Should I Be Cleansing My Face with Only Water?

While water-cleansing might seem like a recent trend, the practice is not a new one. Today, as people try to find the right regimen, water-cleansing is being revisited as a simple remedy for healthy skin. The effectiveness of water-cleansing seems divided. In one camp, simple skincare advocates mention that water can cleanse dirt and sweat from the skin’s surface without the help of cleansers. In the other camp, researchers claim that water is not enough to cleanse away all impurities which come into contact with the skin, particularly those caused by pollution. So, should you be cleansing your face with only water? Water-cleansing has a few benefits for those with dry or sensitive skin. But one may find that the risks may outweigh the benefits. Here are a few factors that should be considered before making your decision.

Issues

  • Skin Types
  • Lifestyle
  • Skin Regimen or Products
  • Environmental Impurities
  • Climate and Water Source

Skin Type
Water-cleansing might be suitable for those with more dry and sensitive skin types, or skin conditions. This is because those with sensitive skin might be irritated by the combination of ingredients found in soaps or liquid cleansers. Those with very dry skin or eczema will find that water-cleansing helps to retain the skin’s natural moisture. However, persons with oily, acne-prone, or combination skin might need soap or liquid cleanser to dissolve excess oil which often clogs pores and causes breakouts. Those with acne-prone skin might opt for cleansers as a precaution for any impurities that cannot be removed by water-cleansing.

Lifestyle
A person’s lifestyle has a major impact on water-cleansing. Do you often wear makeup? Do you work around a lot of dirt or toxins? Or, do you apply heavy products such as SPF creams, oils, or heavy moisturizers? Ingredients found in these products are not always soluble, which means that the water-only method may not be effectively cleansing the skin.

Skin Regimen or Products
Some may opt for water-cleansing if they’re using strong products or has a regimen that could potential irritate the skin. High levels of acids and chemicals (i.e. retinoids) can make the skin irritable to certain cleansers which makes water an effective solution for some. However, cleansers - especially Exfoliating Cleansers - work great with helping to remove dead skin cells which often flake while using chemical treatments.

Environmental Impurities
Impurities caused by pollution, airborne illnesses, and the environment are not always water-soluble and could not be effectively removed with the water-only method. When going outside, your skin is coming in contact with various air particles that can cause inflammation or increase signs of aging. In today’s industrious world, it’s never certain whether the number of impurities you come into contact with via air or water.
Climate and Water Source
Speaking of water, you should also consider the quality of water which you’re using to cleanse. Depending on where you live, your water resource might not be completely pure and can cause more damage to the skin. Hard-water sources can often cause the skin to look rougher or aged, which may require the use of an acid-infused cleanser, to ensure the skin stays smooth. Climate also affects your decision to water-cleanse. If you live in a climate that has low sunshine, and cold weather, a water-cleanse could help with moisture retention. It may also be easier to water-cleanse in colder climates because the sun is not causing the skin to produce as much sweat or sebum. However, if you live in hot and humid climates, cleansing is most suitable for ensuring that your skin stays clean and free of pore-clogging oils.

The Conclusion.

In conclusion, we would not suggest water-only methods because of its short backs and increased risks. Research studies have shown that when removing lingering product, like sunscreen, on the skin, the cleansers and cleansing oils has proven to be the most effective. Also, environmental impurities where particles are not water-soluble would not be removed with only water. Even with arguments noting that water-cleansing is enough to remove dirt, oil, and sweat, its advocates do not take into account hotter climates, pollution, or the qualities of water sources from around the world. Advocates also argue that cleansers are harsh on the skin's barrier but this is not true. Harvard researchers have noted that the face can withstand cleansers, whereas constant cleansing of the hands is most delicate. With our experience of treating clients who cleansed their faces using only water, their skin was duller, and tougher when compared with clients who used exfoliating cleansers. This is because water does not exfoliate dead skin cells which often accumulate on the skin’s surface. If you’ve been interested in looking into water-only cleansing because of sensitive skin, we would recommend against it and instead opt for a gentle hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic cleanser.
References

Partha Mukhopadhyay. CLEANSERS AND THEIR ROLE IN VARIOUS DERMATOLOGICAL DISORDERS. Indian J Dermatol. 2011 Jan-Feb; 56(1): 2–6.

Wei Chen MD, Mei He MB, Li Xie MM, et al. The optimal cleansing method for the removal of sunscreen:Water, cleanser or cleansing oil?. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 2020;19(1):180-184.

University of Wisconsin Health, May 2010, Which Chemical Peel Is Right For You? The Chalkboard, July 2018, Washing Face With Water Only? Here's Why!