The Role of Cleansers in Skincare

Cleansing is the most important and basic part of skincare. The history of soap is thousands of years old dating back to Ancient Babylon. Skin is constantly being renewed, and the surface of the skin is effectively dead skin tissue which can accumulate sweat, oil, dirt, make-up, and other microorganisms. Proper cleansing can help reduce the build up of unwanted substances, and is a critical part of overall hygiene.

What exactly does a cleanser do?

The primary function of a cleanser is to remove dirt and oil that is embedded on the skin so that it can be flushed away with water. It is also useful for removing excess make-up, as these oily substances cannot effectively be removed through washing alone.

Isn't regular hand-washing without soap sufficient to remove dirt?

Regular hand washing is one of the most important hygiene habits. It can reduce oil, dirt, and bacteria that come into contact with the skin. Hand washing alone, however, only removes about half of the dirt and oil from the skin, less if you do not hand wash properly. Use soap or other cleansers and rub your hands together under running water for at least twenty seconds to properly wash your hands.

What kinds of cleansers are there?

Several types of cleansers are available each with strengths and drawbacks.

Anti-bacterial soap:

Anti-bacterial soaps have additives with anti-bacterial properties such as triclosan. They may help reduce bacteria more than regular soap, but can be harsh and irritating for those with sensitive skin. Most acne cleansers have anti-bacterial ingredients which reduce the presence of acne bacteria.

Bar Soap:

Bar soap is likely the most common cleanser used and seen. It is very effective, removing dirt and oil from the skin efficiently. The downside is that it can dry out the skin, irritating those with sensitive skin. They can also leave an unpleasant film on the skin.

Liquid cleansers:

These are seen more often these days, especially at restaurants. They are not soap in the strict sense of the word, and may not be as harsh on the skin.

What should I look for in a cleanser?

Part of this depends on your skin type and how often you cleanse. If you have normal skin, and a regular lifestyle that does not require you to cleanse too often, regular soap may be fine and effective. If you have extremely oily skin and have acne problems, you may want cleansers that are designed for oily, acne-prone skin. If you have sensitive skin or eczema, you will want to choose mild cleansers that are less likely to irritate the skin.

Although you will likely need to experiment to find the cleanser that works for you, as a general guide you may want to consider the following:

Acne:

You may use acne-cleansers as necessary for the face. In general, do not over-cleanse as it can backfire as the skin becomes irritated and dry.

Dry Skin/Eczema:

Avoid bar soaps as they are drying and irritating to those with eczema. Use mild soap-free cleansers that are less likely to become irritating.

Psoriasis:

Those with psoriasis suffer from dryness of the skin at the site of the lesions. Mild cleansers which tend to be gentle on the skin are recommended.

Rosacea/Sensitive Skin:

Those with Rosacea have extremely sensitive skin on the facial area. They are best advised to choose mild products. Perfume free products are also recommended as they are often triggers for allergies.

Oily Skin:

Cleansers designed for acne-prone skin are also suitable for people with very oily skin. Brushes and loofahs should be avoided as it can aggravate oily skin.

Can you cleanse too much?

Yes. While cleansing is important, care needs to be taken so that you do not over-cleanse. Cleansing too often can drain the skin of moisture, causing dry and irritated skin, particularly if you have sensitive skin or use soaps that are harsh. Certain occupations such as nurses, which often require frequent hand washing, have high incidents of hand eczema.