Skincare & Science 101: Cleanser

All good skincare routines should start by perfecting the basics – the first step of which is to cleanse the skin of dirt, oil and pollution, using a cleanser that suits your skin type. I am a huge advocate of choosing affordable cleansers, as they are the only element to a routine that is not going to stay on the skin for considerable time to make an impact. The drugstore/pharmacy is the best place to look, especially with brands such as CeraVe, Simple and First Aid Beauty, that offer top-quality cleansers, at budget prices.

If you take one piece of advice from this article, let it be this: save on your cleanser and invest in your treatments.

What is double cleansing?

Like the name suggests, double cleansing involves 2 steps to a cleansing ritual: typically, this is first by using an oil or cream-based cleanser, followed by a water-soluble cleanser to cleanse the skin, itself, minus any barrier that it has used to make it through the day (make-up or SPF).

When choosing an oil or cream cleanser, it is important to look for one that can easily emulsify with water and turn into a milky lotion, which makes for easier removal and as such, apply less pulling and tugging to the skin, which can add irritation. I look for moisturising plant oils, such as jojoba, olive and grapeseed oils in an oil or cream cleanser, apply to dry skin, emulsify and rinse with water and finish off with a clean flannel, every day. Congestion-prone skin types will want a cleanser that keeps waxes to a minimum in their formulation, as they can leave a film or residue on the skin, potentially causing breakouts, as well as rich butters (such as shea butter and cocoa butter) and coconut oil.

Mineral oil is often vilified in a cleanser, because of the scaremongering that has been done regarding its potential to clog the skin, but I believe that there is ample research that has been undertaken to show that cosmetic-grade mineral oil has undergone rigorous purification to be able to be used on the skin, without harm. Granted, I wouldn’t reach for a leave-on product containing this ingredient, as the size of the molecule in mineral oil is too large to penetrate the skin, potentially causing congestion, but in a product such as a cleanser, with a contact time of less than 60 seconds on the skin, I think that it’s a pretty safe, moisturising way to remove the day’s debris. Don’t get me wrong, I would always try to pick a cleanser that didn’t contain this ingredient to stay safe, but let’s give it a break guys – it’s not the devil!

The ‘second’ cleanse

A ‘second cleanser‘ cleanses the skin, itself, without make-up or SPF removal. Again, this cleanser should be suitable for your skin type, wether that is a creamy, milky cleanser for dry skin, or a non-drying gel cleanser for combination-oily skin. The skin’s natural pH lies between 4 and 6, so it’s best to keep the skin’s pH balanced by using slightly acidic cleansers with a low pH that support its natural protective barrier, instead of harsh, drying cleansers that throw off the skin’s pH level and weaken the acid mantle, increasing sensitivity.

It is important to avoid harsh, drying surfactants, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), but instead, seek out more gentle alternatives, such as Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES), which can respect the skin’s acid mantle. Additionally, avoiding both fragrance and denatured alcohol is a further step to making sure than your cleanser is containing only beneficial ingredients for the skin.

Brands are marketing experts. They are now identifying trendy ingredients that consumers are looking for in their skincare nowadays, but I think there is very little value in seeking out active ingredients, such as AHA/BHA’s, vitamin C or retinol in a wash-off product, as these type of ingredients need to be left on the skin to work their magic. The concentrations of actives that are offered in a cleanser will rarely be enough to make good on the promise on the front of the bottle, never mind be formulated at the correct pH for both an chemical exfoliant and a cleanser, in one, for example. Leave your active ingredients for your treatment products and allow your cleanser to be basic, gentle and skin-loving.

Above all else, if your cleanser is making you feel ‘squeaky clean‘, then it’s time to look elsewhere!

The bottom line

  • Choose affordable cleansers from the drugstore.
  • Check for ingredients that are incompatible with your skin type.
  • Low pH (4-6).
  • SLS/fragrance/alcohol-free, non-stripping, gentle & hydrating.
  • Skip active ingredients (AHA/BHA/Vit C/Retinol) in cleansers.

Recommended Products:

  • CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser (£9.00/236ml) – Available: LookFantastic (Global), Boots (UK)
  • First Aid Beauty Cleanser (£15.00/150ml) – Available: LookFantastic (Global)
  • Simple Refreshing Face Wash (£1.99/150ml) – Available: Boots (UK)

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