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Cleansing Your Skin Isn’t Just About Getting Rid Of Dirt

You can’t spend two minutes surfing the Internet for information about acne without coming across and article or an advertisement or a question or a comment about skin cleansers. Thousands of pages of information tell us that cleansing the skin is basic to curing acne. But what does it mean to cleanse your skin, anyway?

Acne Facial Wash
Cleansing alone is not enough to prevent acne; you also need to remove the dead skin cells.

Cleansing Doesn’t Equal Dirt Removal

For thousands of years, most human beings spent most of their lives getting dirty. Nearly everyone had to hunt for food—often without shoes—or toil on the soil to grow food. If you were one of the rare people who did not have to spend nearly all day nearly every day in intimate contact with dirt, you certainly didn’t have a Dyson cleaner you could use while you puttered around the house.

Cleansing the skin used to be mostly about removing dirt, and if you’re just rinsing the mud away, all you really need is water. But acne isn’t caused by dirt and getting rid of dirt won’t cure your acne (although it’s pretty basic to good health if that’s something you need to do). The cleansing that works for acne is as much about removing dead skin1 as it is about removing dirt.

Acne Begins With Dead Skin Buildup

The first step in acne is always the accumulation of dead skin in pores2. Before the immune system attacks your skin with swelling and redness, bacteria have to accumulate in the pore. Before acne bacteria accumulate in a pore, they have to have a generous supply of sebum for their food. And before sebum can fill the pore, the opening of the pore has to be blocked by excessive growth of skin.

The sides of pores in your skin are also made of skin. This skin grows and matures and eventually sheds, just like the skin between your pores. But since ductal skin lies inside a pore, it can fall deeper into the pore or it can flow out with excess sebum. There is a fine balance between having enough sebaceous oil production in your skin to keep flakes of dead skin flowing to the surface and having so much sebaceous oil production to ensure your pores stay open. It’s not a good thing to try to get rid of all the oil on or in your skin.

Obviously, there aren’t any teeny tiny brushes that you can use to scrub out your pores. Any bristle brush you use on your skin can’t reach into your pores, but it can peel off healthy skin and leave it open to infection while appearing red and rough. But there are ways you can lift and separate dead skin on in your pores without damaging the skin between them.

Cleansing With Microbeads

One of the most effective ways to clean your pores3 while you clean your skin is to use cleansers that contain polyethylene or jojoba microbeads. These microscopic scrubbers are small enough to fit into the opening of the pore and small enough that they are easily rinsed away with warm water. The beads used in skin care products are smooth enough that they don’t tear or irritate your skin. That’s something you don’t want to do, because irritating the skin stimulates it to protect itself by making more oil.

Microbeads don’t just clean your pores. They also lift and separate tiny flakes of dead skin on the surface between your pores. This action poses a number of benefits for your skin. Gently peeling off dead skin reveals the living skin beneath it. Your natural skin tones are brighter and more vibrant.

Removing that invisible layer of dead skin also helps smooth out fine lines and wrinkles. Dead skin tugs at the tissues around it and makes wrinkles deeper. Removing that dead skin reduces the tension on your skin so wrinkles and creases fade away.

And just because you are a teenager or a young adult, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to lighten wrinkles and creases in your skin. Various kinds of creepy crawlies, such as the microscopic mite known as Demodex folliculorum4, like to lurk in creases and wrinkles in your skin. When your skin gets either a little too dry or a little too oily, this mite is activated in your skin, either to consume dry flakes of skin or to consume excess oil in your skin.

All that crawling around in your skin—as many as 100 mites per square inch of skin—irritates your pores. The skin on the sides of your pores dies and flakes and blocks the pore at the same time the sebaceous gland at the base of the pore starts making more oil. The result is a whitehead that can oxidize to form a blackhead or that can become infected and form a pimple. One of the most important reasons to cleanse your skin is to get the parasites off your skin. Just don’t work too hard at pest control.

Cleansing Too Much Can Cause As Many Problems As Not Cleansing Enough.

You don’t need to cleanse your skin 10 times a day. Or even 5 times a day. Unless something occurs like getting hit with a pie in the face, you only need to cleanse your skin once or at most twice a day5. And you never need to rub and scrub vigorously to getting anything off or out of your skin. Use your fingers, not a washcloth, and never, ever rub your skin red.

Why not wash more than twice a day? The problem with washing too often or too hard or with detergents and soaps that are too harsh is that they don’t just cleanse skin, they can kill it. Those little flakes of dead skin can flop and flap and land in your pores. And when flakes of skin block your pores6, acne blemishes quickly follow.

Cleansing your skin isn’t rocket science, and you don’t have to wade through the thousands of skin care products on the market to choose the right one. We have found that Exposed Skin Care is what works for us, and even if doesn’t work for you, it comes with a one-year money-back guarantee.


  1. Mukhopadhyay P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 2011;56(1):2-6.
  2. Maia Campos P.M.B.G., Melo M.O., Mercurio D.G. Use of Advanced Imaging Techniques for the Characterization of Oily Skin. Frontiers in Physiology. 2019;10:254.
  3. Kitsongsermthon J., Duangweang K., Kreepoke J., Tansirikongkol A. In vivo cleansing efficacy of biodegradable exfoliating beads assessed by skin bioengineering techniques. Skin Research and Technology. 2017;23(4):525-530.
  4. Yücel A., Yilmaz M. Investigation of the prevalance of Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis in rosacea patients. Türkiye parazitolojii dergisi. 2013;37(3):195-8.
  5. Face washing 101. American Academy of Dermatology (Website). Accessed 2019.
  6. Sparavigna A., Tenconi B., De Ponti I., La Penna L. An innovative approach to the topical treatment of acne. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. 2015;8:179-85.
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S Reply

Darn. I've been searching to teeny tiny pore brushes, scoops, spoons, curettes, whatever. :/

October 6, 2015 at 8:37 pm Reply
Catherine Hadley Reply

Micro beads are terrible for the environment. Please don't use products that have them.

December 15, 2015 at 4:35 am Reply

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