Monday, January 5, 2015

Cleansers 1.0—What is a cleanser and which cleansing product should I use?

What is a cleanser? A cleanser is a product that helps to remove oil and debris from the surface of your skin. Cleansers usually contain wetting agents called surfactants. These agents enable the oil and water from your skin to mix together to be washed away as you rinse the product off.

Cleansing milks are primarily water with an oil or fat included in the ingredients, which renders them oil-in-water emulsions. Cold creams, with their primary ingredient usually a form of mineral oil or a petroleum derivative, are termed water-in-oil emulsions. Soaps come in bars and liquids and contain detergents and foaming agents—ingredients that get your skin squeaky clean. See what I have to say about soap below.

Cleansers are not moisturizers. Some cleansing products claim to leave your skin feeling “soft and moisturized.” Softening the skin is fine, but your moisturizing cream is what remains on the surface to hydrate your skin. A cleanser is applied and removed. It should not leave any type of film on the skin to moisturize. This remaining film could potentially clog the pores causing congestion problems in the future. Cleansers cleanse; they do not (or should not) remain on the skin.

pH test papers
What to use. Your skin is naturally acidic on the pH scale. pH refers to how acid or alkaline a substance is. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Your skin has a pH of 5 or 6; soaps usually come in around 10. In order to maintain the natural acidic state of your skin, you always want to use acidic or non-alkaline products. If you are unsure about the pH of your cleanser (or any product), you can purchase nitrazine (pH) papers at your local pharmacy. These yellowish test papers come in a roll about 1/4" wide. There are many manufacturers, so shop around for the least expensive. 

How to test your cleanser (or any product). Dip a small piece of the pH paper into any jar or bottle, or pour a bit of any substance onto the test paper. You’ll find out immediately if the product is alkaline or acid. This is very important to know. You never want to use alkaline products on your face. If your research finds a product you’re using is alkaline, I would toss it. Don’t bother trying to make it work for your skin. It won’t. If you can, take your pH papers whenever you plan to purchase products.

She’s definitely using soap!
You want to use a cleanser that gently removes surface oil and debris off your face; you don’t ever want to “strip” the skin (like soap does). Water-soluble cleansers are best. Water-soluble means it dissolves in water. Most milk cleansers and washes are water-soluble, but cold creams are not. Cold creams tend to leave a film on the skin because the oils are not broken down by merely rinsing with water. In addition, cold creams are usually tissued off, which guarantees a coating of oil will be left on the skin. For people with drier skin types, this film usually won’t cause problems. But for those of you with normal to oily or problem skin, any product left on the surface could cause trouble. I would advise you to avoid thick cold creams, and no matter what type of cleanser you are using, always rinse your face with water (splash-rinse).

By the way, water-soluble cleansers generally do not lather. They don’t contain the harsh and drying ingredients of bar soap, so they may not foam up. If they’re acidic, which is what you’re looking for, they also won’t strip the skin. If you’re a soap user and not used to this non-lathering type of cleanser, give it time. You may have to go through an adjustment period before you feel these kinder, gentler, water-soluble cleansers are working, but they are.

I’m not a fan of soap as a general rule. If you must use a hard-bar soap, try a brand called Aveeno®. Although this is a non-alkaline soap, it still may leave your skin feeling dried out. I recommend Aveeno to clients who have to use soap, teenagers who don’t have the resources to purchase more expensive cleansers, or clients with problem skin who sometimes feel milk cleansers are not getting their skin clean. I still prefer cleansing milks, but if you have to use soap, try Aveeno. It also comes in a liquid “oil-control formula.” Cetaphil® is another brand that makes a liquid “gentle skin cleanser.” Both of these liquid cleansers are non-alkaline (and inexpensive) and don’t seem to dry out the skin the way bar soaps do.