a lazy post about exfoliation: the joys of facecloths

Copy-pasted from old MakeupAlley skin-care board discussion thread of way back when. Even now, mixed reaction of LOL + WTF, do you live under a rock + OK, fair enough, innocence is always a defence. But I had to bite down hard on any risk of sarcasm, and some might have slipped out. For which I still feel guilt and of course continue to flagellate myself on a regular basis.

Such acts of morally necessary flagellation aside, I don’t really approve of exfoliation. And certainly not the kind that thinks of itself as the removal of old skin to reveal new fresh skin, but is in actual fact the stripping-off of a protective layer so as to damage shiny, red, rawness that wasn’t ready for exposure. Chemical peels: NO. Clarisonic and other demonic devices of its ilk: NO.

a most excellent meme, and still a classic two years on

(a digression within a digression, if you’ll allow me: there is a most excellent entry on this meme—taxonomy, usage, history and development, kinship network, references, etc.—at Know Your Meme; image linked to it)

This seems to be the start of the exfoliatory season. In that there’s a certain rise in incidence of discussion thereof. Partly folks preparing for office Christmas parties and wanting to Look Their Best. To pull someone more drunk than you? how appealing and appetizing; hey, no accounting for tastes and twists. The next phase will be after the merry festive Saturnalian season: self-punishment to restore balance after excess, combined with turning over a new leaf as part of New Year resolutions. New body + renewed innards + new face (+ new clothes thanks to presents) = New You.

Do yourself a favour: Don’t do it. Instead, here is a tried and tested ancient method, that produces the desired result every time, a secret passed down through the generations in families in northern Europe. And, more recently, much of Canada. Anywhere north of a certain latitude. Those parts of the world where, at this time of year, you’re lucky if you get  a couple of hours of insipid pseudo-sunlight, from a sun that’s hovering just over the horizon, and that’s if it’s not cloudy, raining, snowing, etc. Anyway: here’s what to do. Get seriously drunk. The hangover and its accompanying nausea and abstinence from food, light, and mirrors will do the trick. After the hangover, and in immediate direct crystal-clear comparison to your hungover self, you’ll feel like a new fresh invigorated person.

I digress. Back to face-cloths.


Technical terms, interchangeable:

  • face-cloth / facecloth
  • wash-cloth / washcloth
  • flannel (UK)

Made of cotton, some form of terry towelling. Square, approx 25 cm across, should be slightly bigger than your hand. Flat, not the mitt / glove variety; they’re crap and I don’t like them anyway. Some are further described as “baby”, which just means that they’re smaller and the material is thinner. These are good things. As are cheap general-purpose facecloths that are cheap because they’re thin.

Ecologically good: about a bazillion times better than those fecking disgrace-to-your-species disposable cloths. Every time you use one of them Mother Nature sheds a tear, then a second one because she can’t come over and spank you (what with not being real being a bit of an impediment).


7/3/2010 6:58AM

Quick answer: no. Directly to face. Keep that facecloth as clean as possible; and change it regularly. I have a stack of cheap ones, and I change them every couple of days (aimed for every day, it usually ends up every 2, every 3 at the worst). I then wash them all about every couple of weeks in a small load hot wash, along with other stuff needing high temp for bug killing: mainly kitchen cloths, tea-towels, cleaning cloths, etc. Using a sensitive-friendly detergent (7th Generation, Ecovert delicates, etc.), sometimes just Dr. Bronner’s unscented castille soap. No fabric conditioner, and air-dried on balcony or tumble-dried depending on weather.

[EDIT: these days, we have so little to boil-wash it’s not worth a wash, so I do it by hand in the kitchen sink with actual boiling water. Saves water and energy. And I’m now air-drying. I mean, doing so with laundry. Right now this very minute I myself am not drying my wet self using air. Glad to get that sorted out.]

Two options for the cleaning of the face: A. in shower, B. bathroom sink.

A. Get into shower. Turn on shower. Not too hot.

1. Stick head under shower until face is wet.
2. Apply cleanser (soap, gel, cream, whatever) to hands. Rub hands if need be (ex. foaming cleanser).
3. Apply cleanser to face (ooh, and neck and throat, ears, behind ears) using those hands. Ensure whole surface is covered.
4. Remove hands. Stick them under shower to rinse off cleanser. Meanwhile, keep you face out of water-spray. No rinsing things off yet.
5. Take up facecloth with hands. Hold under shower until wet. Now apply it to face, massaging around gently (unless you’re a scrubbing enthusiast), in a circular motion. Ensure you have covered all surface area, including neck and ears (and behind them), and eyes (gently here).
6. Rinse out facecloth under shower. It may need to be squeezed and wrung out a couple of times, to ensure all soapiness has gone.
7. At this stage, you may either wish to hang up the facecloth and splash some more water over face (or stick face under shower), or to have another swipe of the face with the facecloth. Up to you.
8. Continue with rest of shower.
9. Once out of the shower, par face dry–don’t rub–and not completely dry, leave it a little damp to the touch. At this stage I apply either a splash of cod water (sink tap) or, if not at home and in a hard-water area, Avène water spray. Sometimes witch hazel hydrosol / aqueous solution as a toner. Then moisturiser and sunscreen.

[EDIT: no longer using Avène water, due to that company and their parent, the Pierre Fabre group, having lost their no-animal-testing status.]

B. Sink route:

1. Fill sink-basin with water: ideally, tepid– below body temperature but not cold. Somewhere in the area of 18-28 C.
2. Dunk facecloth in sink until wet.
3. Apply to face, to wet it. You may opt for sticking face into water directly instead.
4. Apply cleanser to face using hands, as outlined above in A.3.
5. Follow the steps in A above, except substituting “rinse under shower” with “rinse in sink”.
6a. Alternative route, if your sink has a “mixer” tap (one tap, rather than two for hot + cold), you can always just run the tap (à la shower) rather than filling the basin.
6b. Other alternative: if you’re out of hot water (as happens in many places before or after a certain hour), boil a kettle, and fill basin with a mixture of warm water from kettle and cold straight from the tap.
6c. If your water is hard and horrible: either get a filter installed (available both for taps and for shower-heads), or use mineral water (straight out of bottle mixed with some warmed up in kettle).
7. Turn off taps, pull plugs out of sink, etc…

(Historical note) In sink is the method my family has been using for generations (and variants on that finest of hangover cures, dunking head in water); not sure if this is a British, Irish, and central to northern European thing; or if it’s more prevalent worldwide. But in descriptions of people washing in assorted literatures (mainly novels) from various places and periods, I’ve seen the same basic method, so I guess it’s far from unknown or novel (hah!). Just maybe fading out of popular knowledge due to other fads and fashions intervening.

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 10.54.18 AM

This next bit of our chat was amusing in an egg-sucky sort of way:

HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE thanks! Do you mind if I post this to my notepad with your name? ***, 7/3/2010 7:32AM

errm…sure? you should probably also attribute it to my mother! gingerrama 7/3/2010 5:02PM


Some time later, this from last March:

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 10.02.14 AM

That Daily Mail item, actually in my humble opinion excellent and well-balanced, worth reading (the comments too, of course, as ever: that being the joy of their online edition) and furthermore one of their finer pieces of writing:

If the environmentalist argument, the dermatological one, economic sense (= saving money), common sense, tradition / historical usage, and the Daily Mail‘s endorsement aren’t enough to sway you: if it’s good enough for these two, isn’t it good enough for you?

The Daily Mail, article on flannels


  1. Icaria

    Love this! The head dunking in the sink to fight a hangover is also an old French Canadian way. Irish or English influence? I wouldn’t be able to tell but I’m sure there are still people doing this.

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