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The science behind Cleansers - Explained

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Facial cleansing forms an important part of our lives - not only as a means to remove dirt but also as the first step in overall skin care.

When we were children ,we were told that good skin care and cleanliness meant having a tight skin after a proper face wash. If your skin feels tight after washing, it is a sign that the skin has been stripped of its precious water and oil, the components your skin needs to stay youthful and healthy. Therefore, the skin will try to balance its water/oil protective structure by stimulating the oil glands to produce excess oil, which will clog the pores causing acne breakouts. Ever wonder why your skin feels dry and oily at the same time? It’s because the skin is being stripped by cleansing with harsh chemicals and drying ingredients. Then you moisturize to replenish the moisture that you just took out – which does not make any sense!

As washing and skin care practices continue to evolve and improve, the feeling of freshness and radiance are given importance as opposed to tightness .

Let's take a look at the cleansers that we come across on a daily basis.

What are Cleansers?

These are agents that cleanse and get rid of dust,dirt,oils and dead cells that accumulate on our skin.They have come a long way from traditional soaps and detergents to the more modern liquid cleansers and syndets.

How do they work?

To put it in a simpler way,the cleansers have surfactants in them that dissolve the dirt and oil and make it easy for water to wash them away.They also help in the skin's natural exfoliating process by removing dead cells from the epidermis.

Skin pH and Cleansers:

The surface of the skin is slightly acidic.Its pH increases in proportion to the pH of the cleanser used.The soaps commonly used including homemade soaps have a pH well outside the range of normal skin pH.Increase in the pH would lead to dehydration of the skin resulting in dryness and irritability.If you are someone who is suffering from dry skin or sensitive skin,it is better to use syndets than soaps.Soap based cleansers are alkaline in nature while the pH of most syndets are acidic or neutral.

Signs of damage caused by surfactants in Cleansers:

  1. After-wash tightness(due to the dehydration caused)

  2. Skin dryness,roughness and scaling(due to loss of free fatty acids from surface)

  3. Skin irritation like itching and redness(due to irritation by alkalis in soaps)

Tips for minimizing skin damage:

Go for cleansers that impart moisture to the skin

Types of Cleansers:

When it comes to effective skin care,using the right facial cleanser is the most important step.It is important to remove the dirt and grime without stripping the skin of its natural oils.With so many different types of cleansing options available in the market(vegan,organic,medical grade cleansers),knowing how each type differs allows you to choose a cleanser perfect for you.

Gel cleansers:

These are clear and have a gel-like consistency. They are designed for deep cleansing and effective in preventing clogged pores,and in removing excess oil .

Cream cleansers:

These are thick and creamy and are designed for gentle cleansing.

Foam cleansers:

These are lightweight cleansers that come out as foam.They remove excess oil.

Micellar cleansers:

Micellar waters contain micelles or tiny oil particles which are suspended in water that attract oil and dirt.You don't have to rinse them off with water.

Powder cleansers:

These are in the powder form when dry,but on coming into contact with water dissolves into a cream,providing both cleansing and exfoliation.

Bar cleansers:

These are a new generation of bars that contain very little soap and skin friendly pH levels in addition to having moisturizing properties.


These are synthetic detergents which are milder than soaps and have a skin friendly pH.They are more suited for people with sensitive skin.

Now let's see which type of cleanser suits which skin type

For dry to normal skin:

Look for cream based cleansers with ingredients like honey,shea butter,glycerin,hyaluronic acid and ceramides that hydrate your skin.

For sensitive skin:

Go for mild cleansers which are sulphate free and fragrance free.It is best to avoid foaming cleansers as they can dry your skin.

For oily skin:

Foaming or gel cleansers work best for you. A cleanser which has salicylic acid can help if you have blackheads.Look for cleansers that are non-comedogenic.

For combination skin:

A gel cleanser works good for people with combination skin.

For acne prone skin:

Look for cleansers with exfoliants like salicylic or glycolic acid and avoid creamy cleansers.

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