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How the “Clean Towel Method” Can Improve and Prevent Acne

Is bacteria from a dirty towel or pillowcase sabotaging your skin?

If you experience acne, then you've probably spent a ton of time (and money!) trying multiple cleansers, lotions and topical treatments. Maybe you go for regular facials or even visit a dermatologist. You're probably super-vigilant about following a specific skincare routine, and you'd never dream of going to bed without washing your face.

That's all well and good—but not if dirty towels and pillowcases are holding you back from clear skin!

The Problem With Towels

Towels contain more bacteria than any other object in your home. (Photo: Kirsty Hall)

A towel might look clean, but can actually collect a ton of dirt, dust, makeup, oil and dead skin cells that you can't even see. And that allows them to act as breeding grounds for nasty bacteria.

In fact, researchers at the University of Arizona discovered that towels are the MOST bacteria-infested items in our homes.

That's because towels live in damp environments and retain moisture for long periods of time, which allows the bacteria to survive. Plus, they're used in the bathroom—one of the most germ-ridden areas of the house.

So just think of what's happening when you use a dirty towel to dry your face after washing it!

We know that bacteria can be an underlying cause of breakouts. As you rub the towel on your skin, bacteria can transfer to your face and collect in your pores, encouraging pimples and causing irritation.

But it's not just towels we have to worry about...

The Problem With Pillowcases

Pillowcases can harbour pore-clogging bacteria, dirt and oil. (Photo: martin)

Pillowcases are covered in the same bacteria as toilet seats (eww!), along with sebum from your scalp and residue from any oily or creamy hair products you use.

When you sleep on your side or your stomach, it all ends up on your face—and has a good seven or eight hours to do so each night! Just think of the pore-clogging possibilities if you're letting this stuff build up on your pillowcases, only washing them once every week or two.

That's why, if you are an acne sufferer, the "Clean Towel Method" is well worth a shot! Here's how it works:

1. Always use a clean towel.

Every single time a towel touches your face, it should be a freshly laundered one. Don't be fooled that it's clean just because you can't see any visible dirt. The bacteria can still be present, even if your naked eye can't detect anything.

Remember to gently pat your skin dry—don't rub vigorously! Rubbing can exacerbate existing acne by causing more irritation.

2. Or use paper towel or toilet paper.

Drying your face with paper towel can help prevent acne. (Photo: J. Ott)

Instead of a regular towel, you could use a piece of paper towel or toilet paper to pat your face dry every time you wash it. That way, you don't have to invest in so many cloth towels—or spend all your time doing laundry!

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It's also more hygienic. Many of the harmful organisms found on towels thrive at high temperatures, and stay alive even through a washing cycle at 30 degrees Celsius. If you can't find an antibacterial laundry detergent to wash your towels in, then paper products are the next best thing.

If you're conscious of killing too many trees or using too much energy running the washing machine, then simply let your face air-dry!

3. Don't use the same towel on your face, hair and body.

Using the same towel to dry your face, hair and body can invite bacteria and oil into your pores. (Photo: Pimthida)

Even if your towel is straight-out-of-the-dryer clean, you still shouldn't put it to your face if it touched your hair or body first. Yes, even if you're coming straight out of the shower. 

Residue from thick conditioners or hair masques can get soaked up by the towel and then transfer to your face. And do we need to talk about certain body parts you're drying off whose bacteria belong nowhere near your face?

If you have to use the same towel to dry off, remember to dry your face first, and then the rest of you. Then toss it in the wash!

4. Sleep with a clean towel on your pillow.

Prevent acne by covering your pillow with a clean towel. (Photo: konstantine1982)

Keep the towel theme going by laying a fresh, clean towel over your pillow to sleep on every night. This will protect your face from built-up skin cells, oil, dirt and bacteria on your pillowcases.

If you move around a lot while you sleep, consider using two or more towels so that you cover your sheets, too. (I'm assuming you don't want to be changing your sheets every single night!) 

Basically, you want to ensure that your face only ever touches the clean towel—making it way less likely that oil, dead skin flakes and other nasties will find their way into your pores.

5. Or change your pillowcase every night.

Sleep on a fresh pillowcase every night to prevent acne. (Photo: Jason Trbovich)

Maybe you'd rather sleep on a regular pillowcase than a towel (and I don't blame you!). You can get two nights out of the same pillowcase by sleeping on one side on one night, and then flipping it over on the second night. After two nights, switch out the pillowcase for a fresh one.

It might also help to invest in pillowcases made of natural fibres, which transfer less oil. Or look into the antibacterial Hygienie pillowcase, made of a silver-embedded cotton blend that prevents microbial growth. 

Whether it's pillowcases or towels, avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets, because both leave behind waxy residues that are pore-clogging.


Sometimes it's the little things can make the biggest difference, and towel hygiene might just be one of them! These microscopic pore cloggers can build up so quickly and easily, even if everything looks "clean." 

Some people have resilient skin that won't be affected, and some people have acne that is purely an internal hormonal problem. 

But for anyone who suspects external aggravators–like bacteria, dirt, oil, sebum and dead skin cells—could be contributing to their acne, doing a towel test can't hurt and might just help!

(Main photo: F. Bruno)