and increase redness.
Just remember to use a towel that’s really soft (no scratchy circa 1975 ones here!), and go gently; taking care not to pull or rub skin.
5. Double Cleanse if You Need
While K (Korean) Beauty trends recently made double cleansing an essential part of many a skincare routine, I actually only tend to it if I think my skin particularly needs it.
That might be because I’ve been sweating or my skin is oilier than normal, or often because I’ve worn a little more makeup that day.
While double cleansing typically involves using an oil or balm cleanser followed by a foaming gel (this combination does a good job of really removing makeup without leaving any oily residue), I actually often use the same cleanser for both steps, depending on what my skin is doing that day.
And Some Things I Never Do…
- Use a cleansing brush: While silicone or bristle, manual and mechanical brushes are really popular I find that even the gentlest ones run the risk of interfering with skin’s protective barrier which is best left to get on with its job of keeping out bacteria, keeping in moisture and limiting irritation). So instead, just stick to using your hands or a cloth to massage in and remove product.
- Buy cleansing wipes: Almost as bad for skin as they are for the environment, cleansing wipes by nature don’t really remove dirt and oil etc- they just rub it off one area of the skin and push it into pores elsewhere. If really pushed for time (or energy) one quick eco and skin-friendly alternative is a reusable cotton pad soaked in an oil-based makeup remover.
For me cleansing really is the foundation of a healthy skincare routine- so take your time picking a product that really suits your skin, lifestyle and budget.
Using a cleanser gently but thoroughly could help to cut down on breakouts as well as improving skin’s overall texture and glow- worth a couple of minutes extra effort last thing I reckon.