The downside of squeaky-clean skin: Why you’ve probably been washing your face wrong

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) —Dr. Whitney Bowe, the author of “The Beauty of Dirty Skin,” shared with “Good Morning America” her top tips for clear skin from her new book. Here, the medical director of integrative dermatology, aesthetics and wellness at Advanced Dermatology, P.C., breaks down how you might be washing your skin wrong, and gives her expert recommendations for what you can do to revamp your skincare routine.

Too much of a good thing? Yep, the adage applies to beauty, too.

Over-cleansing, believe it or not, is the No. 1 skin care mistake people make on a regular basis. Our antiseptic-style hygiene practices — extreme cleansing, sanitizing and scrubbing to feel squeaky clean — harm skin by stripping away its natural oils, confusing its equilibrium and upsetting its sensitive microbial balance. And all of this contributes to the many skin disorders that are so prevalent today.

We rarely think about this, so brace yourself, but our skin serves as a veritable petri dish for a wide range of microorganisms — which I like to call a rainforest of bugs — with upward of 1 million of these bugs occupying a single square centimeter. The vast majority of these microbes are either innocuous or advantageous. Some benefit us simply by taking up space and making it impossible for bad guys to move in. Others release antimicrobial substances to kill off pathogens. And then there are those that produce anti-inflammatory compounds to protect and preserve the skin’s barrier and microbiome.

Our skin’s good bugs face a steady barrage of daily threats — ultraviolet rays, pollution, antibiotic overuse and yes, seemingly benign skin care products. All of these things can breed inflammation, and endanger both the skin’s bacterial inhabitants—their integral diversity and abundance, in particular—and the skin’s protective barrier.

Studies show that even frequent hand-washing can disturb the skin barrier, sparking irritation and unwanted changes in the local microflora. The bottom line? Gentle cleansing is an imperative part of safeguarding your skin’s barrier, microbiome and the special relationship they share.

Here are my top three tips on how to get it right every time:

1. Do choose a biome-friendly cleanser

Leading microbiome researchers use the term “impoverished” to describe microbial communities that lack healthy numbers and diversity. And repeatedly using the wrong cleanser can contribute to this bacterial bankruptcy by dissolving the natural oils fat-friendly bacteria rely on for nourishment and wiping out good bugs altogether. On the heels of such an assault, the skin’s microbiome snaps into survival mode to restore itself. During this hours-long process, the microbiome is essentially absent, leaving skin vulnerable to colonization by undesirable bugs — E. coli from stairwell banisters or Staphylococcus aureus from elevator buttons. To keep your community vibrant and varied, choose a gentle, low-foam, pH-balanced, soap-free cleanser that leaves skin hydrated, not taut.

2. Don’t sanitize your skin

Your washing machine likely has a “sanitize” cycle designed to kill germs by agitating them in sudsy 150-degree water. Please don’t apply this logic to your face. While we don’t yet know the exact water temperature our skin bugs like best, err on the cool side to conserve the microbiome, as excessive heat may cause bad bacteria to proliferate.

3. Don’t enlist cleansing aids

Loofahs, Buf-Pufs, washcloths, gritty scrubs, scratchy mitts, cleansing brushes — dump them all. Your own two hands are the only tools you need to emulsify, massage in and splash off a gentle cleanser. Use anything else, and you run the risk of damaging your barrier and modifying your microbiome in deleterious ways.

I know that this is such a new way of thinking in our culture, which has been obsessed with sanitizing and squeaky-clean cleansing. But, if you want healthy, glowing skin, it’s time to make these changes. You will see results and your skin will thank you!

For more tips from Dr. Bowe, visit her Facebook or Instagram.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.