Cleanser. The one product even the most low maintenance of ladies still owns, in one form or another. It’s the first, and probably least thought of step in our skincare routines, for those of us that have skincare routines. Some of you are even using actual hand soap on your faces. More on that later. In all my time answering questions about skincare and makeup, I cannot recall even one incident where I was asked specifically about cleanser. That is how I know it’s not getting much attention. Safe to say you may consider the stuff you leave on (moisturizer, serum, etc.) more important than the stuff you rinse off right away, yes? Well, I’m here to say that it is worth just as much attention as every other part of your skincare process, whatever that may be.
Let’s start with the answer to your most obvious question. Why should you care?
- If your cleanser is too stripping: It can leave you with dry, irritated or sensitized skin. So then you’d be relying on creams to put the hydration back that your cleanser took out… over and over again. Sometimes, aggressive cleansers can even cause rebound sebum production, making your skin oilier than it would be on its own—which you’d then chase with mattifiers, oil-control products, etc.
- If your cleanser is too rich: Some balm or oil cleansers can appear to be removing makeup well, but in fact leave a residue behind that clogs your pores. “Nourishing” cleansers may seem like a great idea to prevent dry skin—but certain ingredients actually make skin even drier by forming a seal that interferes with the skin’s natural regeneration process.
Next question. How should you cleanse? Yes, there is a right, see: better, way to wash your face. If you have read any of my previous blogs, you have probably read my preaching of the Double Cleanse. Yes, Double, and yes you need dis. Double cleanse does not mean simply washing your face twice. Helloooo dryness. A double cleanse means using a cleansing oil or balm first, then using your cleanser. I remember when I was introduced to this concept about 7 years ago and was skeptical about why it’s necessary. I assure you, especially if you wear any sort of makeup at all, it makes a difference. It makes your cleanser so much more effective at getting to the pores, gets rid of any oils, dirt, and product that may be on your face. I have used a few versions of these, most notably being Dermalogica’s Precleanse. This is the brand that coined the term Double Cleanse by the way. One pump is all you need. Two more recent, balm versions of this product that I love are Farmacy’s Green Clean, and Clinique’s Take the Day Off balm. All three of these are extremely effective, this is coming from an author who wears a Full beat of makeup. Oil or balm, it will last you quite awhile, even with daily use. By the way, for you non-makeup wearers the answer is yes, you should still be doing a double cleanse. I double cleanse both morning & night…and I am not sleeping with makeup on. Speaking of DO NOT SLEEP WITH MAKEUP ON. I don’t care who you know that does it. Do not do it, unless you want to speed up the aging process. Wash your d**n face!
A quick note about face wipes: You’ll notice that face wipes/cleansing cloths are nowhere to be found in recommdations for cleansers. I think they are fine and convenient to use occasionally, when you’re on the go, at the gym or whatever—but should never be a replacement for regular, consistent cleansing. I use miceller wipes to remove my eye makeup before I double cleanse on makeup days, the end.
How do you pick a good cleanser? Great question! What’s your skin type? A combination of a couple? Great, most of us are to be honest. So what is your BIGGEST concern with your skin? That’s where you start. Mine is Combination and I am somehow lucky enough to still have hormonal breakouts to deal with. Thanks, genetics. My saving grace is Dermalogica’s (recently reformulated) Clearing Skin Wash, which now also contains anti-aging ingredients. I’m obsessed with the whole regimen, but this post is about cleanser so I’ll stop there. What about you?
Normal-to-Dry and Sensitive Skin
If your skin is on the dry or sensitive side, consider creams, lotions and milks that are designed to cleanse gently while keeping your complexion hydrated. Sometimes foams can be moisturizing enough. Depending on how Sensitive your skin is, you may actually need to use super light cleansing agents like micellar water, or even consult a dermatologist.
Gels and gentle foams will be the best choices to cleanse dirt and sebum from an oilier complexion without leaving you stripped—just remember to check that they are sulfate-free! Bar soap is often too harsh, sorry Dove.
Look for ingredients like salicylic acid (to purge pores and dissolve dead skin cells), benzoyl peroxide (to help kill acne causing bacteria), as well as calming ingredients like niacin amide, chamomile, and green tea. If your skin tends to dry out quickly, also look for cleansers that have hyaluronic acid or ceramides on the ingredient list that will help moisturize.
Best advice I can give you is to be aware of how your skin looks and feels, and tweak your routine accordingly. That might mean you like a gel cleanser during certain parts of your cycle, or in the heat of summer. In the winter or, say, after a laser treatment, you maybe want something creamier and more hydrating. Or, you might fall into one set skin type and be okay using the same cleanser all the time. Your skin may also need some time to adjust to new products, but if it feels physically uncomfortable, return it!
Stay Away From Sulfates. Period.
Tired of me writing about toxic ingredients? Your skin will thank me! Avoid sulfates like the plague, no matter what your skin type. Even oily skin! Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are synthetic detergents. They’re used in cleansers because when they combine with water, they produce a lather that emulsifies and lifts away oil. That foaming action may feel satisfying initially, especially if you are oil- or acne-prone. But the problem is, it can strip your skin barrier. Your skin barrier is the outermost part of your skin that keeps moisture in and protects you from germs, bacteria, pollution, etc. Sulfates are so strong and so alkaline that they can temporarily damage it, causing irritation, dryness, excess oil production, itching or redness. After you use them, it can take hours for your skin’s pH to return to normal. So if you’re cleansing every day, twice a day, with sulfates, just imagine the stress you’re putting your skin through!
Some would argue that your cleanser is the most important step in your routine. So I hope you took something away from this post and have a good idea of where and where not to begin your searching. Remember, I am always happy to answer any product recommendation questions you have!