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Throw in the towel: is air-drying your face better for your skin?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11-10-2018 Ellie Violet Bramley
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Is there a God? Is cloning ethical? Is the nuclear deterrent infrastructure fit for purpose? These are some of the big questions. Add to that one more: should we be letting our faces “air-dry” after washing?

It is a technique that seems to have garnered many fans online. On Into the Gloss, the beauty website from cult brand Glossier, one acne-prone writer offered air-drying as their hot tip for clearer skin. How does she do it? “Slowly, weirdly,” and, she adds, “usually while pulling up my pants or vigorously moisturising my body.” Meanwhile, on Reddit, threads asking users “How do you dry your face?” are answered by those who swear by letting air do the work. 

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Is it more hygienic?

It’s true that towels can be hotbeds of bacteria. “Certainly, if you’ve got any areas on your body, any follicle infections, that could then transfer from a towel on to the face,” says Dr Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic on Harley Street, “air-drying will reduce that problem.” Or, he says, drying your face and body with separate towels might also be a good idea, as each host different bacteria.

Related: 5 Ways to Feel More Comfortable in Your Own Skin (POPSUGAR)

But Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and author of this year’s The Skincare Bible, is more sceptical: “I don’t know why we suddenly now live in a world where we’re scared of bacteria … I think people forget we actually have bacteria that naturally live on our skin’s surface.” For her, it is more a question of personal hygiene – making sure you are washing your towels regularly, at high temperatures, and “I certainly wouldn’t want to be sharing my towels with anyone else”.

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Is it better for our skin?

“100% not,” says Mahto. Although, she concedes, she can’t see any reason it would be bad either – “it just seems a daft, illogical thing to do. Who’s going to sit around waiting for their face to dry?”Lowe, however, thinks that for those with a tendency towards dry or sensitive skin, “the less rubbing the better”. Although he is keen to point out that more important is what you use to wash your face – “you should not be using soaps or detergents”. Instead, he says, use a lotion and water to wash the face, or gentler micellar waters, and then leave a residue on the skin to help moisturise.

And if you don’t want to throw in the towel?

The key thing, says Mahto, is that “you should be patting the skin dry rather than dragging the surface – that can irritate it”. On this point, Lowe agrees: “If your skin is wet and you have to get dressed quickly, dab your skin dry gently rather than rubbing it vigorously.”

Related: Reasons to use oil to clean your face (Cover Video)

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