Do I Have to Get All the Soap Off My Face When I Wash It?

The internet says one thing, but a dermatologist says another.


Face soap: It’s a blessing, and a curse. On the one hand, it keeps you clean, bacteria at bay and your skin looking bright and healthy. On the other, it can be a goopy mess, get in your eyes and otherwise take loads and loads of water to get off (if that water isn’t already running down your neck and chest).

I, for one, hate that last bit. When I wash my face, in an effort to get every last bit of soap off, water gets everywhere — on the mirror, on the counter, up my forearms and down my shirt. I don’t know, maybe I’ve got a face-washing problem.

But whether or not I’m alone in always getting the rest of me soaking wet, it got me wondering: Would it be the worst thing in the world to leave behind a little soap on my mug in the name of NOT using gallons of water to get it off in the first place?

If you ask the internet, naturally, you’ll get a few different answers. On Quora, for example, people will tell you that, at the very least, “the sticky surface [left by the dried soap] will probably attract more dirt.

On other websites, however, the advice is that it’s not soap-induced stickiness you need to worry about — it’s leftover bacteria. “Most cleansers work by trapping grime and bacteria within the soap, making it easy to wash away,” one article on the topic explains. “So, leaving any of the now-bacteria-infused cleanser on your face is a bad idea. Wash away any residual soap, until there is only clean water left on your face.”

Not knowing what’s right and what’s internet nonsense, I asked Robert Brodell, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, what he thought about the residual-soap issue. “If you’re using a very mild soap, and a little bit of soap is left on your skin, even if you have sensitive skin, it probably doesn’t make a bit of difference,” he tells me.

But what if you’re using a harsher soap? Some guys are using dish soap to wash their faces, after all. “Maybe if you have eczema or sensitive skin, and you leave some soap on the skin, then that might be irritated.” 

That’s not the only thing to consider, though. “There’s also whether or not you apply moisturizer after washing your face a lot throughout the day, and you’ve got eczema, and you leave residual soap on your skin — that might irritate it,” Brodell says. “But otherwise, it shouldn’t be too much a problem.”

As far as soap leaving your skin tacky like the Quora thread claimed, that wasn’t much of a concern for me, because I’ve washed my face thousands of times — and abandoned some leftover soap on it almost as much — and I, for one, have never wound up with sticky skin afterwards. That said, not washing away all of the bacteria the soap was intended to remove did scare me a bit. Brodell, however, assured me this wasn’t really an issue. “I don’t think whether you leave a little soap on your skin or not has much to do with that.”

Hah! It’s as I always suspected: A little residual soap on your face never hurt anybody.