Product overkill won’t improve your skin. Rein in your regimen to get real results.

By Real Simple
Updated January 16, 2009
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Credit: Beatriz Da Costa

You don’t need to wash or scrub as often―or as vigorously―as you may think. “Many women go overboard here, figuring it will make their skin look better if they do both more frequently,” says dermatologist Leslie Baumann. “But that only damages the skin’s natural barrier and creates dryness and irritation.”

Combination Skin

How often: Wash your face twice a day, and gently exfoliate once or twice a week; this is enough to keep skin balanced and encourage cell turnover, according to experts.
What to look for: A mild cleanser that isn’t too rich or too drying, says Mary Lupo, a dermatologist in New Orleans. Use an exfoliant that contains gentle particles or acids to remove dead cells without abrading your skin.
Where to find it: Cleanser: Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, $6 at drugstores. Exfoliant: St. Ives Elements Microdermabrasion Scrub, $7 at drugstores.

Dry Skin

How often: Cleanse skin at night, when it’s dirtiest. Rinse with cool water in the morning to help maintain natural oils. If skin is flaky, exfoliate once a week, says Lisa Donofrio, a professor of dermatology at Yale University.
What to look for: A cleansing oil or creamy wash that has moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin. If you have sensitive skin to boot, avoid products that contain fragrances or alcohol, which can irritate.
Where to find it: Cleanser: Laura Mercier Purifying Oil, $40, sephora.com; or CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, $11.50 at drugstores. Exfoliant: Your safest bet is to use a wet washcloth.

Oily/Acne-Prone Skin

How often: Lather up two to three times a day (as needed) but never more; overwashing kicks oil glands into overproduction. Exfoliate once or twice a week, but skip this if you have acne; the friction can make it worse.
What to look for: An oil-free, noncomedogenic foaming cleanser that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to prevent breakouts. The scrub should contain mild acids to keep the pores open and clean.
Where to find it: Cleanser: Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser, $7 at drugstores. Exfoliant: Bioré Pore Unclogging Scrub, $6 at drugstores.

Sensitive Skin

How often: Wash once a day if your skin is irritated by nearly everything or if you have eczema or psoriasis; twice a day if your skin is dirty. Forget about exfoliating, as it’s too abrasive for your skin type.
What to look for: Hypoallergenic and fragrance- and soap-free cleansers. Calming ingredients, like green tea, chamomile, feverfew, and aloe, are a bonus. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients in a product, the better.
Where to find it: Cleanser: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser ($19.50, laroche-posay.com). Apply with your fingers. “Think of the way you’d touch a newborn,” says Barbara Reed, a Denver dermatologist.

Portion Control

  • Use a quarter-size amount of cleanser on most skin types.
  • A dime-size dollop of scrub will do.
  • A pea-size dab of cleanser is plenty for sensitive skin.