Everyone has seen the commercials on television with a fresh-faced, young model lathering up her skin with a luxurious, white foamy cleanser. As she smiles, the narrator says, "Your skin's not clean unless it's squeaky clean!" The problem with this statement is not only that it is not necessarily true, but also that it has led to an epidemic of over-cleansing.
The main purpose of a foaming cleanser or soap is to separate oil, dirt, and debris from the skin so that it can be washed away. By doing so, the skin temporarily gets that squeaky clean feeling, meaning that there is no slickness to the touch after drying. Unfortunately, many foaming facial cleansers – especially those designed for oily or acne-prone skin – contain harsh detergents and alkaline soaps that not only strip the skin's lipid barrier, but also raise the pH of the skin to an unhealthy level.
The skin needs its own natural lipids to maintain the integrity of its natural moisturizing factor, which keeps sebum production regular and plays an important role in its cell turnover rate. The skin's natural lipids also help to nourish and support the skin's microbiome and keep follicles lubricated and soft, which prevents debris and excessive dead cells from accumulating.
There is a common misconception that oily skin causes acne and clogged pores or that oily skin needs to be cleansed more rigorously or more often in order to be clean. The truth is that stripping the skin's lipid barrier – by over-cleansing with harsh soaps, surfactants, and toners – actually puts the skin at risk and compromises its immune function, making it more susceptible to dryness, cracking, irritation, inflammation, and the spread of pathogenic bacteria. It also increases the skin's vulnerability to the sun's harmful UVA and UVB rays, in addition to other environmental aggressors, and promotes systemic dehydration through transepidermal water loss.
Three Ways to Cleanse Without Compromising the Skin
Avoid highly alkaline soap-based cleansers and cleansers that contain harsh detergents, like sodium lauryl sulfate. Instead, look for gentler non-ionic surfactants like coco glucoside, decyl glucoside, and fatty alcohols like cetearyl alcohol or stearyl alcohol.
Choose cream, milk, or lotion cleansers. Water- or gel-based cleansers remove moisture without restoring it. Cleansers containing emollient natural oils or butters, in addition to humectants – like aloe vera, glycerine, or bio-ferments – cleanse the skin while also adding nourishment and protection to the barrier and the microbiome.
Consider the oil cleansing method. Though it may seem counterintuitive to cleanse the skin – especially oily skin – with oil, it is actually very effective at removing dirt and debris. Most of the dirt and debris on the surface and in the follicles, including makeup, is oil soluble. Rather than separating the oil from the skin with a surfactant, oil cleansing uses the "like attracts like" principle; the oil acts as a solvent and a lubricant, dislodging debris from follicles and allowing it to be washed away. At the same time, cleaning oils like jojoba deliver antioxidants and essential fatty acids into the skin to provide nourishment and also seal in moisture. Not all oils benefit all skin types, so it is a good idea to have non-comedogenic oils – like jojoba or hemp seed – on hand as they benefit all skin combinations without perpetuating clogging or acne.
Clean skin is great, but healthy skin is more important. There is no reason why clients and professionals cannot have both.