Using a flannel has changed my skin and I can’t stop talking about it



All hail the humble flannel.

Flannel, face cloth, washcloth, face washer; whatever you call it, I’m here to tell you why you need to be using one.

Because I’m from New Zealand – where most people I know call them flannels (truly the daggiest name ever) – I always thought flannels were, well, daggy. I didn’t really see the need for them; they felt like a throwback to a more ’90s/early 2000s approach to skincare. That is, a simpler, less science-y and tech-y approach to skincare.

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In the 2010s we have double cleansing routines, face wipes and micellar water if you’re feeling lazy, 12-step skincare routines and an untold number of facial gadgets and massagers. For me and many others I know, the flannel had therefore been relegated to the back of the cupboard, like the irrelevant and outdated piece of towel we believed it to be.

Another reason I was anti-flannel was that I had been taught (incorrectly, I might add) that one should pat your face dry post-cleansing, before applying any skincare. So the concept of wiping my cleanser away with a wet flannel, only to have to dry my face on a separate towel, seemed messy and inconvenient.

I’m sure there are many flannel-loving skin aficionados out there for whom this isn’t news, but for all the flannel virgins (my apologies, those are two words that should never sit side by side), here’s the lowdown on why this humble item is your skincare routine’s new MVP.

Tell me, why should I use a flannel?

As I said, I was dubious about flannels. Don’t they just hold a bunch of bacteria in them? Are they even that effective at removing makeup and isn’t that going to stain them? Would I have to use a fresh flannel morning and night? Seems like a bit of a pain. Plus, I was addicted to the feeling of a perfectly squeaky clean and thoroughly dried face as a base for my skincare routine.

But a few weeks ago, I received a book by skincare expert Caroline Hirons in the mail; Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide. True to its name, the book is a super accessible and easy to understand guide to all things skincare. There are tonnes of useful information (and I suggest checking it out if you want to beef up your skincare knowledge) but the part that really stuck with me was Caroline’s insistence that we all use a flannel.

“Flannels get your skin CLEAN. Think of your parents: how did they wash you when you were a kid? They used a flannel. They are more substantial than wipes or muslin, are far more effective at removing dirt, and help exfoliate the skin, too,” she writes in a section specifically dedicated to flannels.

Caroline’s cleansing routine is simple. In the morning she applies a non-foaming cleanser and wipes it off with a clean, warm damp flannel. Her night time cleanse is a double cleanse, where she uses an oil or balm for the first cleanse to break down the makeup and a milk or gel for the second cleanse. For both cleanses she uses – you guessed it – a warm, damp flannel.

But what really piqued my interest is Caroline’s aversion to the ‘rinse off and pat dry’ technique that many skincare products instruct you to do. “If you’re soaking wet after a shower, you may want to lightly dry your face, mainly so you can see, but here’s the thing: in an ideal world, you want a damp face… there’s no need to pat dry first. Go straight in – a damp skin is a great skin to work on. Seal in the moisture with your following products.” (The one exception to this is vitamin A/retinoid products, which should only be applied to dry skin after cleansing.)

Realising there was no need for both a flannel and a dry towel, I found the idea of incorporating a flannel into my routine a lot simpler. I was also curious to see what would happen to my skin if I adopted the flannel technique, stopped patting my face so thoroughly dry, and started sealing in more moisture by working my products into a damp face.

I’m only a few weeks in, but oh boy have I seen a difference. My skin feels far more hydrated and plump, I’m having fewer breakouts and I feel like I get a far deeper, more satisfying clean from using a flannel. Plus, flannels remove my makeup far more thoroughly than anything else I’ve tried and having a damp face to work my skincare products into is a serious gamechanger.

Another reason Caroline swears by flannels is the gentle exfoliation they provide. And it really does work. My skin looks much brighter. And using a flannel as a low-key daily exfoliator is a good alternative to the more abrasive exfoliators out there, especially if, like me, you have very sensitive skin.

Right, you’ve got my interest. How many do I need and how often do I need to wash them?

Caroline suggests buying a minimum of eight flannels and using one a day, the eighth flannel being the spare one you use on your wash day. You want a fresh, clean flannel for your morning cleanse and you’ll want to hang it up to dry and then use it again for your evening cleanse, before throwing it in the washing basket.

Definitely do not use the same flannel the next day, especially if you removed makeup the night before with it; that’s how bacteria spreads from the flannel to your face, and we really don’t want that. This is an obvious point, but don’t ever share your flannels with anyone, either. You’ll want to machine wash your flannels so they get properly clean, but avoid using a fabric softener because traces might end up on your skin.

“You don’t have to spend a fortune on the plushest, fluffiest flannels. Any will do. But go for white so you get the satisfaction of seeing the muck come off,” Caroline writes.

Eager to follow her instructions, I opted for this cheap pack of ten white flannels from Ikea, which is marketed for babies but the flannels are actually the exact same size as adult ones. The only difference is they’re way more affordable (10 for $7.99) and they have cute little coloured hooks, which makes it easy to hang them up to dry after your morning cleanse.

You can obviously go for the more bougie options, like the Posh Cloth from Go-To, and there are loads of fancy, jumped-up flannels these days that claim to do all sorts of things. But I prefer to keep it simple. If a set of basic white flannels is good enough for a world-renowned skincare expert, then it’s good enough for me.

Any last words?

Never in my life have I ever written the word flannel so many times, and it’s beginning to lose all meaning to me. Anyway, do yourself a favour and get yourself a flannel/face cloth/washcloth/face washer. Your epidermis will thank you.

For more flannel-centric advice, try this.

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