Q: Why is using just water on your face not enough to wash it?
A: Sometimes it is, but most of the time we need a little more help. Let me explain why.
Your skin has a protection barrier called the acid mantle that is made up of your body’s natural oils and moisture. It is slightly acidic with a pH of 4.5 - 5.5. Both the acid mantle of the skin and its pH are vitally important in keeping your skin healthy. The acidity of your acid mantle helps to protect against bacteria and environmental pollutants, as well as hold in lipids and moisture. On the pH scale the difference of 1 number is to the power of 10 (4 is 10 x’s more acidic than 5; 3 is 100 x’s more acidic than 5; 2 is 1000 x’s more acidic than 5). Water is a 7 on the pH scale, a pH that is 1.5 - 2.5 higher than your skins pH. Meaning your skin is dramatically more acidic than water and that washing with water alone still disrupts the acid mantle and can leave the skin dry and vulnerable to external factors.
Those who have dry, dehydrated, or mature skin may not want to wash in the morning (assuming they went to bed with a clean face). Dry skin produces less oil, so washing the face in the morning may unnecessarily strip away whatever has developed of the acid mantle during the night and compromise the barrier on the skin. Just rinsing the face with water and then rebalancing it by applying a moisturizer can be a more beneficial morning routine. Another possibility (and my preference) would be use a milky cleanser in the morning. Milky cleansers help keep the skin pH balanced by leaving a moisture barrier down to restore the skin to a more normal state.
For all the rest of us, we need to wash our face twice a day. Excess oil production and dead skin cells block the pores and need to be removed regularly in order to keep the skin functioning properly. If you are acneic it is even more imperative that you cleanse twice a day because your skin produces more dead skin cells than the average person so washing assists in removing the surplus and helps prevent breakouts. The use of treatment products at night, like benzoyl peroxide, acids, or retinols, can have adverse reactions if worn throughout the day so you want to remove those and start the day off with fresh, clean skin. If you have eczema, acne, or rosacea, using a medicated cleanser will actually do more for your skin than not washing at all!
Most of us are not getting that dirty throughout our normal day so quit being so rough on your face! Your skin does not have to be “squeaky-clean.” Using countless exfoliating creams, scrubs, and brushes (even those fancy, expensive ones that spin and vibrate) on a daily basis breaks down the skins protective barrier causing your skin to become over sensitized making you react to every product that touches your face.
When looking for a cleanser keep in mind that cleansers that foam up are for oilier skins and milky/creamy cleansers are for dryer skin types. Milky cleanser will not be enough to sufficiently cleanse oily skin. Foaming cleansers may be too harsh and stripping for those who have dry skin. Everyone should wash their face for 30-60 seconds so that the cleanser can properly remove any dirt and makeup from the face; as well as allow for any active ingredients time to penetrate and do their stuff!
If you feel like you have tried everything and have given up or are afraid to try something new I would suggest you see an aesthetician. A well-trained aesthetician knows ingredients, understands the pH scale in regards to the skin, and knows how products affect the skin. An aesthetician can help you get back on the right path to great skin.