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  • Writer's picturePenn Smith

Wash your face! The art of the double cleanse

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

You may have heard the term “double cleanse” and thought that it sounded like an exercise in extravagance; designed for those who spend hours on skincare every night. There’s no arguing that cleansing twice takes twice the time, perhaps adding another minute or two on to your evening ritual. But I’m here to make the case that this practice isn’t in any way indulgent and, in fact, why I firmly believe that double cleansing before bed is a necessity in modern life. In my mind, double cleansing will soon become the ‘new normal’.


You may have grown up watching your mother wash her face with Ponds Cold Cream or with a quick turn of a Dove bar of soap before bed. Maybe your teen years included a ritual of Sea Breeze (eek!!) or Noxzema to whisk away the day’s makeup. While Ponds Cold Cream and a washcloth may have been all your mother needed to clear off makeup and prepare for her moisturizer, our modern lifestyles require something a bit more sophisticated. Why? Because our lifestyle is simply more complex:

  • Sunscreen. In the 1970s and 1980s it would have been extremely rare for a woman to apply SPF prior to putting on make-up or going out the door with a clean face. By the 90's SPF was added into makeup as it became increasingly evident that the sun caused skin damage. Enter the 2000's and ‘long wear’ SPFs and adding multiple layers throughout the day have become ‘de rigueur’ for the modern woman.

  • Increases in pollution. I’m going to do a whole post on this, but for now let’s just say that the pollution in our air is vastly different to the pollution that your mother encountered when she was your age. And that pollution needs to be removed from your skin. every. single. night.

  • New makeup formulations with more staying power. We’re forever looking for makeup products that last through our busy days without fading or migrating. We’re lucky enough to have some brilliant formulations that really deliver on the promise of ‘all-day coverage’. But formulations that stay faithfully in place during the day need a little extra coaxing to get them to leave our skin at bedtime!

  • Our days are complex. Most of us are juggling multiple roles; we’re cooking, looking after our homes, working, exercising, and caring for others (exposing us to chemicals, cooking steam/grease, sweat, etc.) Hopefully, we find time to participate in hobbies and activities that get us outdoors into the wind and air and occasional sprays of saltwater in our faces. How lucky we are to lead such rich lives! We need to remember that our skin acts as a buffer to these elements every moment of every day. And every night it needs us to ‘reset’ it so it can have a fresh environment to restore while we sleep.

  • We wear surgical masks - some of us for many hours a day. Surgical masks protect the lower parts of our faces from many of the ‘assaults’ listed above. In doing so, however, they don’t allow our skin the normal flow of air it needs to be healthy. Effectively masks create a microclimate for bacteria, sebum and skin to get trapped. Taking off our masks when we get home and spending the time to clean our faces properly can reset not only our bodies but also our minds.


A double cleanse consists of two steps: We start with an oil-based cleanser to loosen up oil, sunscreen, and makeup. We follow that with a second cleanse that’s water-based (sometimes foaming) that effectively picks up all the loosened debris and sweat, washing it down the drain.


Everyone should double cleanse at night. It may seem counter-intuitive for oily and combo skinned people to use an oil-based cleanser, but oily skin may actually benefit most from a double cleanse. Oil dissolves oil (like dissolves like) and often acne and congestion is due to trapped sebum (oil) and the bacteria it harbors. Dissolving it and keeping pores clear is a first step in a good acne/blackhead clearing regimen. On the flip side, dry skin often gets inundated with hydrating essences, serums, and moisturizers, plus all of the assaults I mentioned above. And those with normal, combination, sensitive skin, etc. all still need to effectively remove the debris of the day before asking skin to do the nighttime repair/restore we all count on.


Like I mentioned above, the double cleanse is perfect to “take the day off” in the evening. Occasionally, when time allows, I’ll do a double cleanse in the morning, incorporating facial massage with my first cleanse. Facial massage brings blood flow to the skin with it nutrients that feed our skin. You definitely don’t need to double cleanse in the morning- often I’ll simply use my second cleanse product in the morning alone, or I’ll use a gentle, non-foaming cleanser that won’t strip my skin. My current favorite non-foaming morning cleanser is the La Roche Posay Hydrating Gentle Cleanser.


With the popularity of the 300 step K-beauty trend 🙃 that we've seen in the last few years, we’ve also seen a rise In the options for fantastic first + second cleansing products. Targeted ingredients address skin concerns; lipo-hydroxy acid for congestion and pigment, feverfew for rosacea, AHAs for pigment, and BHAs for pores. I’ve put together comprehensive lists of first and second cleanses in the accompanying graphics. No need to complicate the matter, simply assess your primary skin condition at the top of the graphic and choose a first and second cleanse that fits your budget and has two or three checkmarks.

If you have more than one condition, you may want to look for the cleansers that best suit both in order of their impact on you. Example: sensitive and dry skin? The Body Shop Chamomile Cleansing Balm and the Vanicream Gentle Facial wash both get high marks for those two conditions…Bingo!

Of course, it is a bit of trial and error as some things will work and some won’t, but hopefully, this will help you determine the best way to get on this bandwagon because it’s the place to be!

So listen, girls (and guys) ... WASH YOUR FACE (twice!)

**Scroll to the bottom of the page for all links and even more tips :)

FIRST AND SECOND CLEANSE SHOPPING LINKS* *Penn Smith Skincare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program. Many links are affiliate links, meaning I am compensated when you shop through these at no extra fee to you.


US cleansing options:

Is Clinical Cleansing complex

Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Cleanser

Montarbo Exfoliating Cleanser


UK cleansing options


In addition to choosing the right cleansers, I like to incorporate tools that can make my cleansing rituals both more fun and more effective. These are some of my favorite:

1. Face Halo eye makeup remover pads. These are super handy and fit around the fingers so especially good for eye makeup removal with your first cleanse. I’ve also heard of people turning them inside out and using them to touch up smudged makeup, especially helpful when face masks mean we need a ‘freshening up’ during the day.

2. PMD Clean. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know how much I love this tool. I tend to use during my second cleanse, to really help lift that debris.

3. Bamboo washcloths These can be really useful to remove balm first cleanses. I have a dozen of these in the house at a time so I can throw them in the laundry and keep them clean and fresh.

4. Microfiber headbands You may have seen me wearing these during my micro needling videos. I love to use these whenever I’m doing anything on my face, whether it be MN, microcurrent, peels, LED, you name it. They’re super soft, can be easily laundered and, frankly, they’re cute and make me HAPPY!

FTC: Links in this post are affiliate ~ Please note that all links on this page are affiliate and I participate in the Amazon Associates program which is an affiliate program. Any time you see an Amazon link it is affiliate. If you choose to use my links please know that I appreciate it!

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Content provided on this blog is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or skin related diagnosis or treatment options. Information on this website should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare/skin professional. The statements made about specific products throughout this website are not to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. It is important that you check labels to determine if a product is right for you. Before starting any treatment at home consult a health care or skin care professional to determine if it’s right for you.

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Oct 14, 2020

This was really helpful, Penny. Because of you I have the DermaE cleansing balm and I love it. It was my first introduction to cleansing balms and it works really well.


Oct 11, 2020

You are truly the best & I learn so much from you & just enjoy listening to all your advice about skincare. I'm 73 now & have been diligently doing the best that I can & number one is watching you!!!!!


Lorraine Dan
Lorraine Dan
Oct 09, 2020

Another amazing blog. I feel like I want to print these out and file them so I can refer to them later.


Oct 03, 2020

Hey Penn, I just finished watching your latest favorites video on skincare that's mostly under $20. I already love and use the Physician's Formula cleansing balm and went ahead and added a few more things to purchase. Watching your videos is dangerous for my pocket! I just want to buy EVERYTHING! Mind you, I have a drawer full of new products/back ups that I have yet opened. I just can't get enough of skincare! I simply love it!


Oct 03, 2020

Thank you for all of your fantastic education and advice. I’m taking all of your recommendations and my skin is improving significantly! I ordered some of the products you recommended for the am and pm double cleanse. Thanks for the clearly defined grid. What are your thoughts on Olay citrus scrub ? I don’t want to undo any of the progress I’m making. Thanks again! You’re great.

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