Does washing your face in the morning ruin your skin?

By Fiona Embleton

Photo: Getty

To wash or not to wash? It's a debate as old as time, but a growing number of experts believe there are benefits to giving your skin a break from the morning cleanse

All products featured on Vogue are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.


For many of us, cleansing morning and night is like breathing: it happens by default without us giving it a second thought. Even on lazy mornings, we muster up the energy for a face wash that rinses away all trace of our skin's oils.

But if your goal is a plump, glowing complexion, there may be such as thing as too much cleansing. In fact, a new school of thought advocates skipping the morning cleanse altogether in order to give your skin the chance to build its protective moisture barrier, rather than strip away its oils and lipids.

Not only that, but it maintains that the purpose of those hydrating serums and creams you drench your skin in after your morning cleanse is to reverse its dehydrating side effects.

Recently facialist Angela Caglia, who counts Danish supermodel Helena Christensen as a client, took to her Instagram stories to advise people to stop their A.M. cleanse if they wanted to see a noticeable difference in their skin. Cue, audible gasps from those who revel in complex 10-step skincare routines, including carefully choreographed double cleanses twice a day.

Caglia’s argument is that overnight your skin produces natural lipids and oils we need to look younger, so why strip it all away as soon as you wake up with a face wash? For her, the most important time to cleanse is at night in order to remove all the dirt, suncream, pollution and makeup that has accumulated during the day. And she's not alone in her approach.

Is it really necessary to wash your face in the morning?

The easy answer is no, according to some skin experts who maintain that if you've only been sleeping with a serum and night cream on your skin, then there's no need to wash your face and remove all that goodness.

Many of the arguments against morning cleansing revolve around the skin barrier – the outermost layer that plays a vital role in sealing water and electrolytes into the skin to keep it looking dewy, while keeping irritants and pathogens out.

On this surface layer you'll find over one trillion bacteria – also known as the microbiome – that are the skin’s first line of defence. So when this microbiome is disrupted, it is no longer able to ward off inflammation and skin tends to flare up and be drier, itchier and more sensitive.

Photo: Getty

“Your skin's microbiome is its first layer of protection – everything that touches your skin touches the bacteria first," says Susanne Manasi, founder of Manasi 7, who is firmly in the no morning cleanse camp.

She is joined by Johanna Gillbro, a skin scientist, author of The Scandinavian Skincare Bible and founder of Skinome skincare, who not only considers a morning cleanse unnecessary but potentially damaging to the skin. "Surfactants found in many cleaning products tend to negatively affect the skin barrier as they can also dissolve the endogenous lipids that form in the skin," says Gillbro.

A fan of more pared-back skincare routines, Gillbro adds that washing your face in the A.M. exposes the skin unnecessarily to yet more more perfumes, preservatives and anti-microbial ingredients.

The skin is smart, and during the night, it forms unique moisture-binding substances that are part of the skin barrier

Johanna Gillbro, skin scientist, author and founder of Skinome

Manasi also calls out products, including cleansers, that contain harsh exfoliating acids or beads as they strip your skin's natural defence barrier. Something, incidentally, that the skin then spends the rest of the day trying to rebuild.

"You will then need to add the moisture back into the skin through your skincare products," she explains. "These don't contain the same ingredients your skin naturally produces but usually synthetic versions that it's unfamiliar with.”

Worth noting, too, is that tap water can change the natural pH of the skin, causing it to skew more alkaline, which can lead to dryness. So if you suffer from dehydrated skin, limiting the amount of water you splash onto your face can help.

Is it better to wash your face in the morning or evening?

Your night-time cleanse is a crucial step in your daily skincare routine. Cleansers are designed to lift away the layer of excess oil, dirt, pollution, SPF, makeup and more that builds up on the skin's surface during the course of the day.

"It's true that these need to be removed from the skin," says Gillbro. "However, many people today over-cleanse and scientific studies show that there is a link between too much cleansing and some of the most widespread skin problems such as dry and sensitive skin or even rosacea."

"Only cleaning in the evening can make a big difference to your skin," Gillbro continues. "The skin is smart, and during the night, it forms unique moisture-binding substances that are part of the skin barrier. They make your skin soft, supple and contribute to better skin health."

Your skin also goes into repair mode overnight, so any serums and moisturisers to boost that activity will soak in better once when any pore-clogging roadblocks have been washed down the drain.

As ever, the cleanser you choose should be gentle. Caglia swears by oil cleansers as they are more effective at breaking down oil-based suncreams and makeup. Try her Neroli Cleansing Oil or Tromborg's Herbal Cleansing Oil, which is powered by organic argan oil . The Skinome Mineral Cleanser is also exceptionally mild, preservative-free and contains lipids as well as pre- and postbiotics.

Is washing your face in the morning bad for acne?

There are, however, a couple of caveats to skipping the morning cleanse, especially if you have oily or acne prone skin as bacteria can build up overnight. Dr. Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist who herself suffers from adult acne, recommends only cleansing twice a day with a product that is targeted towards oily and acne-prone skin (she recommends Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser with sulphur and oat extracts).

Another consideration is overnight skincare products that don't play nicely with the sun. Facial oils, which are made up of large molecules and are different in composition to the skin's natural oils, act as a barrier to suncream so will need to be removed. Retinol-based products will also make the skin more sensitive to UV rays, which is why dermatologists recommend a clean canvas and a fresh application of SPF in the morning.