teen face wash

Do you need to wash your face every morning? And other morning skincare tips

Teen skincare question: do I need to wash my face every morning? What's the best skincare routine for teens? What teen skincare steps are most important in the morning?


I am often asked by patients and my daughters' teen/tween friends: "Do I need to wash my face every morning?"

My opinion is that washing your face in the evening is a non-negotiable while morning face washing is optional and very dependent on individual skin type. The majority of dirt, pollutants, irritants, allergens, makeup, etc will come in contact with our faces during the day...which is why it's incredibly important to wash your face at the end of the day. When we go to bed with clean, moisturized skin, it becomes less imperative to perform that morning face wash when we wake up: our skin is simply not coming into contact with as many potentially irritating environmental factors overnight, and we are generally not touching our faces as frequently when we are sleeping. 

Overnight, our skin undergoes the "rest and repair" phase of the skin cell cycle. Cells within our skin actually contain circadian clock genes which regulate a circadian rhythm that is specific to our skin. Washing our skin at night to remove all of the potentially irritating and inflammatory factors from the day, and applying an effective moisturizer, will allow our skin to function optimally and perform the corrective actions that it requires overnight. Skin that is dirty and/or dry simply can't complete this cycle efficiently. When you go to bed with clean, hydrated skin, the morning face wash becomes optional for most people. 


Who should wash their face in the morning? Who should skip a morning face wash?

Anyone who works out in the morning should wash their face after their morning exercise. 

Teens/tweens with oily skin typically benefit from a morning face wash to help balance overnight oil production and allow for fresh, clean skin before applying morning skincare. The same applies for acne-prone skin: skin cells shed overnight, and clogged pores (which result from the mixing of shed skin cells with sebum from the oil glands) are a major contributing factor to teen acne. Therefore, any effective acne treatment for teens involves a morning face wash to exfoliate dead skin cells that have accumulated overnight; this gives your pores a chance to recover from any congestion that occurred while sleeping. 

Anyone who sweats while sleeping should wash their face in the morning. Blood flow in the skin increases in the late afternoon and into the evening, which can cause flushing and/or sweating of the skin overnight. Our skin temperature will peak in the afternoon and then reach its lowest point overnight, but before that temperature drops, our skin may sweat to release excess heat. 

Teens who are slugging skin (applying petrolatum, occlusive oils, shea butter, etc) overnight should wash their face in the morning. Occlusive skincare products are very helpful for those with dry skin, but there needs to be a balance between applying those barrier products and allowing our skin to breathe and better absorb other moisturizing ingredients that strengthen our skin barrier and microbiome. 

Oils and ingredients from hair and hair products can attach to your pillow, thereby coming into contact with skin while sleeping. For some teens, these ingredients can cause irritation and acne breakouts, supporting the need for morning face washing. However, not all individuals are sensitive to these oils and hair product ingredients.

For individuals with dry, sensitive, or eczema-prone skin, morning face washing might be more irritating than helpful. These individuals often have more fragile skin barriers that need to be handled delicately. For them, the removal of oils and the water loss that may occur from an additional morning face washing can tip the scales toward increased skin sensitivity and breakouts.


For teens with combination skin (acne-prone AND dry), how do they keep their skin moisturized and avoid clogging pores? 

The best acne treatment for teens involves selecting the right skincare products; teens/tweens require skincare that is balanced and not too skewed in either direction. For my patients with combination skin, I recommend a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser in the morning, and I find that they are generally most successful with a gel-based cleanser that has moisturizing ingredients incorporated into the formulation. I love gentle exfoliating ingredients, such as allantoin, in their morning cleanser as the allantoin facilitates the shedding of skin cells that can clog pores while also helping to moisturize the skin and settle inflammation that can exacerbate acne. Using lukewarm water to wash the face helps avoid the drying effect that very hot water has on dry areas of skin. 

Many of my patients with combination skin like to add a hydrating toner to their morning skincare regimen. The hydrating ingredients (such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and aloe) provide moisture to the skin while actives (for example, witch hazel and chamomile) balance oil production and settle inflammation.


Skin can break out if it hasn't been washed often enough, but it can also break out if it is washed too much due to compromising the skin barrier. Where's the balance?

    Let's start with the questions that Dermatologists are often asked: Why do teens get acne?

    Teen acne lesions are caused by 4 factors: C. Acnes bacteria, increased sebum production, exfoliated skin cells which bind with sebum and then clog pores, and inflammation. When we don't wash our face enough, we can get an accumulation of sebum and dead skin cells as well as an imbalance of C. Acnes, all of which contribute to acne lesion formation. Additionally, the buildup of dirt, sweat, pollutants, and other environmental allergens on our skin feeds into inflammation that contributes to acne breakouts and sensitive skin. 

    Overwashing the face strips the protective skin barrier and throws our skin into an imbalanced state which can also alter C. acnes levels as the beneficial bacteria of the skin microbiome are wiped out from too much washing and removal of the necessary oils and ceramides that keep our skin strong and balanced. 

    How can a teen tell if they are overwashing their face? One of the best indicators is skin clarity: when teen skin is red, inflamed, dry or flaky, it's probably overwashed. If skin feels greasy, grimy, or appears dull, it's very possible that they aren't washing enough. A good rule of thumb is to always wash your face before going to bed (or after sports/exercise). Limit face washing to once or twice daily. Keep your skincare regimen simple (gentle pH-balanced cleanser, non-comedogenic moisturizer, mineral sunscreen, and maybe toner) to minimize irritation and a compromised skin barrier from too many actives.


    What about other actives (serums, etc) that are applied to teen skin in the morning?

    Teen skin becomes more permeable in the evening and overnight. For most of us, penetration of hydrophilic (water-soluble) and lipophilic (fat-soluble) compounds peaks around 0400 am. Therefore, most skincare products that we apply at night will be fully absorbed into our skin by the time we wake the following morning. As such, the application of most skincare products from the night prior shouldn't interfere with absorption of any serums, moisturizers, or actives applied the following morning. 

    However, if an individual applies certain occlusives such as petrolatum, mineral oil, argan oil, lanolin, or jojoba oil (to name a few) at night, these products might remain on the skin the following morning as they are more likely to sit on the surface of the skin and act as a barrier. Given that occlusives are designed to lay on top of the skin rather than penetrate into the skin, the presence of these ingredients would restrict the ability of products applied in the morning to absorb into the skin unless the occlusive is first washed off in the morning. 


    Hope that these morning teen face washing tips are helpful!

    Smart Skin Starts Now,

    Dr. Angela