The 4 things you should know about facial cleansers in 2019

They cost between $10 and $96 and they clean our skin. So they would have to be really different wouldn’t they!?

And as with all good answers the answer is yes and no. And to understand that, there are 4 things we should know about cleansers.


1. Why do we cleanse? We talk about it so much, this has to be something very tricky and technical!?

There are 3 reasons we clean our skin and particularly the skin on our face (and while I wish there was something deeper and more meaningful) – they are:

  1. Cosmetic: Getting the grime, makeup, dead skin cells and grease off our face makes it look nicer. Let’s not knock this though, it’s something that we have been doing for a long time, with the first recorded soaps dating back 4,000 thousand years.
  2. Precursor to skin care: Removing layer of dirt on your skin allows your skin care regime and actives to penetrate the skin and do their work.
  3. Acne: A dirt build up on the skin can block our pores and increase the risk or likelihood of acne

2. Facial cleansers can’t do much more than cleanse

I know that sounds obvious, but at $100 for a cleanser, if you’re looking for something that has a miracle property – you will be disappointed. That’s because with the limited amount of time that a cleanser is in contact with your skin, it and any active ingredient in it is usually washed off the skin before it can be absorbed.

There are exceptions to this:

  1. When a cleanser is left on the skin for a few minutes. This will usually be to allow an ingredient time to act. Specifically alpha-hydroxy acids and Salicylic acid, for the management of acne, come to mind.
  2. Ingredients than can do more harm than good – read on

3. Some surfactants are too good at their job and can damage the skin

Surfactants break down the bond between fats, which allows them to be washed away. And that’s what we want them to do in the case of grime and grease. But aggressive surfactants (like Sodium Laurel Sulphate) can break down some of the fats and proteins which form part of the protective outer layer of the skin (strata corneum), reducing the skin’s ability to retain moisture, making it drier and increasing it’s sensitivity (1). Gentler alternatives include Coco Glucoside, Sodium Lauryl Methyl Isethionate and Lauryl Glucoside. Working out whether a cleanser is “too good at its job” for you may well be a matter of trial and error.

4. Soaps and detergents have a high pH and that’s not good

While we don’t all have the same skin pH, the average is 4.7 and the range is approximately 4.1 to 5.8(2). So when people talk about items being pH balanced for the skin, they aren’t talking about a pH of 7 (neutral), they are talking about a pH of approximately 5 (acidic).

Our skin is pretty good at protecting us and getting it’s pH back to normal. But using high pH products increases the amount time that our skin is compromised and also leads to dryness, compromise in its barrier function swelling of the skin and reduced flexibility(3). And soaps and detergents have a pH of between 9 and 11(4). A rule that you can use to see whether an ingredient might be a soap is that almost all personal soaps have a name which starts with “sodium” and the second word will be {something}”ate” eg. Sodium Laurate, and Sodium Tallowate. Unfortunately not all ingredients with that name convention are soaps, but it is a useful rule to identify possible soap ingredients. While we know that high pH cleansers aren’t great, apart from knowing that they should be acidic there is no evidence to indicate what the optimal pH is.

As for knowing what the pH of your product is. You can buy a pH testing kit from your local the chemist or still better, you can also ask your retailer what the pH of their cleansers are. And if you do, please let us know what face they make when you ask 😊.

So the 4 things to know about facial cleansers are: They aren’t a “heavy hitter” in your skin care regime; unless you are looking to manage acne don’t expect more than just a cleanse; the things to look for are gentle ingredients and an acidic pH.

Armed with that info we’d love to know what you think about the price of your facial cleanser.



  1. Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing. (
  2. pH in nature, humans and skin (
  3. Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing. (
  4. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. (


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