How to Wash Your Face

May 25, 2009

where the fuck is the faucet

My esteemed colleague Stylecunt has asked me nicely (“Now, bitch.”) to lay out my skin care regimen. In the interest of never having to stare down another zitty, flaky, blackhead-studded face, pinpoints of clogged pores glowing green under club blacklights, I, your humble Steamcunt, have agreed.

The first thing you need to know about nice skin, is that it’s well-oiled. You probably know the next part, which has been dumbed down for the sake of simplicity: your skin produces a sort of wax called sebum, which is simultaneously the cause of, and solution to, all your skin problems. Sebum is what keeps your pores lubricated so they can express dirt and dead cells, it increases elasticity so that stretched skin can bounce back without forming wrinkles, and it’s responsible for that sort of ethereal “glow” that really healthy skins produce.

imperf_imperfcutThe problem with sebum is that you’re producing it constantly, and usually either under- or over-producing, too. Dry skin looks flaky and dull; greasy skin looks like a buttered ham. To fight the grease, we wash with soap and water, which dissolves the sebum and dries us out. Sometimes, your skin senses the dryness, and just ups production of sebum as a response. We’re back to being greasy. If we’re dry, we flake, we’re at risk for wrinkles, and our pores constrict and often become clogged, causing pimples.

How the hell are you supposed to deal with any of this? It seems like a standoff between dry-and-shitty, and hamface. Assuming you’re reading a fashion blog because you are a fashionably-minded person, I’m going to also assume you’re having an abusive love affair with beauty products. There’s something fascinating about cosmetics that borders on the erotic: the breathless descriptions of powders and lotions in magazines fill us with desire, while our train cases slowly overflow with useless delights we tried once and put away. But it’s addictive, and self-perpetuating, and soon you’re using three different kinds of foundations and concealers, separate morning and night moisturizers for each quadrant of your face, cold cream, face scrub, cleanser, toner, astringent, moisturizing mist, shampoo, cream rinse, wash-out and leave-in conditioners, and you still have zits and your hair is still totally bogue. Why?!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, deep down: those magic potions are bullshit. We like playing dress-up because it’s fun, splashing fruity-smelling tincture all over our dumb faces and twirling in front of the mirror like big gay princesses. But there’s really no need, darlings, none, to delude ourselves into thinking all this stuff is actually good for us.

You just relax, kids. You done fucked it all up, but all is not lost. Gather round, and let ol’ Pappy Steamcunt tell you how it’s done.

1. Sterilize your instruments.
I’m a fascist about clean washcloths. It’s because the great majority of skin problems are caused by mold, fungus, and bacteria getting into your pores. The bathroom is a damp and filthy place, and a sterile washcloth can go a long way to eliminating zits. Follow up a clean washcloth with a clean towel, or even a paper towel, when you dry your face.

You only need three things to take care of your face: soap, water, and a washcloth.

I recommend plain old no-nonsense Ivory bar soap, tap water, and a microfiber washcloth. Why microfiber? I’ve found the actual microfibers to be efficient at digging into pores, and buffing off dead skin. They’re also antibacterial, and can be tossed into the washing machine for occasional decontamination.

You can also get yourself a pack of baby washcloths from the local dollar store. They have a very fine nap on them, excellent for pores, and are cheap enough to use just a few times before being turned over to rag duty, or kept on shifts going through the washing machine.

2. Go hot and cold.

Your skin is like any other substance on Earth: it expands when warm, and contracts when cool.

When you wash your face, start with hot water. Steaming your face (just a splash or two of hot water, not scalding, will do it) “opens” your pores and softens sebum and dirt that may be impacted in there. When you go at it with your washcloth, you’ll have a better reach into various filthy crevices.

After you’re soaped, rinse with the coldest water you can. This will “close” your now-scoured pores, making them appear much smaller. Your skin will contract in response to the cold, becoming firmer and evenly-toned. Cold will also act as a calming agent on your recently-abraded dermis. It was an old Victorian beauty trick to stroke the face with chips of ice, tightening up the skin and giving that lovely wintertime pallor. I don’t go that far (you can if you want), but cold water will go a long way to making you prettier. And you want to be pretty, don’t you?

3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.

Your best moisturizer is your own natural grease. But when you’ve just scoured away all your grease, which was tainted with old makeup and ambient pollution and all the crap you’ve smeared on during the day by wiping your nose or popping a zit after touching doorknobs and children, you’re left naked and raw. You need delicious, nourishing oils to replace all that shit you just dug out.

Moisturizers are so numerous and conflicting in their claims (Oil! No oil! Non-comedogenic! Natural! Synthetic! Soy! Herbs! Bees!) that it should be a relief for you to hear that you can safely ignore the vast majority of them. Almost all of them are full of crap that’s either useless or dangerous, and you really only want one thing from them, anyway: something that will mimic your skin’s natural sebum as closely as possible.

Lucky for humans, there’s a plant wax so close to our own greases that it’s nearly the same thing: jojoba oil. This stuff is one of the highest-rated products on MakeupAlley.com, and there’s good reason. It’s cheap, and it’s miraculous. You only need a drop or so, it can’t clog your pores, and it’s good for your hair too. It has a sort of sandy, deserty scent, and the silkiest texture.

Other fine substances to investigate are extra virgin olive oil (yes, the kind you cook with), avocado oil, and some of the simpler medical moisturizers, such as Cetaphil. I’m currently in love with Eucerin’s Calming Creme, which goes against my better judgment by being full of various synthetics, but hey, whatever works.

As an aside, Oil of Olay’s Regenerist serum, while expensive, actually does a very fine job. I’m loathe to recommend an expensive brand-name product, but all that big pharma research has to go somewhere, sometimes.


That’s about all I have to say for actual cleansing of the face (makeup advice, while related, will have to come in a later article), but I have a bulging fistful of tips for various smaller problems:

  • Whiteheads can be deflated overnight with the application of baking soda toothpaste. Just dab it on and leave it. The pus in the zit will be osmotically leeched out by the absorbency of the baking soda, leaving a dry little nub that’s far more manageable than a pustule. And the menthol provides an exciting tingle. Science!
  • The active ingredient in expensive acne products is salicylic acid, alias aspirin. An extremely effective, extremely cheap skin treatment is generic aspirin mashed up into a grainy paste with water. Add honey (antibacterial) or jojoba oil (anti-comedogenic and moisturizing) if you’re feeling really fancy. Smear on, rinse off.
  • There’s some evidence of links between products containing softeners called parabens (methylparaben, etc), and breast cancer. It’s almost impossible to find beauty products that do not contain these pseudoestrogenic compounds, but check the ingredients, and avoid them when you can.
  • Sulfates, aka Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, aka SLS, are harsh detergents found in shampoo and cleansers. There’s growing concern among professional hair stylists, and some studies suggesting that these cause premature balding, as well as other skin problems. If you can use products without them, it sure wouldn’t hurt.
  • Above all, spend as little time in your makeup as possible. Makeup clogs your pores, leeches moisture out of your skin, traps dirt, and feeds bacteria. It is awful stuff to leave on overnight, or even more than four or five hours. If you’re in the habit of stumbling home drunk and falling into bed with whatever bit of tat you picked up at the pool hall (I’m looking at you, Stylecunt), at least get some of those one-use makeup-removing cloths (basically, baby wipes for lazy harlots) and swipe one across your face before passing out. These are available in generic form at the dollar store. Or you can pay $13 per box, for Oil of Olay.
  • If your skin is REALLY dry, here’s an old spa facial trick you can use; after washing and rinsing your face, leave it wet. Get a tiny fingertip of Vaseline, and gently smooth it over your whole face. Petroleum jelly is totally water-resistant, meaning you can use it to seal moisture into your skin, preventing it from evaporating out during the day.
  • If you’re particularly susceptible to zits and clogged pores, try this: when putting on your moisturizer, distribute it evenly over your clean hands and then pat it onto your face. Don’t rub, pat. I don’t know why it works, but it does. Hypothetically, rubbing motions can grind stuff into your pores, while patting will just gently deposit it, allowing it to soak in on its own.


  1. Thank you!

  2. Anytime.

  3. Because I’m so clueless about all this stuff (thank you Steamcunt for this guide) – how often should one wash and moisturise? Twice a day? Three times? Whenever you feel a bit manky?

  4. Good question! It depends entirely on your skin type, how much makeup you wear, and what the current state of your skin is.

    Unfortunately, all I can give you are some rough pieces of advice, and encourage you to perform careful observation of your own skin and make adjustments as needed. Do it scientifically: make one small change at a time and try to keep the variables to a minimum. Skin changes depending on hormonal and environmental and dietary considerations too, unfortunately. What works for you at home, going to work at the office every day won’t work when you’re pregnant on your honeymoon in Trinidad.

    Most faces should be washed once a day or once every couple days, if you have dry skin and aren’t wearing makeup. I don’t wear much, usually, so sometimes “washing” my face will just be a light scrub with a hot washcloth, followed by a cold rinse and a little moisturizer. Since my skin is so dry, I actually try not to use soap very often. You can rub a little moisturizer into your skin and gently scrub it off with a cloth in order to remove dirt without depleting oil.

    Some days I don’t wash it at all, although I usually feel a little manky, as you aptly put it, by the end of the day. But a little mank is good for your skin, really, as long as it’s your own mank and not product buildup.

    Washing more than this can dry you out and make you overproduce sebum; washing less than this might result in zits. Of course, some people are very oily just by nature, and can handle washing morning and night, and some are so dry and sensitive they should never use soap at all.

    Wear your makeup as little as possible. Any foreign substance on the skin is usually a bad thing. This goes for dirt, makeup, and beauty products. The tragic thing about makeup is that we wear it to look flawless, and the more we do so, the worse we look without it. Even the high-end stuff clogs pores, dries you out, etc. So if you’re wearing makeup, get it off as soon as is comfortable to do so. Avoid sleeping in it, most of all. It will get all over your pillow and you’ll spend all night grinding your face in it and shellacking it on with drool.

  5. *laughs* Nice – drool-mortared morning pasteface.

    I don’t actually wear makeup – being as clueless as I am the learning curve to get from my current level of inexperienced daubing to anything useful would be particularly steep and time consuming – so I don’t bother.

    I think I probably fall on the greasy side of skin condition, but that may simply be (as you suggest) my skin overcompensating. I’m very encouraged by your suggestion to go about it scientifically – though it sounds like any results should be on a month by month basis because of the hormones. You’ve been terribly helpful, thanks!

  6. I dunno.. there are people like me who are in their thirties (yes, thank you, I know I look a lot younger) and have been to every dermatologist and taken every skin medication and just happen to have extremly bad skin. Trust me, I’ve tried all of the above for decades – doesn’t help though when your family has been cursed with rubbish skin for centuries (my surname translates to “tanner” so I guess me anchestors were never particularly pretty and fancy types) and your testosterone level is that of a male gorilla.

    I think your advice is useful to make the good skinned people look healthier and shinier, but doesn’t work if you have a dermatological problem. So yeah.. I’ve been living with a “zitty, flaky, blackhead-studded face” for as long as I can remember, and to be honest, I smile into every fellow troubled face and at the end of the day it makes our weird world a little more human and imperfect.

    Deliver us from clear skin and perfect teeth. 🙂

  7. An acne problem can also be hormonal. I recommend a Birth Control Pill such as YAZ.

  8. Cool story Suzanne.

  9. A quick correction: parabens are preservatives, not softeners.

    Props for mentioning jojoba oil. I’ve been washing my face with jojoba for years. My skin has been awful all my life, but the jojoba cleansing has kept it nearly clear and oil-free.

  10. I started following your advice. My skin has basically never looked better. You do an honor to the internet.

  11. Good advice save for the vaseline. Vaseline isn’t particularly good for your face and will just clog your pores. Cocoa and shea butter are great plant-derived waxes that have been used forever to moisturize skin and hair. There are also other great things for skin in the same vein as jojoba oil. If your skin is really acne prone, tea tree oil is amazing. It does a great job as an antiseptic, and is very antimicrobial. For sensitive skin lavender and chamomile are great calmers.

    And if you want to have great skin, limit the makeup and don’t touch your face unless to clean it.

  12. Nice mark out of things – Interesting – one could think this way also . Thanks for the post

  13. I finally got around to trying the microfiber cloth trick. It made my skin just as soft as pricey nightly skin peels and exfoliant creams. Plus, no extra packaging!

    I shall never again hesitate to take your skin care advice. Thank you very much for this information!

  14. thank you stylecunt!!!

    read this and tried it and my skin completely improved within a week. the problems i was having pretty much disappeared. i guess i was clueless. Now my skin is clear and awesome.
    I went out right away and got baby washcloths and they REALLY work well. I got a 6 pack from target for like $3.
    also, I highly recommend this face cleanser as a moisturizer and/or cleanser for sensitive/normal skin:
    I’m not kidding, this stuff does WONDERS. its made of rose water and jojoba. love it.

    also, use mineral makeup rather than foundation when possible. that switch has also really improved my situation.

  15. extra virgin olive oil? does that really work? i have oily skin, do i still have to moisturise?

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