Cosmopolitan magazine has been interviewing candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination and asking about their skin-care routines. But no answer has caught the public’s attention quite like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s statement that she never washes her face. Perhaps it was the little kid in all of us wondering if we could get away with that, too.
Warren’s complexion so belies her age that even conservative pundit Anne Coulter tweeted: “I just want to know Elizabeth Warren’s skin care regime. She’s 70!” Turns out, it’s quite simple. Here’s Warren’s answer to Cosmopolitan:
“I have — had, she’s passed now — but a much older cousin named Tootsie,” Warren said. “Years ago, I was, I guess probably somewhere in my 20s, and we’re at a big family reunion. And Tootsie was beautiful. I looked over at her, and I said, ‘Toots, how do you have such gorgeous skin?’ She said, ‘Pond’s Moisturizer every morning, every night, and never wash your face.’ So, from Tootsie to me to you.”
We had many questions. Won’t neglecting to wash your face cause excess oil? Breakouts? Increased bacteria? We asked some dermatologists for their response to Warren’s waterless skin-care routine.
“My aunt had the exact same regimen and had similarly fantastic skin,” says Jennifer Mancuso, a dermatologist at Michigan Medicine. “That being said, this skin-care regimen certainly doesn’t work for everyone.”
Dendy Engelman, a dermatologic surgeon at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York, sees less merit in Warren’s approach. “Everyone needs to cleanse their skin,” she says.
“The purpose of cleansing is twofold,” Engelman explains. “The first is to cleanse the skin of oils, impurities, makeup, pollution particles, and so forth, all while maintaining the skin’s microbiome,” the barriers and organisms that protect your complexion. “The second purpose is to aid the penetration of the products you will be applying afterward. Clean skin will allow active ingredients to penetrate better and work more effectively.”
But Warren is on to something, according to Josh Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the Department of Dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. “America is a society of over-washers,” he says. “This can be harmful to the skin, stripping the skin of essential oils, leading to skin barrier disruption, dryness and inflammation.”
Your personal best frequency for face-washing will depend on your skin type, Zeichner says. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you’re going to want to wash your skin more frequently — at least twice a day, most likely. Those who have drier skin may be able to wash less frequently, as “less oil accumulates” on the skin’s surface, he says. “However, no matter what your skin type, dirt, oil, makeup and pollution should be washed off your face.” That means you should wash your face after a workout, any time you wear makeup, after walking in a city or any other time you’re exposed to environmental stressors.
“It’s pretty easy for [pollution] particles to penetrate into your skin without any line of protection or defense against them,” says Engelman, who equates a pollution particle entering a pore to “a tennis ball going through a basketball hoop.” Pollution particles can cause free-radical damage, which leads to signs of aging. And if you don’t wash at all, Zeichner says, bacteria could alter your skin’s microbiome, which can promote inflammation and worsen conditions such as dermatitis or rosacea.
Warren’s lovely complexion may actually have nothing to do with her washing frequency. Mancuso hypothesizes that those with good genes and drier skin can probably get away with cleansing only when they shower — though they should be cleansing there, at least, for all the reasons mentioned.
But the consensus about washing for most people? Do cleanse regularly, if not constantly. “For individuals with oily or acne-prone skin, not washing your face can worsen your skin condition,” says Mancuso, who typically recommends cleansing twice a day, in the morning and at night. “Skipping the morning wash is fine for people with dry, sensitive skin, but I typically recommend washing your face at least once a day before bed to remove makeup, sunscreen, oil and dirt.”
People with dry skin also can opt for an oil-based cleanser to “eliminate impurities without drying out the skin further,” Engelman says. “At first, the product acts as a nourishing oil to lift impurities, then with water it lathers to wash impurities away.” She usually recommends rotating the oil-based product with “an exfoliating cleanser to remove dead skin cells and flaky skin that makes the complexion look dull.”
If you truly need simplicity or know you won’t stick to a regimen, Engelman says micellar water can be a quick one-stop shop. “Micellar water is a combination of purified water, surfactants and moisturizing ingredients,” she says. Just saturate a cotton pad or cloth with micellar water and gently wipe away excess dirt, debris and oil, she explains. No need to rinse the skin afterward.
Mancuso said more attention should be paid to the other element of Warren’s skin-care routine. “I think the most important part of her regimen is regular moisturizing, which we know is a fantastic anti-aging method.” (Bonus points if it’s a moisturizer with SPF.) And the senator has a good standby in Pond’s, a drugstore moisturizer from a company that has been around for more than 150 years, according to Zeichner. “Newer doesn’t mean better,” he says. “There are many skin-care products, including this one, that have withheld the test of time because they are safe and effective.”