Mastering the Art of the Double Cleanse

Trust us — a double-dip of skincare will never feel or look happier…

Once upon a time, I thought that “washing my face” was as simple as some soap and water. Maybe I’d throw in a quick exfoliator scrub into the mix if I was feeling particularly motivated, and a mask if things got real fancy. After the initial soap-and-water combo, I’d also swipe a cotton pad loaded with toner or astringent over my face. Without fail, it would come away covered in leftover makeup and grime — aka the soap and water wasn’t removing everything my face had accrued over the course of the day and there was probably still a lot left even after the cotton pad.

Rather than change my nighttime skincare routine, I assumed this was normal and just kept on doing my thing. My skin had never been cooperative and I had resigned myself to just having a finicky face.

I don’t remember when or how I first heard about the phenomenon of double cleansing but, when I tested it out, my skin responded almost immediately. After nearly two years of religiously double cleansing every night, my skin has never felt or looked happier and, while there are definitely a whole cadre of products that have undoubtedly contributed, it all started with the double cleanse.

Why should I double cleanse?

Even though it’s a bit more high maintenance than what you’re probably used to doing, it really only adds a minute or two to your routine, I promise. And it’s totally and completely worth it.

As the name implies, double cleansing means washing your face twice: once with an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup, dirt, excess oil and dead skin, and again with a more “traditional” cleanser to further clean up the skin. You need these two types of cleansers because — surprise! — there are actually two types of dirt your face encounters: oil-based dirt like makeup, and everything else like dust, sweat and dirt.

And since science tells us oil and water don’t mix, you need to fight like with like and use an oil-based cleanser to remove oil-based dirt. The oil in the cleanser? It’s attracted to the fat in your sebaceous glands and the oil on your face in the form of makeup, sunscreen and pollution, meaning it’ll deep-clean without messing with the lipids and ceramides between skin cells aka it won’t leave your face feeling raw, dry and tight like a lot of traditional cleansers. Then that foaming cleanser swoops in to get rid of any remaining surface-level residue and deeply purify skin.

Another upside to double cleansing? Having thoroughly cleansed skin also makes it much easier for whatever products you use after — serum, moisturizer, oils, etc. — to be absorbed and do their jobs.

What products should I use?

As stated above, you’ll need an oil-based cleanser and a mild foaming cleanser. If you don’t have super-sensitive skin, you can try using plain ‘ole coconut oil like the one from Kopari for that first step. For a bit more nuance, look for something specifically deemed a “cleansing oil” (Pai Skincare’s Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil uses a mix of rosehip, olive, geranium and jasmine oils to make sure everything gets removed while still keeping skin soft) or an oil-based “cleansing balm” (the Birdbath Antioxidant Cleansing Balm from O’o Hawaii is a personal favorite, an exclusive antioxidant blend that features Hawaiian Coffeeberry Extract and Hawaiian Red Algae to promote new cell growth and prevent cellular damage, while Pineapple Enzymes help to brighten and resurface and Hawaiian Kukui and Macadamia Nut Oil deeply moisturize). Both oils and oil-based balms harness the power of oils and other natural ingredients to remove dirt, grime and makeup without stripping skin of its natural and necessary oils. You’ll also need a soft, clean cloth to remove the oil or balm, but more on that later.

For your second step, a mild cleanser will get to work on the water-based dirt still lurking on your skin. If you have oilier skin and like the idea of using a foaming cleanser next, Youth To The People’s Superfood Cleanser is a solid and luxurious choice since it’s formulated with cold-pressed antioxidants — kale, spinach, and green tea — to give your skin an ultimate cleanse. Ursa Major’s Fantastic Face Wash adds a hit of AHA exfoliation without stripping you of moisture or throwing off your pH balance. This formula works to remove oil and grime while helping to clear and brighten your skin, making it a good option for combination and oily skin. For the non-foaming fans out there, Pai’s Middlemist Seven Cleanser is a fave. And the fact that it includes a dual-effect sensitive skin cloth (with textured muslin AND soft terry sides!) certainly doesn’t hurt.

How do I double cleanse?

Step One:

Warm 1-2 pumps of an oil or a pea-sized amount of a cleansing balm in your dry hands by rubbing your palms together for a few minutes.

Step Two:

Once the oil cleanser/balm has melted, gently massage it into your skin (yes, makeup and all) for 30-60 seconds. Use slow, firm movements to work the oil/balm into your skin. I like to move my hands in circles from my neck upward, but it’s totally up to you. While you’re massaging, you’re also helping improve blood flow and activate your lymph nodes for even glow-ier skin. PS — Don’t be alarmed when your mascara and eyeliner raccoons its way up to your eyebrows and down to your cheeks…it means the process is working.

Step Three:

Take a clean washcloth and let it soak in warm water for a bit. Ring it out so it’s damp (but still warm) and lay it over your entire face for about 30 seconds. The warmth and moisture will help to lift the makeup and dirt that cleanser has picked up. Think of this step like a mini-steam for your face. Then gently use that same cloth to wipe everything away.

Step Four:

Time for cleanse #2. Use a small amount of your chosen cleanser and massage into your skin for about one minute using your fingertips. Really make sure you’re covering your entire face, throat and jaw line. Rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Step Five:

Apply your favorite serums, oils, moisturizers…whatever your heart desires. But do make sure you’re using something nourishing post-cleanse since this is prime time for your skin to receive active, good-for-you ingredients.

Step Six:

Stand back and admire your thoroughly cleansed, deeply moisturized, happy and healthy skin!

Step Seven:

Repeat every night before bed. Seriously.

+ Read more beauty tips and tricks from Allie here.


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I’ve looked up double cleansing everywhere on the internet and all the sites seem to give an unclear definition of what it actually is. I’m so glad I read this, because it means I’ve been double cleansing correctly for the past half year! To be honest, though, I don’t see much difference in terms of my skin (maybe I’m doing it wrong?), but I definitely feel a lot cleaner!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

6 years ago

Love this!

6 years ago

I use a single product that actually does the double-cleansing. You apply 2-3 pumps to dry skin and the oil removes makeup, impurities and grime. After you’ve massaged the product into your skin, you apply just a little bit of water and it transforms into a soft, milky lather for deep cleansing. It’s botanically-based, extremely gentle on your skin and very cost effective.

6 years ago

I was checking out some of the articles on your site & found your post about face cleansing.
Great Stuff!

Here’s the link in case you want to check it out.

Either way, keep up the awesome work.

5 years ago

Thank you, this was absolutely wonderful. I had read recently of double-cleansing, but I’d been falsely under the impression this meant simply doing the same thing twice in a row. (In much the same way that shampoo bottle labels used to tell us to repeat the whole process for extra-clean hair!)

I really appreciated the care with which this process was explained in detail for those of us who are beginners at it, with even a variety of products recommended depending upon individual skin type and even links to the products!

This is just a teensy tiny correction: we “wring out” a wet washcloth, rather than “ring out”. (Hardly seems important enough to mention here after your brilliant article which was so amazing, though!) Thank you again and now I’m going to do my shopping so I can get started with my double-cleansing process! I can hardly wait to see what it does for my skin!

Jenna LZ
3 years ago
Reply to  Antonia

“I can’t hardly wait”

I’m glad I was able to read this. I’ve been using double cleansing incorrectly and if I haven’t read this, I will be in the wrong process.

Karanvir Singh
2 years ago

Hey can you recommend hair oil for hair fall control?

2 years ago

I was surprised when I saw Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash, I really like this product. I’ve been using this for a few weeks now and the AHA does help gently exfoliate. The scent is lovely. My skin does not feel tight or dry after using. (I do use a serum and moisturizer afterwards regardless but I thought it was worth noting that it’s not a drying face wash.)

8 months ago

I like the topic! Double cleanse really makes my skin so smooth and fresh. So refreshing for me!