Cleansing. The first step in your daily routine. It’s the one product we rarely run out of, and for most of us, a step in our skincare routine we rarely think of too much.
How important is this step really? Some of the most common questions I have received from clients over the years are the following:
- Why can’t I use the same soap on my body as my face
- Some soaps claim to be pH balanced, so surely, I can use them on my face?
- How much should I be spending on my cleansing routine?
- What texture cleanser should I be using for light versus heavy makeup?
- Is a toner really necessary?
In This Blog post, we will look at all these questions and compare some of the more popular brands people are choosing for their cleansing routines.
Our skin forms part of the Immune system. It is our first line of defense against harmful micro organisms such as bacteria, allergens and irritants. Our skin maintains a delicate balance and once that balance becomes disturbed, it can react in in a manner of different ways. Our skin is protected by two factors which is neither visible to us or obvious in any other way. The first is our Acid mantle. The acid mantle is made up of a combination of sweat and oil and maintains a pH of 5.5 on the face. This means that the pH is slightly acidic. The acidity of the pH is crucial as it protects us from bacteria. Some signs of an impaired acid mantle is sensitivity, redness, dry skin and irritation. An impaired acid mantle will also worsen skin conditions such as acne, Hyperpigmentation and rosacea. Using a harsh cleanser which foams up will disrupt the acid mantle, which we will look at in greater detail shortly. Toners are crucial in re establishing the Acidity of our acid mantle after rinsing the face with water.
The second line of defense against harmful external factors, is our skin microbiome. This is a crucial part of what protects us from harmful bacteria, and although we do not know much about the influence it has on the pathology of skin diseases, we know that the natural layer of good bacteria on our skin will prevent diseases and unpleasant skin conditions. Skin probiotics are becoming very popular, and many brands are now aiming to target this invisible layer on the skin to assist in the treatment of skin disease such as Acne and Rosacea. The current trend in cleansing of the skin is a much more conservative approach and we are moving away from the use of harsh foaming cleansers that alter the acid mantle and the skin’s microbiome, even and especially in the case of oily skin types. We are also focusing more on the ingredients used in cleansers and how they affect the skin. The common trend of using harsh foam-based cleansers on oilier skin types is quickly losing popularity, as we start focusing on preserving these two defense systems of the skin instead of stripping the skin of it’s natural protective mechanisms.
The reason soap bars are not ideal when used on the face specifically, is because they do tend to be more alkaline than the skin on the face can handle. Certain brands focus heavily on marketing their soap bars as pH balanced, but what does this really mean? When using a pH strip one can quickly see the pH of the product, and although certain soap or “beauty” bars are less alkaline than their competitors, they are still too alkaline for the face. Another harmful ingredient found in soaps and foaming cleansers, are surfactants. Anionic or cationic surfactants will cause irritation on the skin and affect the pH of the skin negatively. Surfactants are used as emulsifiers and foaming agents and are most commonly found in Foaming facial cleansers with a mousse or gel like texture. Some companies claim their foaming cleansers are soap free, but even soap free cleansers can contain harmful surfactants.
The next question is how much you should be spending on a cleanser. Here, the answer is simple. More expensive is not necessarily better. An inexpensive Micellar cleanser can be very beneficial to the skin and although great ingredients included in a cleanser can affect the price of a product, the focus should be on how respectful your cleanser and toner is of the natural skin barrier function, and not necessarily on the price.
There are many different types of cleansers on the market and we will look at a few textures that you can choose from.
Foaming cleansers are losing popularity, as it’s quite difficult to manufacture them without some ingredients that affect the acid mantle negatively. There are some great Organic alternatives which uses plant based foaming agents (like ESSE GEL CLEANSER) but care should be taken when choosing a foaming facial wash. Look out for sulphates like sodium lauryl sulphate and ammonium lauryl sulphate.
Creamy or milky cleansers are generally marketed to a dryer skin type, but most of them are suitable for all skin types. Here you need to look at the quality of active ingredients used, so that you can differentiate between an average and not so great cleanser.
Our favourite new trend is the move towards cleansing balms and oils. They often contain amazing oil soluble ingredients which benefit most skin types, they respect the balance of the acid mantle on the skin and due to their affinity with oil, can be very effective at removing heavy make up and excess sebum on the skin. Not all oil based cleansers contain great ingredients, some include cheap mineral oils which can be destructive on the acid mantle, and will dry the skin out in the long run. Some oil based cleansers could also worsen acne and exacerbate oilier skin conditions. Some brands will promote the many beneficial plant extracts in the product, but they neglect to tell you that the base of the product contains synthetic fragrances that could be harmful when used on the face, and many contain mineral oils which will block the pores.
Our favourite oil based cleansers include Elemis pro collagen cleansing balm and Optoderm deep cleansing oil which is specifically good for sensitive, acne and rosacea prone skin. It contains ingredients that will reduce inflammation, excess sebum and strengthen the skin’s barrier function.
The next cleanser we love (especially when combined with a cleansing balm or oil) are micellar cleansers. They are water based, gentle, usually pH balanced and function as a cleanser and toner in one. Here you need to look out for beneficial ingredients that will benefit your particular skin type. We Love Bioderma H20 AR micellar water as it contains their patented Rosactiv, which is brilliant for sensitized barriers. We also Love OptoDerm Micellar cleanser for sensitized and acne prone skins. This one contains caffeine which is great for reducing excess sebum, Niacinamide which is soothing, reduces excess oil, is anti inflammatory and very beneficial for hyperpigmentation disorders.
Toners are crucial for re establishing the balance of the acid mantle but avoid toners that contain astringent ingredients that leave your skin feeling tight. Toners should be alcohol free. Even oilier skin types need to protect the delicate balance of the skin, as stripping the skin of its natural protective mechanisms will only result in more oil production, more inflammation and more harmful bacteria.
Cleansers that contain Alpha Hydroxy acids are also great, as some of them can drastically improve the condition of the skin. We love salicylic acid for oily skin, Glycolic acid for ageing skin and lactic acid for dryer skin types.
Choose your cleanser carefully as it may have a bigger impact on your skin than you think and how well it responds to treatment!