Cleansing your skin is probably the most important step of your skincare routine. However, we usually take much more time to choose our day cream or serum than our face cleanser (and we also spend more money). But a good face cleanser can really make a big difference in your skincare routine (and the contrary is also true, an improper cleanser can totally damage your skin).
* More information on how I build my care routine in this article:
How I build my care routine *
I hear this kind of sentence a lot:
“My cleanser only stays a few seconds on my skin and I rinse it anyway, so how important could it be?”
Well actually, it’s very important. Even if technically, I totally get why you would think it’s not. It’s quite logical to want to invest in a product that remains on the skin rather than a product that will be removed. But the problem is that a bad cleanser or one which is inadequate can completely unbalance your skin and you will have to invest in a lot of other skincare products to compensate.
Just a quick note first: I consider there is a difference between cleansing your skin and removing makeup. In this article, I only talk about the products that are used after you have removed the makeup, as a second step. (I talked more in detail about the makeup removal step and the concept of double cleansing in my previous articles. Check my Nuxe Micellar Cleansing Oil if you want to know more about it wink )
The skin’s natural protection and why it’s important to preserve it:
Let’s talk a little about science, shall we? (I won’t be too long, I promise wink )(also, I’m not a real expert in science, so please if you are, be nice ^^)
On your skin, you naturally find some “fat particles” that come from sebum. These are essential for the good health of the skin: they create its protective barrier and have the power to retain hydration. These are somewhat like natural lubricants if you will. If these “fat particles” are removed, the skin can become dry and feels tight.
There are also “aqueous particles” (= basically, water), known as the protective acid mantle. It contains:
– sweat (composed of lactic acid and amino acids),
– some acidic particles coming from the sebum,
– other acids called the NMF (Natural Moisturizing Factors), which is roughly composed of debris coming from the skin itself.
So, as its name implies, this protective acid mantle has an acidic pH (this is important for the following).
Consequently, the skin is covered with a mixture of water and fat, called the hydrolipidic film. This film naturally renews itself during the day thanks to the secretions of the sebaceous glands (= the sebum) and sudoriparous (= the sweat produced naturally throughout the day).
The hydrolipidic film helps to keep your skin supple and also acts as a protective barrier against unwanted organisms (= bacteria and fungi).
The hydrolipidic film naturally has a slightly acidic pH (between 4.5 and 6 depending on your skin type). This acidic pH constitutes an ideal environment for the skin and guarantees a healthy skin.
So, it’s important to take the pH into consideration when you choose your cleansing product and also to prefer a soft product, which won’t completely remove this hydrolipidic film, essential to the good health of your skin.
And all these “rules” apply to all skin types! Even if you have an oily skin, you definitely don’t want to strip it. Especially since your skin will usually “take revenge” by overproducing more sebum to compensate the aggression. Better to avoid it, then. wink
The consequences of using an inadequate face cleanser:
– First scenario: a cleanser that is too harsh, which strips your skin.
Examples: any soaps (Marseille soap, Aleppo soap, liquid soaps, shower gel), micellar waters with alcohol…
If you feel, after cleansing your skin with your usual cleansing product, that your skin feels tight, that it’s squeaky clean, in short, that it’s completely “degreased”, well, it’s because it is! And as we saw earlier, it’s not necessarily good news for your skin.
When you “lay your skin bare”, it sensibilizes it and the hydrolipidic film, which is supposed to naturally protect the skin, it alters it and can no longer properly perform its barrier function.
Indeed, when you strip your skin with surfactants (=cleansing ingredients) that are too aggressive and remove its natural protective lipids, it becomes permeable: irritants such as dust and pollutants will penetrate more easily and weaken its natural defense.
Consequently, you risk a more sensitive skin (with redness, and which can feel uncomfortable), which becomes dehydrated, ages faster, and which can also tend to overproduce sebum and break out (for acne prone skins, stripping your skin is really the worst thing you can do!).
– Second example: a cleanser that is too rich.
Examples: a cleansing balm too greasy and difficult to rinse, a milk or cream cleansers too rich which leave a greasy residue on the skin…
Even if it’s generally a bad idea to remove completely the lipids of your skin, it’s still important to clean it thoroughly to get rid of the impurities!
A cleansing product which is too greasy and difficult to rinse may leave greasy deposits on the skin and it will be difficult for the skin to remove them by itself.
Consequences: clogged pores, blackheads or even whiteheads and a dull appearance.
– Finally, last case: a cleanser badly or not rinsed.
The most common example is not rinsing micellar water.
Many cleansing products claim that it’s not necessary to rinse them. Indeed, it’s interesting in many ways: for a sensitive skin that can’t stand contact with water, but also as a practical aspect (you can use them anywhere).
However, leaving cleansing ingredients on the skin (= the surfactants) can also cause irritation to the skin in the short-term. If you use micellar water occasionally without rinsing it, it doesn’t really matter but if it’s something you do every day, the skin will surely be sensitized.
It’s better to always rinse your cleansing product, even with those which claim “without rinsing”. To rinse them, no need to do it with a lot of water, just using a wet cloth on the face is enough or even better, a spritz of thermal water wiped with a tissue.
So, if I summarize, the consequences of an inadequate cleansing can be:
– a stripped skin that can lead to dehydration, or even dry skin,
– a sensitized and unbalanced skin, which can even overproduce sebum and break out in some cases,
– a skin which is not clean enough, with pores that clog and a dull appearance.
How to recognize a good face cleanser?
– A soft product, which preserves the hydrolipidic film:
You’ll have to look at the labels if you want to be sure your cleanser is soft enough for your skin. There are two types of ingredients to check in the formula: the surfactants used (= the cleaning ingredients) and the presence of nourishing and/or moisturizing ingredients which compensate for the cleaning effect and preserve the natural skin hydrolipidic film.
♦ Which ingredients to avoid in a face cleanser::
– Soaps that strip the skin and are usually too harsh (ex: Sodium Laurate, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Tallowate): Marseille soap, Aleppo soap (even if it contains many vegetable oils, it’s still a soap and it’s not suitable for face skin), liquid soaps, classic shower gel…
– Sulfates like the infamous SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) also too harsh for the skin. Other examples: Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Coco Sulfate…
♦ Which ingredients are recommended in a mild face cleanser, which respects the hydrolipidic film:
– mild surfactants, which clean the skin without stripping it: Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) (not ideal but better than SLS, especially if it’s combined with Cocoamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB)), Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Alkyl Sulfosuccinate, Alkyl Sarcosinate, Lauryl Glucoside, Decyl Glucoside, Coco Glucoside, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, Sodium Lauroemphoacetate, du Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate, Lauryl Glucoside, Sodium Cocoyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Sodium Cocoyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Glutamate…
– nourishing and/or moisturizing ingredients to “compensate” the cleansing effect: vegetable oils (or mineral oils, but they’re not really my favorite because they can clog pores), fat acids (ex: steraic acid), moisturizing humectants (ex: sorbitol, glycerin, etc.).
– A pH that respects the skin, meaning an acid pH:
As I explained above, the natural pH of the skin (which contributes to its proper balance) is acidic, between 4.5 and 6 depending on the skin type (a neutral pH is 7, and above 7 to 14, it’s a basic pH).
Therefore, it’s better to use a cleanser that doesn’t mess with the natural pH of the skin, and that will also have an acid pH (less than 6).
But not many skincare brands indicate the pH of their products in the product description. So you will probably need to do some research on Google to find the info or even contact the brand directly by email to ask them (I did it several times in the past and most of the time I got an answer).
You also have the solution of pH strips which allow you to verify the pH of your products (they’re easy to find online and they’re usually not too expensive).
But usually, if you want to preserve the pH of your skin, the ideal approach is to avoid soap like the plague. Even natural soaps, considered soft and suitable for sensitive skin (such as Aleppo soap) don’t have a pH below 9.5.
The different types of face cleansers:
I usually use my face cleanser in the evening after I removed my makeup and in the morning (but if your skin is dry and/or sensitive, morning cleanse is not really an obligation).
In any case, it’s better to choose it according to your skin type and your preferences (texture, use of water or not, perfume or not, etc.)
– Foaming face cleansers (gels, creams, foaming cleansers, dermatological bars):
These are cleansers which you need to use and rinse with water.
Generally, gels are more suitable for combination to oily skins and creams for drier skins. But for me, if they’re soft enough, they can be great for all skin types.
Personally, I’m not a fan of foaming cleansers (mousses) for an economic reason: you will pay a high price for a product cut with water (and a special pump system that creates this effect of dense foam on the skin), so the ratio of product/ quantity is quite bad. I always feel like I was cheated with this type of texture even if it’s nice to use.
I know the foaming products have bad press. I frequently read that the more it foams, the more it’s stripping (I probably wrote it here too) and it has been true for a while. Traditionally, products that foamed a lot were full of SLS and that’s why they were considered to be stripping.
But a lot of cosmetics labs made a lot of progress regarding this and there are more and milder foaming cleansers using surfactants respectful of the skin’s hydrolipidic film.
– Face cleansers to use without water (micellar waters, intolerant skin lotions, cleansing milks…)
These are generally intended for very sensitive or even intolerant skins which don’t work well with water.
Usually, you apply them with a cotton pad, which is soaked with the product and swipe gently over the skin, without rubbing. It usually takes several passes, with several cotton pads to make sure that the skin is clean and that all the impurities have been removed.
As I said above, if you use this type of product every day, I strongly advise you to rinse it with a damp cloth or better, a spritz of thermal water then wiped with a tissue.
My favorite face cleansers at the moment:
Recently, I found three face cleansers that I really like!
I have a combination dehydrated skin, acne prone and I want to use soft products but that still give me a fresh feeling on the skin. I have a preference for foaming products, rinsed with water and I use them in the morning and evening.
– Bioderma Sensibio Mild Cleansing Foaming Gel:
It is a foaming gel cleanser that I was lucky enough to discover at its launch, here in Dubai. The brand Bioderma gifted it to me during this event but I have since repurchased it several times because I really like it!
The full ingredient list:
AQUA/WATER/EAU, SODIUM COCOAMPHOACETATE, PROPANEDIOL, SODIUM LAUROYL SARCOSINATE, CITRIC ACID, COCO-GLUCOSIDE, GLYCERYL OLEATE, SODIUM CITRATE, PEG-90 GLYCERYL ISOSTEARATE, MANNITOL, XYLITOL, LAURETH-2, RHAMNOSE, FRUCTOOLIGOSACCHARIDES, TOCOPHEROL, HYDROGENATED PALM GLYCERIDES CITRATE, LECITHIN, ASCORBYL PALMITATE.
It’s very soft, soap-free (the surfactants it contains are mild), enriched with moisturizing agents (coconut oil derivatives), fragrance-free, dye-free, non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic and its pH is 5.5. In short, it ticks all the boxes!
The packaging is super practical, it’s a bottle with a pump, and also, I find it pretty (it’s pink!) (yes, I’m basic, OK? ^^).
It retails for $15 to $18 (I saw it on Amazon). In Dubai, it’s easy to find in pharmacies and it retails between 75 and 95 dirhams.
– Su:m 37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick:
The Su:m37 Rose Miracle Cleansing Stick is probably one of my greatest skincare discoveries this year! I’m such a fan of this Korean cult favorite product.
Its packaging is awesome, I wonder why nobody thought of it before (I guess they’re not the first but I never saw this kind of packaging before)! It’s a cleanser in a solid form, like a dermatological bar but in a stick form (yes, it looks like a giant deodorant stick). It’s very practical, ideal to travel with and it is much more hygienic than a dermatological bar which usually ends up melting and disintegrating next to your sink.
To use it, it’s very simple: you wet your face with water and you pass the stick directly on the skin to deposit some product. You can then lather it with your hands, it foams and you just rinse it with water!
You can also lather it in your hands if you prefer and it’s also perfect to use with a Clarisonic brush (or any kind of skincare device) or a Konjac sponge if you prefer.
I usually make it dry up with its “head” down to prevent it from staying too moist and melting too fast.
Its composition is also super good:
– its pH is acidic: 5.5,
– it contains mild surfactants: stearic acid, lauric acid,
– also a lot of nourishing vegetable oils: coco, camellia, green tea seeds, sunflower, olive, apricot kernel, basil, marjoram, ylang-ylang…
– some natural rose extracts: extracts of fermented rose*, rose petals, rose water.
(*: I will have to tell you more about the fermentation in cosmetics, it’s a technique very common in Korea and it’s really interesting!)
The full ingredient list:
Glycerol, Water, Orange Peel Oil, Lime Peel Oil, Lemon Peel Oil, Green Tea Seed Oil, Coconut Oil, Basil Oil, Ylang Ylang Flower Oil, Marjoram Oil, Fermented Damask Rose Extract, Apricot Seed Oil, Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil, Betaine, Stearic Acid, Lauric Acid, Camellia Oil, Tocopherol, Rose Flower Water, Potassium Hydroxide, Lauryl Betaine
This natural rose scent is incredible. And it leaves the skin completely clean and comfortable, it’s a real pleasure to use!
This product is a best seller in Korea and I totally understand why! I will definitely repurchase it once I’ve finished this one.
You can find the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick on Iherb or Amazon usually around $20 to $25. It’s not cheap but you really don’t need a lot. I’ve been using mine for more than 6 weeks now and I still have more than 3/4 left.
– Cosrx Good Morning Low pH cleanser:
This last one, I ordered it recently and I only used it for a few days so I give you my first impressions, it’s not really a review.
Cosrx is a very popular brand in Korea (can you tell I’ve been into K-beauty for a moment and even more now? It’s about time! They have the best skincare products!).
It’s very well known for its acne prone skins products range. The prices are very affordable and the compositions are great. I don’t like everything (unfortunately, many of their creams contain silicones) but they use a lot of plant extracts in the formulas and really, the value for money is so good!
Cosrx’s Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser is also a Korean cult favorite product, especially for oily skins.
I added it to my Amazon basket because I still have acne breakouts sometimes and also, I had quite a lot of acne on my back and chest recently.
It contains a lot of purifying ingredients but claims a very gentle cleansing effect, which doesn’t strip the skin and purify it skin gently.
The full ingredient list:
Water, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate, polysorbate 20, styrax japonicus branch/fruit/leaf extract, butylene glycol, saccharomyces ferment, cryptomeria japonica leaf extract, nelumbo nucifera leaf extract, pinus palustris leaf extract, ulmus davidiana root extract, oenothera biennis (evening primrose) flower extract, pueraria lobata root extract, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil, allantoin, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, betaine salicylate, citric acid, ethyl hexanediol, 1,2-hexanediol, trisodium ethylenediamine disuccinate, sodium benzoate, disodium EDTA
So, regarding its composition:
– its pH is acidic: 5.5,
– it contains mild surfactants: cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate,
– some moisturizing and soothing ingredients: allantoin, glycerine,
– it’s full of vegetable extracts: antioxidant ferments of saccharomyces (another fermented ingredient!), soothing styrax japonicus extract, purifying tea tree oil, nourishing evening primrose oil and many others!
In short, especially for its price (around $10), it’s quite impressive!
Regarding its application, it is a transparent gel that doesn’t foam a lot and that I often use in the shower (to be able to use it also on my back and my chest). It has a very strong tea tree smell and I know that not everyone likes it but personally enjoy it!
It’s only been a few days that I have been using it, and I already like it a lot.
You can find the Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser on Amazon around $10.
And you, what is your favorite face cleanser? Do you consider cleansing your skin as an important step in your skincare routine?
Photo credit: bonnie-garner.com