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Japanese Skincare Routine: Double Cleansing

Have you given much thought to how you cleanse your skin every night? Do you remove makeup and cleanse skin in one step? Do you place closer attention to one area on your face than other? Which area do you start first? Are you massaging your face when you’re removing makeup?

I can’t stress enough the importance of good cleansing every night, especially if you have problem-prone skin. Not just a quick once-over but a proper cleanse that leaves skin perfectly clean, but not stripped and dried out — or leave a residue behind. It’s all about gentle but very thorough cleansing.

One of the most important, if not the most important, step in a Japanese skincare routine is known as “double cleansing”. (Do read my post on Japanese skincare routine if you haven’t done so.) Not washing your face twice with the same product — as the name suggests — but rather, removing makeup and cleansing skin (to wash away sebum, bacteria, and residue) in two separate steps. Rubbing, massaging, and wiping with cotton wool pads or wash cloths are all a big no-no. You want to let the products do all the work. (Facial massage is done only on clean skin.)

Lifting makeup from skin so that impurities can be easily wash away is the motto for step 1 in Double Cleansing. In Japan, removing makeup is called “cleansing” — and cleansing skin is referred as “washing”. Products like cleansing oils are a makeup removers and they’re not meant to be used alone. It’s generally recommended to start with the sides of the face as it is the largest surface area with makeup on, and continue on to the T-zone, then finish with rest of the face. If your eye area is sensitive, it’s best to use a separate eye makeup remover as some can cause irritation.

On the other hand, step 2 (or “washing”), should start with (and focus on) the oiliness part of the face (T-zone) and end with the driest, which is generally the cheek area. The reason is that the main point of the second step is to wash off excess sebum and dirt from the skin, while ensuring residue of loosened makeup from previous step is removed. If you do it reverse, the drier areas can become even more dried out, eventually leading to a whole slew other problems.

120 JPY Foaming net from MUJI

Facial cleansers, or face washes, in Japan are the foaming variety. Unlike Western counterparts, these cleansing foams are sulphate-free and work to an ultra-dense foamy lather that resembles whipped marshmallow. The idea is that the there should be absolutely no friction and minimal skin-to-skin contact when washing the skin. These Japanese foaming cleansers should never be directly applied to wet face (unless they’re the self-foaming variety)! The correct way is to work product into a rich foamy lather using your hands, then use fingertips to glide foam to wash face without making direct skin-to-skin contact. If you find you can’t do so with yours, you’re either not using enough product, not lathering properly, or you just have a poorly formulated cleansing foam.

I highly recommend getting a foaming net. You use it to work into a foamy lather in lieu of your hands — it enhances the lather, saves time, and saves product! It’s included with some (newer) cleansers, but you can buy one for about 105 JPY. There’re some “fancier” ones that resemble a mini body wash puff  or have sponge pieces attached, but I personally find plain washing net (like the one pictured to the left) works best.

Your skin will not be happy with if you rub it with facial cleanser, trying to remove the layers sunscreen and long-wearing foundation. Haphazard or over zealous cleansing works against skin, often leading to a seemingly endless cycle of problems. If you have oiliness, dry patches, continuous breakouts, or skin congestion and nothing seems to be able to help at it, I recommend taking a close look at how you cleanse your skin every night.

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48 Comments on Japanese Skincare Routine: Double Cleansing

  1. Is cleansing recommended only for sunscreen/make-up removal or does it also benefit oily skin? Thank you!

  2. Hello there 🙂 With so much negativity over foaming/soapy cleansers, I was wondering if you think the second step cleansing should still be done with a foam? I generally find that foaming cleansers can make my skin feel tight, although so many Japanese women have gorgeous skin and all these companies that make foaming cleansers can’t be wrong?!

    • I feel the negativity over foaming face washes pertains only to the Western media as it’s non-existing in Japan. A skincare routine should be tailored to fit your own skin’s needs. You don’t have to use cleansing foams. That being said, if you want to double cleanse the “correct” way, you don’t really have many options. Most if not all face washes in Japan are the foaming variety (as cleansing oils/milks/gels/creams are all classified as makeup removers NOT cleansers).

  3. I’ve been using Cetaphil products. Either the bar/facial cleanser/foam wash will do. Definitely worked/works wonders for me. 🙂

    I don’t do a “double cleansing” but I honestly want to give it a try. Quite torn about the “cleansing oil” as I do have an acne-prone skin until I was advised to take accutane. I was acne-free for years but early this year, I had to re-take it again. Currently on my 3rd month now. Hopefully, done by next month. Anyway, I’m quite afraid to give cleansing oils a try since it might break me out…

    • Cetaphil alone won’t do an adequate job at removing makeup or long wearing sunscreens. There’re many forms of makeup removers beside cleansing oils.

  4. Hi, if i use the banila co oil cleanser followed by bifesta cleansing water lotion, is it consider double cleansing? or is both step 1?

    • Micellar cleansers (a.k.a. “cleansing water” or “cleansing liquid”) like the one by Bifesta is a categorized as a a makeup remover in Japan — and so are cleansing oils (a.k.a. oil cleansers).

  5. Washing your face with bar soap is the worst thing you could do! Unfortunately my mom was raised old school and I grew up washing my face with bar soap, and it left my face a mess. I ONLY use natural milky face cleansers now that are super gentle. Now I have been obsessed with the Made from Earth Green Tea Cleanser – because it is EXCELLENT at removing foundation.

    I am also VERY sensitive around my eyes, and this Made from Earth Cleanser is so gentle when I remove my eye make – my eyes dont water at all. STOP USING BAR SOAP! I cant stress that enough !

  6. Hello Ratzilla, from my understanding double cleansing is when you have makeup on or if your sunblock is tenacious ( does that mean it clogs pores?) I see you have done reviews on the biore sunscreen series and I’m wondering if I use the biore face milk (the white one) is there need for double cleansing?

    • A sunscreen that is tenacious means it has an extra long-wearing formula that is difficult to remove.

      Yes, you should be doubling cleansing (i.e. use a separate makeup remover) for the entire Biore Perfect UV line (all the milks).

  7. Hi, the only chemical I described as my daily make-up is a sun block, do you think I still need this “double cleansing”? I only do the “water” foaming facial wash, without cleansing it before. Sorry for such a basic question. Thanks

  8. Hi, I stumbled upon your site about a month ago and have been reading religiously since. Thanks so much for all the information and tips.
    I’m approaching 30 and only recently realized that I have neglected taking care of my skin. Cannot believe how I could be so ignorant!!! Anyway, after reading your site, I have started double cleansing (Shu Uemura cleansing oil + Shiseido Perfect Whip) + SK II Facial Treatment Essence for about 3 weeks and have started to see some improvement, which is a great encouragement.
    I’ll be visiting Japan soon and plan to stock-up on some Japanese skincare products. I have some questions though, appreciate if you could help me out as I’m a total newbie in this subject.
    – I’m interested in trying Kose Sekkisei line. Can I use both Sekkisei Medicated Lotion and SK II FTE (Sekkisei first, then SK II) or is that not necessary?
    – I’ve heard raves about Estee Lauder Advance Night Repair and want to try this as well. Are there any similar Japanese skincare product that you can recommend?
    – I’m also looking for a day moisturizer with nice sun protection but non-greasy as I live in South East Asia where it’s super hot and humid. Can you suggest a few that might be available in Matsumoto Kiyoshi?

    • – I don’t see why you can’t use them together, but it’s hard to say whether your skin will see the benefits. I personally use neither. I’d say go for the small trial size bottle first.
      -I don’t know much about Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair, other than it is quite popular. Its key ingredient is Bifida Ferment Lysate, a yeast ferment filtrate — Googling its ingredients will probably find something similar although not necessarily Japanese.

  9. Thank you so much for your posts! I’m trying out new routines for my dry but acne prone skin and this could not be more helpful! I was very confused about which order to use these types of products. Now it’s clear!

  10. I’m using Shu Uemura cleansing oil, and as their recommendation I don’t use soap/second step after that, and everything is just fine. This one step makes me choose this product, though more expensive I still don’t need to buy soap/second step and I can finish my cleansing routine faster. Do you know why this product doesn’t need the second step? Is there any drugstore cleansing oil that doesn’t need second step? And is there any kind of cleansing oil for body/shower? My skin is getting drier, and most moisturizing soap like Dove don’t help much to me. Thanking you in advance for your answer, 🙂

    • Why? Marketing… to justify their high pricetag — all cleansing oils rinse off clean with just water (some better than others). There is nothing special or different about Shu Uemura’s cleansing oils. Many drugstore cleansing oils claim the samething. Like I said in the post, cleansing oils are simply makeup removers — double cleansing shouldn’t be skipped.

  11. Hi ratzillacosme, I want to ask, do I need to double cleanse if im only using loose Powder? (im wearing chanel poudre libre and it’s very light) Im also wondering , can I use only cleansing oil and finish there? (not continuing the second step) As I double cleansing, if done everyday, has made my skin dry and tight.

    • The products you’re using aren’t right for your skin type. Your skin shouldn’t be left dry and tight after you double cleanse.

      If you don’t feel the need to, then don’t — skin care should be personalised to fit your own needs. Personally, I always do both as the 1st step is to remove makeup and the 2nd step is the wash off the remaining crap that might still be on the skin.

  12. hello there!! i am currently using the hadalabo cleansing oil. however, it makes my vision cloudy. =( is that normal, let alone safe? what would you recommend a cleansing oil that does my vision blurry and is inexpensive?

    p.s. i LOVE your website!!!! so informative!

    • Normal? Some do, some don’t. I’ve tested cleansing oils that left my eyes burning and some that left my vision all blurry till the next morning!

      Fancl’s Mild Cleansing Oil has been my longtime favourite for years even after multiple reformulations. More budget-friendly ones I like are Softymo cleansing oils (only negligible difference between all 3), Hipitch Deep Cleansing Oil W, and Cow Brand Mutenka Cleansing Oil.

  13. Hi there, I’ve been stalking your blog lately and i’m just wondering

    do I need to use a cleansing oil if im only using Biore Watery Essence Sunscreen ( I reapply 3 times a day anyway, a dilligent apprentiece of yours right here!)

    Do you think I can clean BB cream with normal foam cleanser ( I use seba med) as some people said bb creams are easy to clean yet there is this other side who stated the opposite.

    And the last, If i’m not wearing any bb cream nor sunscreen (Sorry! but you know those days when you feel extra lazy), do I need to use cleansing oil? Can I use cleansing oil, like, every night? I’m scared if it will peel my skin off, and If I do use it every night, then I wouldnt need any scrub? I mean, just imagining using double cleansing and scrub sounds… scary. And anyway (promise this is the last) which one do you think is the best between kose softymo, innisfree greentea, muji, or hada labo c/o?

    Anyway thanks a lot and sorry for the extra long post, your blog has been really helpful since im using aha creams now and i need to slather sunscreen all over my body! Thanksss : *

    • A regular foaming face wash is enough to fully remove the Biore Watery Essence sunscreen.

      “BB cream is easy to clean”? That would depends on the BB cream in question. Many, many Japanese BB creams have a longwearing formula that is oil and sweat resistant. Since BB cream is a makeup item, you should remove it using a makeup remover 1st.

      Cleansing oil is a makeup remover not a cleanser, so if you’re not wearing makeup nor longwearing sunscreen, no need to use one. Also, it has nothing to do with exfoliants like scrubs. They’re for completley different purpose and have nothing to do with each other. If you need to exfoliate your skin, using a cleansing oil won’t make a difference either way.

  14. I love your post about Japanese Skincare Routine 🙂 I would like know more about anti-age Japanese Skincare Routine – please write post about it 🙂 Thx so much 🙂 regards from Poland 🙂

  15. Hi, I’m from Brasil and I do not speak english very well, but I’ll try to explane my doubt. I realy would like to find 1 (only one) product to make the Double Cleansing, something convenient/pratical/faster and whith a friendly price. Could you suggest something? Tks a lot! Greetings from Brasil!

    • You can always use just 1 product but that’s not double cleansing anymore. There’re some makeup removers now that claim to eliminate the need for double cleansing (please browse the Makeup Removers section), you can perhaps look into those.

    • You want something, cheap, use olive oil or avocado oil or macadamia oil as makeup remover and use foam cleanser as your second step :))

      • Yes, that’s also an option but it’s not the same.

        The idea is of step 1 is to remove the makeup from the skin. Plain oil “melt” the makeup, but unlike a cleansing oil, everything just sits on the skin as it cannot be easily removed on its own — unless you’re rinsing with very hot water or wiping it off, both are highly not recommended and you’re still left with quite an oily residue.

        • Oh, yeh sorry, I always wipe it off with unfraganced baby wipes. But you are right, it can be oily, so recently I discovered Sorbolene, just normal moisturising lotion, no fragance. It works like a dream :)) I’m from Australia so I’m not sure if they sell it every where else? But I’m sure you will be able to find similar cream.

    • Olá Nuria, tambem sou brasileira e por isso estou falando em portugues ( rs) acredito que os oleos ( perfect oil) fazem isso que vc quer ou seja, derretem a maquiagem e saem com agua não necessitando utilizar o passo 2 ( sabonete ou espuma de limpeza) eu te recomendo o da biore ou o da shiseido . São maravilhosos eu uso no meu dia a dia e não me arrependo. caso queira comprar no brasil a pronta entrega eu vendo me da um toque por email.Bjs ( [email protected])

    • There’s The 3 in 1 cleanser 3.0.1 from Chica y Chico which is a gel that becomes oil and finally bubble foam!! It’s about 20$ so it’s a bit expensive but it’s one product for double cleansing!

  16. Im a bit confused ; is it the first step_makeup removing process_ that the product must not be applied on wet face or is it the second step??

    • Majority of Japanese makeup removers (e.g. cleansing oils, cleansing gels, cleansing liquids, etc.) should be applied using dry hands on dry face.

  17. Im a bit confused is it in the makeup removing process the product must not be applied on wet face??

  18. It’s my first time buying cleanser in Japan and I have been recommended DHC oil to cleanse and Dr Ci Labo to wash. My skin is oily in the t zone but not overly so, and I have very occasional breakouts. I would really value your opinion before I invest.

    • It really depends on your skin type and your own personal preferences. I prefer cleansing oil + Japanese foaming face wash (cleansing foam).

      I personally dislike thick-textured oils, but other than that, I’m not picky at all. Same with face wash. I generally always have several cleansing oils and washes that I’m trying out so I rarely use the same thing day after day. That being said, I have personally repurchased Fancl, ORP Tokyo, and Cow Brand Mutenka cleansing oils many times. For foaming face washes, I’m currently liking Biore Skincare Facial Foam. The entire line is excellent, especially for its price! I especially like the Medicated Acne one. Cleansing Research’s is good as well. Oilier skin might like the classic Senka Perfect Whip from Shiseido.

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