Does Towel Drying Your Skin Actually Damage It?

Photographed by Erin Yamagata
Dear Daniela,
Is it bad to dry your face with a towel? I saw a headline a few days ago saying that they have loads of bacteria on them and now I’m really grossed out by the idea. Should I air-dry?
Lena, 29
This is one of those things that periodically crops up in the news with some sort of biohazard-esque warning attached, like when we’re suddenly told that using a blending sponge is akin to rubbing your face in the mud, or that even looking at the pole on the bus is going to give you cholera. "Towels are full of bacteria!" they cry. "Don’t even think about putting your face in a towel, you wanton harlot!" they say.
Personally, I don’t really think it’s a big deal at all, though if you are struggling with active breakouts, you might want to invest in an antimicrobial cloth like the ones from Aurelia. The thing about bacteria is that it really loves to live in warm, damp environments, so providing you lay said towel out to dry properly and not leave it in a ball on the floor (wow, maybe I should just let my mum write this column in future), any lingering nasties shouldn’t live very long.
I decided to ask Dr David Jack, a cosmetic doctor who also has a rather wonderful range of skincare, what his thoughts were on towel-gate. "Personally, I dry my face with a towel," he began. "It does have to be a clean towel though. The longer anything is left or reused, the more likely it is to be colonised by bacteria. That being said, it wouldn’t really be harmful bacteria, just dead skin and the normal bacteria we all have. I’m not sure that there have been any studies whatsoever on this or if indeed there would be any point to this. I don’t think using a towel or air drying has much benefit over the other."
If you’re still getting grossed out about bacteria, bad news: There are over 1,000 kinds of bacteria in normal skin flora. And they are healthy and good and help your skin maintain its homeostatic balance. "Seriously, it’s very unlikely to be anything harmful unless you’re using a filthy towel," added Dr Jack.
The other argument I hear is that drying with a towel 'pulls' at your skin. I mean, maybe, if you go at it like a bear scratching its back on a tree, but over to Dr Jack: "I think the skin probably has enough resilience that it can withstand a little pulling and gentle exfoliation with a towel. Again there is not – and unlikely to ever be – any conclusive evidence on this, and it really is a matter of opinion. I personally think it makes zero difference."
Zero difference. From a doctor’s mouth to your ears.
Over and out,
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to 'Dear Daniela' become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series