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How to choose the right cleanser by Dr. Divya Sharma

Skin Cleanser
Posted date on Aug 10, 2020

‘Cleanliness is Godliness’ 

Cleaning of the skin is essentially a routine for most of us. But it is equally challenging to know which cleanser suits our skin. A lot of daily face washes and cleansers are available and make it difficult to decide which one is the best suited for our skin type. There is no best cleanser for all as yet. Most of the time I am frequently asked questions about skin cleansers and ideal cleansing routines. With the entry of Korean skin products and Korean skin care regimen which emphasizes trends like ‘double cleansing’ and use of ‘oil cleansers’, it leads to a lot of confusion. 

As a Dermatologist in Bangalore,, I would like to debunk myths and present some facts about face washes and cleansers for all skin types and seasons in this blog. Don’t forget to share your concerns with me, either in the comments section below or write to me at info@drdivyasharma.com. Let’s begin. 

What is the difference between face wash, soap and a cleanser? Which one is better suited for daily use on face?

Scientific definition of a cleanser is  - ‘Skin cleansers are surface—active substances (i.e. emulsifiers/detergents/surfactants/soaps) that lower the surface tension on the skin and remove dirt, sebum, oil from cosmetic products, microorganisms, and exfoliated skin cells in an emulsified form’.

Soap, face wash and cleanser are all cleansing agents. Face wash and cleanser terms can be used interchangeably.
Soaps are composed of long chain fatty acid alkali salts with a pH of between 9 and 10. They are alkaline and hence not best suited for washing face. 

Why should we not use soap for washing face?

Soaps are harsh cleansers and cause rapid loss of moisture from the skin. It causes a sensation of tightness after washing face which is a sign of dehydration. They may cause skin irritation and damage the skin barrier. If you are having very sensitive skin, Please avoid soap as it may cause allergic eczema commonly .Soaps may contain harmful preservatives also.

Which factors decide the non irritant potential of any cleanser? How to read the label of a cleanser?

You need to check these 3 things to check whether the cleanser can be potentially drying or not

1. Surfactants – damage the outer covering of the skin cells or keratinocytes. The length of the fatty acids is the main determinant e.g Surfactants with chain length from C8 to C12 are the most irritant in nature.
2. Skin cleanser residue or rinsability factor: The longer a product stays on the skin, the more it can irritate the skin.
3. The pH of the cleanser- Neutral or slightly acidic pH maintains the balance and does not remove the natural moisturizing factor from the skin.

Which face wash or cleanser is best for oily skin or acne prone skin?

Acne or pimples in inflammation of the oil glands. A cleanser along with removing dirt and grime also should help in exfoliating especially the clogged oil glands. 

The qualities in a cleanser for pimples or acne should fulfill these criteria to be labeled as effective –

1. Non Comedogenic
2. Hypo allergenic
3. Parabens or sulfate free
4. An ideal cleanser for pimple prone skin should have useful additives which complement the treatment. e.g. Most of the face washes for acne contain salicylic acid in 1 to 2% concentration. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy      acid which not only unclogs the oil glands but also decreases oil secretion and reduces inflammation and swelling. 
5. If you are suffering from pimples and spots along with, a cleanser which contains Glycolic acid is helpful. However Glycolic acid containing face wash or cleansers may be irritating to the sensitive skin. Mandelic acid is a      good alternative for patients who have pimples and spots along with sensitive skin.
6. If you are suffering from pimples or acne but are already on treatment like topical or oral retinoids, then your Dermatologist might prescribe you a gentle cleanser to avoid retinoid dermatitis or excessive irritation.
7. Most people believe that oily skin needs repeated washing of face. This may be counter active as over washing of face may lead to more oil production.

Which face wash or cleanser is best suited for dry or sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin is defined as that skin which exhibits contact irritant or allergic reactions more readily than the average population. They generally feel more red and itchy especially when they use new products. They have a weak skin barrier and hence require gentle cleansers. Soap free cleansers which do not contain Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) are best suited for sensitive and dry skin. Additionally, cleansers which contain moisturizers (combination-cleansers) are even more beneficial. 

Look for these ingredients in a sensitive skin cleanser:

  • Cetearyl Alcohol

  • Cetostearyl Alcohol

  • 1,3 Butylene Glycol

  • Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate ( Alternative to SLS)

  • Ceteareth 60 or Myristyl Alcohol is also used as a surfactant 

  • Copper sulphate and Zinc Sulphate- help in moisturizing the skin and also act as antiseptic

  • Aloe Barbadensis ( Aloe vera extract)

  • Green tea extract acts as an antioxidant.

What is the advantage of using ‘Micellar cleansers’?

There are three routes for transferring any substance through the skin:

1. In between the dead skin cells or stratum corneum
2. In between the hair follicles 
3. Through the skin cells upto the deeper layers. Micellar technology is used to transfer the active substances through the skin cells. 

Remember our skin has a ceramide rich barrier along with gap junctions which are impervious to outside substances. Micellar technology uses a low level of non ionic surfactant which prevents irritation while used for cleansing. It can be used for dry and sensitive skin.

What is double cleansing and is it recommended for improving the skin?

Double cleansing is a popularized concept these days in which an oil-based cleanser is used followed by a water-based cleanser. It is propagated that this process helps in deeper unclogging  and total cleansing. As a Dermatologist, I don't advocate the double cleanser method routinely and advocate it only when you use make –up and you have extremely oily skin.

  • ‘Double cleansing’ may strip your skin of natural oil hence making it dull.

  • ‘Double Cleansing’ may cause the oil glands to produce more sebum and hence may aggravate existing pimples. Please avoid it if you have sensitive and dry skin.

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