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Any derm will tell you that your cleansing step is the most important one in your routine. It’s responsible for clearing dirt, makeup, and grime out of your pores, and creating a clean canvas on top of which you can apply the rest of your products. Because of this, it’s critical that you’re starting the process with the right product—and know exactly how to figure out when you’re using the wrong cleanser.

In a recent video posted to Instagram, Alexis Stephens, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, beauty chemist, and the founder of Parkland Dermatology, revealed three surefire ways to determine your cleanser isn’t right for your skin. Keep scrolling for her tried and tested tips, plus our product picks for ensuring you get it right every time you lather and rinse.

TIP

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1. Your skin feels tight

Contrary to popular belief, cleansers aren’t meant to leave your skin feeling “squeaky clean” after you use them. In fact, if you’re experiencing any tightness in your complexion after you wash your face, it’s a good sign that your cleanser is probably stripping your skin. “The squeaky-clean feeling is something that consumers have traditionally been used to,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York-based dermatologist, previously told Well+Good.  “People correlate it with healthy skin. In reality, however, we know that this post-wash dryness is actually harmful to the overall skin health.”

Too-harsh cleansers have the potential to remove too much natural oil from your skin, which can be a recipe for disaster. In the short term, your skin will dry out, and in the long term, your body will start to overproduce its own oils to try and combat this dryness, ultimately leading to breakouts. To combat this, look for a gentle, alcohol-free face wash in lieu of something harsh or exfoliating.

2. There are dry patches on your skin

Tightness aside, post-cleanse dry patches are another telltale sign that your go-to face wash is messing with your skin barrier. According to Dr. Stephens, “this is a clear indication that you need something more hydrating.” In this case, you’ll want to look for ingredients that will strengthen your skin barrier, like ceramides, as well as humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, that will help your skin retain the moisture from the rest of the steps in your routine.

3. You’ve been using the same cleanser all year long

Just like your wardrobe, your skin-care routine should change alongside seasonal shifts, and your cleansing step is no exception. “Change your cleanser with your environment,” says Dr. Stephens. Between summer and fall, for example, pros suggest opting for a more hydrating cleanser to account for the effects that cold, dry air can have on your complexion.

Once winter hits, you’ll want to take extra care to ensure you’re using something gentle. “Using harsh soaps and detergents exacerbate the effect because they are formulated to remove oil so they consequently strip moisture from the skin,” Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in NYC previously told Well+Good. “It’s helpful to use gentle soap substitutes instead, like Dove, which won’t strip the skin of oil and moisture.”

For more face-washing 411, check out the video below. 

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