Should We Be Double Cleansing Our Scalps And Bodies?

Photographed by Fernanda Liberti.
Remember like, a decade ago, when double cleansing first came on the scene and we all kind of balked at the notion? Wash my face? Twice??? Using oil???? It was an exciting time for skin care — the rise of Korean skin care in the U.S. can easily be linked to the spark in double-cleansing buzz — and I may be biased, but I truly attest double cleansing to my soft and supple skin. (That, and genetics and far too much moisturizer since I was in the sixth grade.) 
For those who aren’t deep into the /r/skincareaddiction subreddit, let me explain what double cleansing is: Double cleansing is a technique in which you wash twice — duh — starting first with a cleansing oil and then with a regular face wash. The oil cleanser breaks down makeup and debris easily without disrupting the skin’s natural oils, and the regular cleanser clears your skin of any impurities that are left behind. In an ideal world, you’ll be double cleansing in the evenings because oils and surfactants breakdown sunscreen, so this is also a great way to really start fresh. But with the rise of skincare-infused hair care and body care products, like Dove’s Body Love Pre-Cleanser line, it got me wondering:
Why aren’t we double cleansing the skin on our bodies and our scalps the way we’re double cleansing our face?
Hell, we've kind of asked a variation of this question before, but about double-cleansing our hair. Maybe I’m constantly in search of some type of way to further my skin care routine, and with TikTokers everywhere embracing ingredients like salicylic acid for their scalps, I truly thought I unlocked something with this concept. So of course, I contacted the experts to find out if I'm onto something, or if this is an unnecessary (potentially wasteful) concept.

Do you need to double cleanse?

“Double cleansing your body and scalp can be a good way to remove any buildup that has accumulated throughout the day, but it’s not a necessary step,” explains Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engleman of New York’s Shafer Clinic. Basically, between SPF, makeup, sweat, pollutants, and natural oils, we tend to accumulate a lot more impurities on our faces than we do on the rest of our bodies, which are protected by clothing and hair. “Regular cleansing with a good body wash and shampoo should be enough for the body and scalp on most days. The exception is if you were wearing sunscreen, body makeup, or anything else that tends to be harder to clean — then you might want to double cleanse to really ensure that you’ve cleared everything from your skin,” she says.
However, there may be more benefits to a scalp double cleanse. Honestly, the scalp is exposed to so many ailments you never see, says Shab Reslan, trichologist & Hair Expert based in NYC. “Today, the scalp is burdened by the accumulation of environment debris, contaminants from shower water, increased use of dry shampoo and insufficiently cleansing from shampoos with weaker cleansing capabilities."
Reslan explains that you can’t effectively cleanse your scalp without double cleansing: You need the first shampoo to break up all the build-up, and the second to actually wash it all away. A thoroughly-cleansed scalp without the use of harsh cleanser helps maintain a healthy scalp microbiome, free of conditions like irritation, inflammation, flaking, and itchiness, which are all things that can all lead to hair thinning or loss.
But who is body double cleansing for, then, really? According to esthetician Bryce Anthony and dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman, it may be a good for those who have more active lifestyles. "Double cleansing can be a great option for the body, especially if you’ve finished a workout and your skin is oily or dirty,” says Dr. Hartman. But of course, you want to be careful if you have skin conditions, too. "For example, if someone suffers from eczema, you’d want to be careful not to exacerbate the condition by over cleansing or being too harsh on the skin. Everything is subjective," says Anthony.

Pros of double cleansing

If you’re looking to get into double cleansing everywhere, what are you going to get out of it? Double cleansing on the body helps remove unwanted dirt, debris, and oil, which if left on the skin can lead to acne or skin irritation; while double cleansing the scalp can help remove product buildup to enable hair to be clean enough to accept the hair products you use to repair or style hair. Double cleansing the scalp works especially well for those with dermatologic conditions like seborrheic dermatitis or excessive dandruff — try using an oil-based shampoo to help rid the scalp skin of oil.
Not to mention, there are plenty of studies on the benefits of scalp massage, both holistically and physically. Oiling the scalp is a major part of Eastern beauty culture. Not only are you clearing out impurities and dry skin cells, but it also can help with hair growth. “Working in circular motions with the fingertips feels amazing, but also really benefits the scalp, and helps prepare the skin for a deeper cleansing with shampoo,” explains holistic esthetician Tammy Fender. "The crown is incredibly sensitive, and bringing this care to the nervous system just relaxes the whole body. At the same time removing impurities from the scalp encourages fresh, healthy hair growth."

Cons of double cleansing

From what it sounds like, you’re better off not double cleansing your body daily. Rather, save it for those days when you feel oily or sticky or are covered in sunscreen. Over stripping the skin can have long-term effects, drying out the skin and causing irritation. The skin on the body, in general, produces less oil compared to the face, and a double cleanse may strip the skin of its natural oils, which can cause inflammatory skin conditions like eczema
If you’re looking into double cleansing for your scalp, however, it’s time to do some research. “Double cleansing with harsh shampoos containing SLS or SLES could throw off the pH balance of the scalp and either create more sebum production at the roots, or extreme redness and flaking from drying the scalp out," Reslan told me. 
Honestly, there’s only one true downside, according to Dr. Engleman — and it's the impact on your time and wallet. "Unless you’re using harsh cleansers— which should never be the case! — there really aren’t any downsides to double cleansing the body and scalp, but it’s not necessary to do in most cases. You might just be wasting product and time."

Who benefits from a double cleanse?

Photographed by Leia Morrison.
Dr. Hartman shares that if you have oily or combination skin, double cleansing is ideal for both the face and body. People with fine hair who tends to hold onto natural oil would also benefit from the double cleanse. However, someone with curly hair who needs that natural oil to keep hair moisturized may not find as much use from a regular scalp double cleanse. If you're really looking for a body treatment that isn’t necessarily a double cleanse, Fender recommends dry brushing before the shower. "This protocol boosts circulation and lymphatic drainage and removes any dull surface skin, encouraging fresh rejuvenation."
People with body acne or acne prone skin types may also benefit from double cleansing. “We know that acne cysts are caused by a clumping of dead skin cells, combined with bacteria and oil, ultimately leading to a clogged pore,” explains board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Lian A. Mack. "Double cleansing for body acne, may help remove excess oil and sebum, help with cellular turnover, and prime the skin to absorb active acne-fighting ingredients."

How often should I be double cleansing?

Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy or simple question to answer, and is 1000% subjective and in the hands of the user’s individual skin type. “If you have sensitive, dry skin on your body, I recommend double cleansing infrequently, like one time per week. If your hair gets very oily and flaky, one may consider double cleansing two to three times per week," says Dr. Mack, who ​​recommends starting with an oil cleanser first, followed by a gentle cleanser on the body. 
Anthony agrees, and recommends easing into a double-cleansing routine. "Like with anything new, I also recommend starting slow, maybe 1-2 times weekly to start, and then working your way up while gauging your skin’s tolerance." On the other hand, Reslan believes you should double cleanse your scalp every time you wash your hair, especially if you use a lot of styling products. Lack time? She's got a solution: "For those you would rather skip the second shampoo to save time in the shower, I would highly recommend incorporating a weekly/daily scalp exfoliant, similar to one for the face, that can help maintain a build-up free and healthy scalp,” such as the Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Scrub by The Inkey List, which has both physical exfoliants and 7% AHA.
Now that we know what is and isn’t necessary, I’m going into my next investigation: Do We Need Hateration And Holleration In This Dancery? (Mary J. Blige Says No.)
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