Pick the Right Cleanser
No other aspect of skincare is quite as basic or as important as using a cleanser. Cleansing the face sets the stage for almost everything else that will take place on skin. A good cleanser removes excess oil, dirt, and makeup and helps exfoliate, leaving skin smooth and fresh without feeling greasy or dry.
Pick the Right Cleanser
If you don’t cleanse your skin regularly or if you don’t remove all your makeup, your skin will pay the price, with irritation, potential breakouts, dry patches, and puﬀy eyes being the cost.
Thorough cleansing is essential for every skin type, and it’s equally critical—for every skin type—that the cleansing products be gentle. Over-cleansing or using cleansers that are too drying are major causes of skin problems, especially dryness, ﬂaky patches, and redness.
On the other hand, using a cleanser that leaves a greasy flm on the face or that doesn’t clean well can lead to clogged pores and dull-looking skin, and prevent moisturizers from absorbing and doing their job. It is essential to get this step right, and that means thoroughly, but gently, cleansing your face.
Should you start with a makeup remover? Many people feel their cleansing routine should start with a makeup remover, such as a liquid, makeup wipes, or cleansing oil. Although these work well for some people (particularly if you wear a heavier makeup application), they are merely an option, not a requirement.
Regardless of the type of makeup remover you use, the action of wiping at the face, especially around the eyes, is a problem. Tugging on skin damages its elastin fbers, increasing the potential for sagging. The less you pull, the better your skin will hold up in the long run.
We recommend starting out by washing your face with a gentle water-soluble cleanser because it reduces the amount of pulling necessary (the water reduces friction) and because most, if not all, of your makeup is rinsed down the drain. Then, if you still need a makeup remover to remove the last traces, it will be only for touch-ups (such as along the hairline or lash line), causing minimal pulling.
As is true for many aspects of skincare, you should experiment to see what works best for your skin type and your own personal preferences—but do take care not to pull or tug on skin.
What about facial cleansing oils? As stated above, using a makeup remover, which includes facial cleansing oils, that needs to be wiped oﬀ has inherent problems because the wiping and pulling at your skin increases sagging by breaking down the elastin fibers in skin—that’s just a physiological fact. If you see skin moving up or down, you’re helping it to sag faster than it would normally. Gravity will take its eventual toll, but in the meantime you don’t have to make matters worse by constantly pulling at your skin. The goal for facial skin is to move it as little as possible.
The term “facial cleansing oil” is a bit confusing because the category is not clear-cut. Some facial cleansing oils are “oils” in name only; they’re actually more like emollient water-soluble cleansers that are meant to be rinsed oﬀ.
These can be a great option if you have normal to very dry skin.
Traditional facial cleansing oils, meaning an actual oil or blend of oils, that are gently removed can be eﬀective for many reasons. They dissolve makeup quickly and effciently while feeling soothing and softer than a watersoluble cleanser.
If you have very dry, sensitive skin, the cleansing oil doesn’t need to be rinsed oﬀ, although you may prefer to do so depending on how you want your skin to feel once you’ve applied everything else in your routine. If you have normal to oily, combination, or breakout-prone skin, you’ll most likely want to wash this residue oﬀ your face. Regardless of how you choose to use a cleansing oil, the caveat is always to pull at your skin as little as possible.
There are lots of myths circulating about facial cleansing oils, from a variety of sources. We prefer facts to myths, and the fact is that facial cleansing oils are not miracles for skin, just another option that may or may not be helpful for you depending on your skin type and concerns.
The notion that cleansing oils can somehow unclog pores by some force of chemistry pulling blackheads out of the pore (we still don’t understand the explanations we’ve seen as they defy science and physiology) is not supported by any research—or even reality, for that matter.
Keep in mind that many facial cleansing oil products also contain fragrant oils, which present a serious problem for skin. As we will repeatedly state throughout this book, fragrance, whether natural or synthetic, causes problems for skin. Non-fragrant plant oils are the only ones you should ever consider putting on your face.
What about bar soap? We wish we could say bar soaps are great for skin as that would make choosing a cleanser so much easier and less expensive; regrettably, however, that’s not the case. For many reasons it’s best to never use bar soap on the face, and it’s also helpful to avoid it from the neck down. This is particularly true if you have problems with dry skin or breakouts; however,there are significant issues with using most bar soaps or bar cleansers no matter what type of skin you have.
Many people with breakout-prone, combination, or oily skin believe that the tight sensation they feel after washing with soap means their face is really clean. The thinking is that the more squeaky-clean their face feels, the better their skin will be, yet just the opposite is true!
The feeling associated with being squeaky clean is most likely an indication skin is being irritated, dried-out, and stressed, which makes all skin problems worse.
The major issue with bar soap is its high alkaline content (meaning it has a high pH). “The increase of the skin pH irritates the physiological protective ‘acid mantle’, changes the composition of the cutaneous bacterial ﬂora and the activity of enzymes in the upper epidermis, which have an acid pH optimum.” That technical explanation basically presents the fact that the skin’s normal pH is about 5.5, while most bar soaps have an alkaline pH between 8 and 10, which negatively impacts the surface of skin by causing irritation and
increasing the presence of bacteria.
There’s research showing that washing with a cleanser that has a pH of 7 or higher increases the presence of bacteria significantly when compared to using a cleanser with a pH of 5.5. Water-soluble cleansers, unlike bar soaps, are typically formulated with a lower, and thus more desirable, pH, one more reason to use this type of cleanser instead of a bar soap.
There are specialty soaps with non-soap-sounding names you’re likely wondering about. These products typically contain creams and emollients and appear to have none of the properties of regular soap, but they still present problems similar to soap. First, bar cleansers (technically they’re not soap; they’re sometimes called syndet bars, for the “synthetic detergent” cleansing agents they contain) often have a lower (less alkaline) pH, which means they can be somewhat less irritating to skin; but, they’re still more irritating than gentle water-soluble cleansers, and gentle is vitally important to skin.
Second, the other problem all bar cleansers share is that the ingredients used to keep them (bar cleansers or soaps) in bar form can leave a pore-clogging flm on skin.
Soaps that are marketed for oily or acne-prone skin often contain even harsher ingredients. Even bar soaps marketed for dry and sensitive skin, which often contain benefcial ingredients such as glycerin, petrolatum (mineral oil), or vegetable oil, that reduce the irritation potential and make your face feel somewhat less stiﬀ after you rinse, present a problem—skin just doesn’t need the ingredients that hold the soap in its bar shape.
How do I choose a gentle cleanser? Generally, liquid or lotion-style cleansers are going to be more gentle than bar cleansers. Unfortunately, this is not always true because not all liquid and lotion cleansers are created equal. Not making things any easier, it’s nearly impossible to choose a cleanser based on its ingredient label because the technical names of the ingredients are absurdly complicated and there are hundreds of options a formulator can use. In short, how to choose a cleanser is not an easy question to answer.
What we can say for certain is that the best cleansers, regardless of your skin type, should never leave your face dry, greasy, or tight. There’s a fine line between a cleanser that cleans well but doesn’t strip vital barrier substances from skin, and this is true for all skin types.
For those with normal to oily or breakout-prone skin, cleaning skin well or getting skin really clean is often misunderstood. Overzealous cleansing or wanting skin to be squeaky clean can mean skin is stripped and ripped (OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get our point), and that type of cleansing worsens oiliness, prolongs post-acne marks, hurts healing, and can cause a host of other problems.
In short, for everyone, if a cleanser makes your skin feel like it’s not clean, then you need a stronger cleanser. If a cleanser makes your skin feel tight after rinsing, you need to find a more emollient cleanser. It will take some experimenting to find the best cleanser for your skin type.
Do I need a scrub or a Clarisonic device?
Scrubs and Clarisonic (or other types of cleansing brushes, sonic or not) are certainly options as part of your daily cleansing routine. Both can provide extra cleansing, and scrubs also oﬀer superficial manual exfoliation; for many reasons, however, scrubs aren’t the best way to gently, evenly, and naturally exfoliate skin. The way skin exfoliates naturally is beyond what manual exfoliation can provide. Skin can’t exfoliate as it should when you have sun damage, blackheads, breakouts, or oily/combination skin. If you have those issues, you need to resort to a more effcient type of exfoliation, which is what AHA and BHA exfoliants do.
Scrubs have considerable limitations when compared to the numerous, truly impressive benefits of exfoliating skin with a leave-on exfoliant such asan AHA or BHA (but more about those in the next sections). Scrubs deal only with the very top, superficial layer of skin, while most of the unhealthy and built-up dead skin cells are deeper, and thus beyond the reach of a scrub.
The real benefit of scrubs and the Clarisonic, or other powered cleansing brushes, is to be sure you get your skin clean, but with the goal to always be sure you don’t over-cleanse skin.
What is most problematic about many scrubs is that they have a rough, coarse, uneven texture that can cause skin damage by tearing into skin as it abrades away the surface. This causes tiny tears that damage skin’s barrier.
The result? Skin takes longer to heal, red marks from acne get worse, dryness intensifes, and skin tends to become more sensitive and reactive, among other problems.
If you do want to use a manual scrub, be sure it doesn’t contain any abrasive ingredients, even if they are natural. If you’re using the Clarisonic or a similar cleansing device, be sure you use it as directed, and consider using only the device’s “sensitive” brush head option. The brushes on such devices should feel very soft and ﬂexible, never stiﬀ or wiry.
You also have the option of simply using a gentle washcloth with your daily cleanser, which works just as well to exfoliate the surface of skin as any cosmetic scrub you can buy (really!). As a bonus, washcloths are softer (thus more gentle), less expensive, and, of course, they don’t contain pore-clogging ingredients, something oily, acne-prone skin doesn’t need!