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Is Double Cleansing Good for Acne? Benefits and Best Practices

a woman is having fun double cleansing her face

Double cleansing, a skincare regimen that originated in Korea, is rapidly gaining popularity worldwide. It involves washing your face in two steps, first with an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup and excess sebum, followed by a water-based cleanser to clean your skin. This method ensures a more thorough cleansing than a single wash, helping to keep the skin free from the build-up of impurities that can lead to acne. 

With a heightened focus on skincare routines, the double cleansing method has taken centre stage for its potential benefits in managing and preventing acne.

According to Dr. Justin Boey, Medical Director at Sozo Aesthetic Clinic, preventing acne is crucial to avoid the development of unsightly marks and permanent indented scars.

What Causes Acne?

Acne is typically caused by the overproduction of oil and the build-up of dead skin cells in the pores, leading to the formation of ‘comedones’ – blackheads or whiteheads. Additionally, Propionibacterium acnes residing in the skin’s oil glands can multiply and cause redness, swelling, and pus, leading to pustules and papules. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during adolescence and menstruation, can also exacerbate acne. 

There are two types of acne: non-inflammatory (like blackheads and whiteheads) and inflammatory (like papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts). The non-inflammatory types are generally less severe and more manageable. In contrast, the inflammatory ones tend to be more painful and severe and may lead to scarring if not treated properly.

How Skin Care Affects Acne?

Skin care plays a pivotal role in developing and managing acne. A well-followed skincare routine can help maintain the optimal health and hygiene of the skin, potentially reducing the risk of acne breakouts. Regularly cleansing the skin removes excess oils, dead skin cells, and other impurities that may clog the pores, a common cause of acne. Moisturising can maintain the skin’s hydration level and balance, preventing the overproduction of sebum, which often happens when the skin is excessively dry. Lastly, exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells that lead to clogged pores and acne.

When incorporated into your routine, the double cleansing method can be particularly beneficial for acne-prone skin. Its two-step process ensures a thorough cleansing, reducing the likelihood of pore blockages. However, it’s crucial to choose your products carefully. Opt for non-comedogenic oil cleansers, meaning they won’t clog pores and water-based cleansers that are gentle and suitable for your skin type. Over-cleansing or using harsh products can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing it to produce more oil to compensate, potentially leading to more acne.

Furthermore, it’s essential to integrate acne treatments into your skincare routine. These may include over-the-counter products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid or prescription treatments advised by a dermatologist. Remember, though, that skin care is just one component of acne management. Lifestyle factors such as diet, stress levels, and sleep patterns can also significantly impact your skin’s health.

What is Double Cleansing?

Double cleansing is a two-step process that involves using an oil-based cleanser followed by a water-based cleanser. This aims to break down and remove oil-based impurities such as makeup, SPF, and excess sebum (the skin’s natural oil). The second step calls for a water-based cleanser. This step handles water-based impurities like dirt and sweat, cleaning your skin thoroughly.

In contrast, a single cleanse routine typically involves just one round of cleansing, often with a water-based or foaming cleanser. While this may appear sufficient, it fails to adequately remove oil-based impurities, potentially leaving traces of makeup, SPF, and sebum, which can accumulate and clog pores, leading to the development of acne. Double cleansing, with its two-pronged approach, ensures a more comprehensive cleanse, addressing oil- and water-based impurities and offering a clean slate for your following skincare steps.

First Cleanse (Oil-Based Cleanser)

The first cleanse, involving an oil-based cleanser, aims to break down oil-based impurities, including makeup, sunscreen, and excess sebum. Oil-based cleansers use the principle of ‘like dissolves like’ — meaning oil can effectively dissolve other oils. As a result, applying an oil-based cleanser works to dissolve and lift away the oil-based debris on your skin without disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier. This includes stubborn makeup that can be heavily pigmented, thick sunscreens designed to withstand water and sweat, and excess sebum our skin naturally produces. By effectively removing these oil-based impurities, the first cleanse helps to prevent clogged pores and subsequent acne breakouts. The oil-based nature of this cleanser also means it’s generally gentler and less likely to dry out the skin, making it suitable even for sensitive or dry skin.

Second Cleanse (Water-Based Cleanser)

a woman in the bathroom with a towel on her head washes her face

The second cleanse involves a water-based cleanser designed to address water-based impurities such as sweat and dirt. After the first cleanse removes the oil-based impurities, the water-based cleanser can more effectively reach and clean out the pores, removing any lingering residue, grime, or dirt. This cleanser is typically formulated with mild surfactants that cleanse the skin without disrupting its pH balance or stripping it of its natural moisture. Humectants like glycerin may also help maintain the skin’s hydration. By ensuring that the skin is thoroughly cleaned, the second cleanse step helps prevent the build-up of impurities that could clog the pores and result in acne. It also prepares the skin for the following steps in your skincare routine, such as toning and moisturising, allowing these products to penetrate the skin better and work more effectively.

Origins of Double Cleansing

Double cleansing finds its roots in Asia, specifically Japan, where it forms an integral part of the traditional beauty rituals. The concept has been around for centuries and was initially used by geisha to remove their heavy, oil-based makeup. They would first use an oil, often Camellia oil, to break down the makeup and then follow up with a lather-rich rice bran cleanser to remove any residue. This method ensured their skin remained clean and clear despite the heavy makeup and harsh environmental conditions. With the explosion of the K-beauty trend worldwide, double cleansing has gained global popularity and is now widely recognized as a fundamental step in achieving healthy, glowing skin.

Can Double Cleansing Help Acne?

Double cleansing provides several advantages for individuals battling acne, primarily through its comprehensive removal of impurities and enhancement of subsequent skincare products’ effectiveness.

Thorough Makeup and Sunscreen Removal

Acne-prone skin can become significantly aggravated by the trapped remnants of makeup and sunscreen, which can clog pores and foster bacteria growth. The oil-based cleanser used in the first step of double cleansing is particularly effective at breaking down and removing these stubborn, oil-based products. As a result, this can greatly reduce the risk of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and inflammatory acne, which may arise from congested pores.

Deep Cleansing of Pores

Double cleansing gives a thorough cleanse that a single round may not achieve. Following the removal of oil-based impurities with the first cleanse, the second cleanse, performed with a water-based cleanser, further purifies by effectively removing sweat, grime, and dirt from the skin’s surface. By reaching deeper into the skin’s pores, this second cleanse ensures a complete clean that can help prevent future acne breakouts.

Enhanced Product Absorption

A significant advantage of double cleansing for acne-prone skin is that it optimises the absorption of subsequent skincare products. By thoroughly cleansing the skin, you’re effectively enhancing your skin’s ability to absorb the full benefits of acne treatments that follow, such as toners, serums, and moisturisers. This means your skincare products can work more effectively in managing acne, as they can penetrate deeper into the skin without being obstructed by any residual dirt or makeup.

How to Double Cleanse?

Double cleansing is a simple process that can easily be incorporated into your evening skincare routine. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Choose an Oil-Based Cleanser: Choose an oil-based cleanser that suits your skin type. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, opt for a cleanser with a non-comedogenic oil that won’t clog your pores. For dry or sensitive skin, look for cleansers with nourishing oils that can help to moisturise and soothe the skin.

  2. Apply the Oil-Based Cleanser: Dispense a small amount of the oil cleanser onto your dry hands and warm it up by rubbing your hands together. Apply it to your dry face, spreading it evenly over your skin. Gently massage the cleanser into your skin in circular motions to break down the makeup, sunscreen, and excess sebum.

  3. Rinse Off the Cleanser: Wet your hands with lukewarm water and massage the face. The water will emulsify the cleanser, turning it into a milky consistency. Rinse thoroughly until all the cleanser has been removed. You should be left with a film-free finish.

  4. Choose a Water-Based Cleanser: Next, choose a water-based cleanser that suits your skin type. For acne-prone or oily skin, look for a cleanser with ingredients like salicylic acid that can help to unclog pores. For dry or sensitive skin, opt for a gentle, hydrating cleanser to help maintain the skin’s moisture barrier.

  5. Apply the Water-Based Cleanser: Wet your face, then apply a small amount of the water-based cleanser, massaging it into your skin in circular motions. This will help remove sweat, dirt, and residual oil-based impurities.

  6. Rinse and Pat Dry: Rinse off the cleanser with lukewarm water until your skin feels clean and fresh. Pat your face dry with a clean, soft towel. Remember not to rub your face, as this can irritate you.

  7. Follow with the Rest of Your Skincare Routine: After double cleansing, your skin can absorb the benefits of the rest of your skincare products more effectively. Continue with your toner, serum, moisturiser, or any acne treatments you may be using.

Best Practices for Double Cleansing

To effectively implement double cleansing into your skincare routine for acne-prone skin, there are a few key points to bear in mind:

  1. Choose the Right Products: Not all cleansers are created equal. For your oil-based cleanser, opt for a light, non-comedogenic oil that won’t clog your pores. Camellia oil, for instance, is a good option. Your water-based cleanser should ideally contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, known to combat acne.

  2. Be Gentle: Scrubbing your skin can irritate it and exacerbate acne. Instead, apply your cleansers gently, using circular motions, and rinse with lukewarm water. Avoid hot water, as it can strip your skin of essential oils.

  3. Stay Consistent: Consistency is key in any skincare routine. Try to double cleanse each evening to keep your skin as clean as possible. However, over-cleansing can also be harmful, so once a day should suffice.

  4. Pay Attention to Your Skin’s Reaction: Everyone’s skin is unique, and what works for some might not work for others. If you notice your skin becoming overly dry or irritated after double cleansing, consider switching to gentler products or reducing the frequency of your double-cleansing routine.

  5. Follow Up with Appropriate Skincare Products: After double cleansing, follow up with a toner, serum, moisturiser, or acne treatment as required. Try to use products that are non-comedogenic and formulated for acne-prone skin. Your skin should now be primed to absorb these products more effectively.

Choose the Right Cleansers

Choosing the right oil– and water-based cleansers is a crucial step in the double cleansing process. This choice can distinguish between clear, balanced skin and irritated, overly dry, or still prone to acne breakouts.

Oil-Based Cleansers

Oil-based cleansers are designed to remove oil-based impurities like makeup, sunscreen, and excess sebum. Non-comedogenic oils like grapeseed or hemp seed oil are ideal for oily or acne-prone skin. These oils won’t clog your pores and can help regulate your skin’s natural oil production. For dry skin, look for nourishing oils like almond or argan. These can replenish your skin’s natural moisture and keep it from over-drying during cleansing. For mature skin, consider cleansers with antioxidants, like those derived from olive or jojoba oil, which can help combat signs of ageing.

Water-Based Cleansers

Water-based cleansers work to remove water-based impurities like sweat, dirt, and residual grime. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, a cleanser that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can help unclog pores and manage acne. For dry skin, seek hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, which can replenish lost moisture and keep skin hydrated. For combination skin, a balanced cleanser with some mild exfoliating properties, like lactic acid, can help manage both dry and oily areas of your face. For mature skin, look for ingredients that support skin health and renewal, such as ceramides or vitamin C.

Frequency of Double Cleansing

Determining the frequency of double cleansing depends on your daily activities and skin type. If you wear heavy makeup, work in a dusty or polluted environment, or have excessively oily skin, double cleansing in the evening might be beneficial to thoroughly remove impurities. 

Generally, double cleansing should be done every night, regardless of your skin type or daily activities. This is because the process removes not just the grime of the day but also accumulated sweat, oil, and potential pollutants that have been sitting on your skin. 

However, if your skin is extremely dry or sensitive, double cleansing daily might strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to irritation or dryness. In such cases, you should limit double cleansing to every other day or a few times weekly. 

Everyone’s skin is unique, so it’s important to listen to your skin and adjust your routine as needed. If you notice any dryness or irritation, adjust your routine or consult a dermatologist or skincare professional. 

In all cases, the most important time to double cleanse is in the evening, before bed. Nighttime double cleansing ensures that all the daily grime and pollutants are thoroughly removed, providing a clean slate for your nighttime skincare routine and allowing your skin to repair and regenerate while you sleep.

Follow-up Skincare

After double cleansing, following up with a balanced skincare routine tailored to your specific skin needs is essential. This next step can make a significant difference in your skin’s overall health and appearance. 

When your face is thoroughly cleansed, it’s primed to better absorb the active ingredients in your skincare products. If you use them, this is the perfect time to apply your acne treatments. Topical treatments like retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid can penetrate the skin more effectively and work magic on acne-causing bacteria and clogged pores. However, remember that these treatments can dry, so balancing them with appropriate hydration is crucial.

It’s crucial to moisturize your skin, even if it’s oily and prone to acne. Skipping moisturizer can cause your skin to produce more oil to compensate for the lack of hydration, leading to more acne. To avoid this, choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer that won’t clog your pores. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which can provide deep hydration without feeling heavy or greasy.

Potential Downsides and Precautions

While double cleansing can be highly beneficial for acne-prone skin, it has potential downsides and risks that should be acknowledged. Over-cleansing is a common issue that can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to an overproduction of sebum and exacerbating acne problems. Some individuals may also find that their skin reacts negatively to certain cleanser ingredients, causing irritation, redness, or increased breakouts. Additionally, it’s worth noting that double cleansing alone may not be enough to manage more severe acne cases, and medical treatments may be required. As always, testing new products and routines on a small skin patch is advisable first to gauge your skin’s reaction. If you have persistent acne, consult a dermatologist or other skin care professional to develop a skincare routine that suits your needs.


Double cleansing is a simple but effective way to keep your skin balanced and healthy. Using oil-based and water-based cleansers in conjunction can effectively remove all types of impurities from your face without over-drying or irritating the skin. Remember to choose products tailored to your specific skin type and needs and listen to your skin’s signals if it needs a break from double cleansing. 

You can enjoy clear, glowing skin every day with the right products and routine. Why not try double cleansing and see the difference it can make for your skin? 

Always prioritize gentle and nourishing ingredients, and consult a skincare professional if you have any concerns or persistent acne issues. You can achieve your desired skin goals and have a healthy, radiant complexion with consistency and patience. 


Medical Director

After graduating from the National University of Singapore, Dr Boey’s journey in aesthetics brought him to esteemed institutions such as Harvard Medical School, American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and Queen Mary University of London in diverse cities like Seoul, London, Boston and New York.