The best way to remove makeup requires more than just picking a cleanser you find at the store. To really get that water-proof mascara or 24-hour liquid lipstick off, you have to be committed and follow two simple cleansing steps.

We spoke with dermatologist Dr. Robert Finney, MD, about all the things you should consider when selecting a cleanser and washing your face properly.

Commit to a Regular Routine

One of the most important beauty commandments is to always remove makeup before going to bed. According to Dr. Finney, leaving makeup on overnight will clog pores, which will then lead to uneven skin texture and breakouts. "Our pores need to stay open to help repair the skin's barrier and keep it healthy," he says. "When they are clogged, they can't do this. Leaving makeup on will contribute to a dry, lusterless appearance."

You'll also want to be sure you wash your face thoroughly in the morning. It may sound redundant if you have an extensive night routine, but he explains that a lot goes on with your skin while you're asleep. Things like sweat, oil production, cell turnover, and simply coming into contact with pillow covers and sheets can cause skin irritation and acne. So, as a general rule of thumb, always wash your face in the morning and evening; your skin could benefit greatly from it.

Get Yourself Clean

The best way to remove makeup is by using the right products for your level of application and your unique skin type. And there are many different products out there for this: wipes, cleansing oils, foams, micellar water—the list goes on. It can all be a bit overwhelming, but finding what works for you is key.

Are Wipes All Hype?

Makeup wipes, in particular, have been a source of some controversy, with many users and even estheticians trading stories of such products being ineffective. They claim that wipes promising one-step removal often only smear makeup around, leaving the day's products to clog your pores after hours. You may even hear tales about improperly stored wipes developing bacteria that can be harmful to your skin. While there doesn't seem to be any evidence to support this, it's important to pay attention to how your skin reacts when you experiment with new products. These wipes may be handy for removing the bulk of heavy mascara or eyeliner (you'll see it coming off), but don't take it for granted that the product is doing the whole job. Always follow initial removal with a deeper cleanse and a wash.

Keep It Simple

As far as removal tools, you can try disposable cotton swabs or lightly textured cotton pads—even your hands alone do a better job than you might think. Avoid scrubbing pads and washcloths, however, as these can harbor bacteria and are more abrasive on the skin than necessary.

As far as a cleansing product, many Derms and estheticians swear by micellar water as a great first step to removing makeup. These gentle mixtures are made of purified water, moisturizing substances, and very mild surfactants, the actual cleaning agents that loosen dirt and oil from the skin.

Ideally, you shouldn't just stop there when cleaning your face. You'll need to follow your wipes or remover of choice with another deeper cleanse for best results. Dr. Finney likes to recommend a gentle micellar water followed by a cleanser that suits your skin type.

Find the Right Cleanser for Your Skin Type

Everyone is unique, so this part is not to be overlooked. To find what's best for you may take some trial and error, but start by considering the following skin type and product match-ups:

  • Oily or combo skin: Go for clay, gel, or oil-free foaming cleansers that are lightweight, won't clog pores, and will absorb excess oil.
  • Sensitive skin: Choose milky or cream cleansers that are gentle and smooth while also hydrating. These should also leave out unnecessary fragrances and dyes.
  • Dry skin: Use oil-based cleansers that will provide needed moisture while also removing long-wear and waterproof makeup well. There are also oil-free formulas specifically designed so they won't overdry skin.

Finishing With Gentle Moisture

Once you're satisfied your skin has been relieved of all cosmetics, it's time to moisturize before winding down. A carefully formulated nighttime product goes on last, ideally onto slightly damp skin. This is the proverbial icing on the cake that helps ensure you wake up glowing.

Thoroughly cleaning your skin is so important because it sets the stage for the rest of your routine. All the active ingredients you need to address your skin concerns will work better when applied to a clean slate. Remember to keep these tips in mind the next time you take off your makeup, and you'll be setting yourself up for success for any other skin care goals. After you perfect your cleansing and care routine, you may find you need less makeup than you thought!


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.

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