Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/25/2021
When it comes to taking care of your skin, you’ll find a ton of conflicting messages on social media and even reputable skincare and news sites. It’s hard to know who to trust, and jumping in to try something new can be scary.
We are, after all, talking about your face here.
Caution is always the best approach when looking to change skincare routines. This is doubly true if you have sensitive skin or are prone to acne or other dermatological conditions.
But no matter your skin type, doing your research before you dive into the newest, hottest skincare trend can save you from potentially undesirable effects — as well as money..
We’re going to dig into the double cleansing method to try and determine whether or not it’s worth your time.
However, we want to preface this by saying information from highly reputable sources is scant on the topic, even though you’ll find plenty about it on skin care blogs and even journalistic sites.
The information isn’t really backed with scientific evidence, and many of these sites conclude their dissertations by trying to sell you either their products or affiliate products (those they get paid for when you click the link and purchase).
So, what’s the real deal behind double cleansing?
The double cleanse method is exactly what it sounds like: A skin care approach that will have you washing your face twice, every time you wash it. For low-maintenance girls, it can seem like a lot — washing once at the end of the day can feel like a chore.
The double cleanse method is derived from the 10-step Korean skin care program. Depending on where you look, it’s generally steps one and two in this lengthy skin care regimen. These two “washes” aren’t identical — you’re not just using the same cleanser twice.
The first wash is done using an oil-based or balm cleanser, and the second is using a water-based cleanser.
Of course, products have been specifically developed for this twice-cleansed routine, but to stay true to the philosophy, you wouldn’t necessarily have to use those products, merely one oil and one water based cleaner.
Using an oil cleanse on oily skin is a bit scary. We get it.
The premise here, however, is that following it with a water based cleanser helps remove remaining impurities, including excess oil.
Spoiler: there is none. There are no scientific studies on the effects of the double cleansing routine — at least, none that we could find.
Far as we know, there’s no proof that it works or that it’s better than cleansing once. There is some research, however, on face washing frequency and oil cleansing, in general.
And these may provide some clues as to how your face might respond to the double cleansing method.
There is evidence that using oils on your face can improve your complexion appearance. Scientific literature demonstrates that some natural oils can have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties when used on the skin.
Some oils may help improve skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. And oils do help maintain proper moisture content of the skin — so you’re less likely to dry your skin out when using it as a cleanser. Natural oils can also improve skin elasticity, making them good candidates for aging, dry skin.
For those of us who have never tried it, the thought of using a cleansing oil may seem, well, not cleansing at all.
But there is evidence oil cleansers can break down water-resistant compounds and impurities on the face, such as the sunscreen in your foundation and perhaps even water-resistant cosmetics. Eye makeup removers are often oil-based for this reason.
A 2020 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that cleansing oil worked better than water or foaming cleanser in the removal of sunscreen, and also resulted in less skin drying.
As far as washing frequency goes, there is some concern that washing too much could be bad for acne-prone skin. As a matter of fact, the American Academy of Dermatology cautions you limit face washing to twice per day (though they don’t touch on whether each event can include two cleansers).
However, there is mixed research indicating how often people with acne should wash.
A 2019 study found that patients with acne who washed their faces once or twice daily saw decreased acne lesions, but patients who washed three times daily saw increased acne.
But an earlier study found there to be no difference in acne outcomes between those who washed twice per day and those who washed more.
The one million dollar question: does double-cleansing do any good?
If we’re to take the Interwebs’ words for it, then yes — the double cleaning method will make your skin clean and glowing.
In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find people writing about their negative experiences with the routine.
But lacking scientific evidence, we’re left with what we know about the components of double cleansing (like oil cleansing and washing your face in general) and anecdotal evidence (like blogger write-ups about their personal experiences).
Given the evidence on potential benefits of oil cleansing and a lack of evidence of potential harms, we’re comfortable saying it’s unlikely double-cleansing will hurt your skin.
Is it better than washing once? Maybe. Maybe not.
Given the totality of the evidence online — which, as we mentioned, is pretty limited — there is no certain answer.
As with any skin care routine, there are risks with double-cleansing. Namely, you may find it’s not right for you, for any number of reasons.
You may have an adverse reaction to the cleansers you choose. This could be because of a single ingredient within them, using them together or if, for instance, your skin doesn’t tolerate an oil-based cleanser well.
These reactions could include allergic responses, increased acne problems, flare-ups of existing skin conditions (psoriasis or eczema, for example) or peeling, to name a few.
To put it plainly: you might also find this method is just too much work.
Washing your face twice daily with one product is too much for some of us. It takes time and dedication. And like a proper diet, developing this habit can be difficult.
If you know ahead of time that you’re unlikely to stick with a skin cleansing routine that lasts twice as long, you could just save yourself the failed experience to begin with.
If you were hoping for a “yes, you should try it!” or “No, don’t do it!” we’re sorry to disappoint.
Like so many things based on science, the results of our review of the evidence is that your decision about using it depends on your comfort level, and that much more research is needed before anything can be said definitively.
If you’re unlikely to experience negative side effects by playing trial and error with your skin care products — for instance, you don’t have sensitive skin or other existing skin conditions — trying the double cleansing method is unlikely to do much harm. You may reap positive benefits, like many of the skin care bloggers out there.
But if you regularly deal with skin issues or if you know you’re not the type to stick with a labor intensive routine, you may be better off skipping it for now.
Chatting with a dermatologist is a good idea if you battle a skin disorder and want to know if double cleansing (or really any trendy approach) is safe for you.