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Making the Most of Your Facial Cleansing Routine

Dermatologists agree that there are many acceptable methods for removing oil and dirt from the face, but each individual's needs are different and what works for one person may not work for another. Adding to people's confusion are the new cleansing products and tools that arrive on the market each day.

"There are three ways to cleanse the face: facial cleansers, implements or the use of a cleansing product along with a supplemental tool," stated dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, M.D., clinical associate professor in the department of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, "There are an overwhelming number of facial cleansing products, implements and tools available today. The most important thing an individual can do to determine the best facial cleansing routine is to visit a dermatologist who can provide recommendations based on the patient's skin type and lifestyle."

Facial Cleansers - Soap

Many dermatologists advise their patients never to use soap on their faces. One variety of soap, known as a comber, is typically a deodorant or highly fragranced cleanser that contains detergent ingredients too harsh for the face, but more appropriate for the body.

A soap-free cleanser that is appropriate for use on the face, depending on the skin's sensitivity, is called a syndet. Beauty bars, mild cleansing bars and sensitive skin bars are examples of syndets, which include synthetic detergent cleansers that have a lower pH, the measure for product acidity and a predictor of irritation. A cleanser with a higher, more alkaline pH is likely to disrupt the natural skin barrier on the face. However, these products may not remove sebum, or oil, from extremely oily skin. Most liquid facial cleansers are of this type.

Lipid-free Face Cleansers

Lipid-free cleansers are liquid products that clean without using lipids, or fats. "Lipid-free cleansers are best for patients with excessively dry or sensitive skin," said Dr. Draelos. "However, they are not very effective at removing oil or environmental dirt and are only recommended where minimal cleansing is needed." Ingredients found in these cleansers, such as glycerin, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, sodium laurel and sulfate, leave behind a thin, moisturizing film, making these products ineffective for those with acne.

Cleansing Cream

Cleansing creams are very popular among mature women who grew up in an era where this was the only alternative to the harsh soaps of the past. Most cleansing creams are composed of water, mineral oil, petrolatum and waxes, making them attractive to patients with dry skin. Cleansing creams are a convenient one-step process, providing both removal of cosmetics and cleansing all in one.

Abrasive Scrubs

Abrasive scrubs incorporate a variety of ingredients which not only clean the face, but provide various degrees of exfoliation. "Scrubs were developed after it was found that exfoliating produced smoother skin," stated Dr. Draelos. "The challenge with abrasive scrubs is that the scrubbing granules can cause irritation, redness or slight wounds on the face."

The most abrasive scrubs include ingredients such as aluminum oxide particles and ground fruit pits, and these rough-edged particles are not appropriate for use on sensitive skin. However, most skin types can tolerate a mild facial scrub that contains polyethylene beads which are smooth and round, or sodium tetraborate decahydrate granules which soften and dissolve during use.

Skin Cleansing Tools

The desire for a more thorough cleansing than can be achieved by using the fingertips led to the development of various cleaning implements and tools that assist individuals in even-distribution of a product on the face. "Individuals who use implements or tools with cleansers often feel that they are getting a deeper clean, but cleansing involves the chemical interaction of the cleanser with the skin accompanied by the physical act of scrubbing," said Dr. Draelos. "Dermatologists can help individuals select the appropriate implement or tool to include in a good facial hygiene routine."

Woven Mesh

Introduced at the same time as abrasive scrubs, woven mesh products induce exfoliation with an implement instead of an ingredient. The first mesh products on the market were actually non-woven, polyester fiber sponges that were designed to remove open comedones, or blocked pores. However, the fiber stiffness was too harsh for most skin types and was subsequently softened. Now, these sponges have been re-designed to be gentler and to incorporate a mild cleanser designed for various skin types.

Face Cloths

The disposable facial cleansing cloth is a new product that is composed of a combination of fibers intertwined to create a soft, yet strong, cloth. These cloths are commonly packaged dry and include a cleanser that foams when the cloth is moistened. The type of cleanser in the cloth depends on whether strong or moderate oil and dirt removal is required. "The recent addition of humectants and emollients to these cloths can decrease the damage to the skin's natural barrier that occurs during cleansing and help smooth the skin," stated Dr. Draelos. "These ingredients also are especially beneficial for those of us with dry skin who need to wash frequently."

The weave of the cloth itself is as important as the type of ingredients found in the cloth. Open-weave cloths, with visible holes in the cloth, have a small space between the fiber bundles to increase the cloth's softness and decrease the contact between the skin and cloth, creating a milder exfoliant effect. Closed-weave cloths, with no visible holes in the cloth, have a much tighter weave and provide a more aggressive exfoliation, depending on the amount of pressure and length of time used to stroke the cloth over the face. Open weave cloths are recommended for persons with sensitive skin, while closed weave cloths are recommended for persons with oily skin or those wishing for more aggressive exfoliation.

Cleansing Pouch

A new variation on the cleansing cloth is the cleansing pouch where ingredients are placed between two fibered cloths containing holes of various diameters. The size of the hole determines how quickly the contents of the pouch are released onto the skin's surface. While the cleansing pouch can give a regulated delivery system for cleansing and conditioning, it does not produce as much exfoliation as a cleansing cloth.

Face Brush

The newest technique for facial cleansing is the face brush, which was developed by the same team of researchers who developed the electric toothbrush. This mechanized, hand-held device uses an oscillating brush head with soft, tufted bristles to evenly disperse, lather and cleanse the face with the individuals' preferred cleanser. According to Dr. Draelos, the effectiveness of this cleansing tool depends on the type of bristle, how much pressure is applied and the type of cleanser being used.

"While each of these cleansers and tools offers unique advantages, ultimately, working with a dermatologist to determine the skin's tolerance for certain cleansing ingredients is the best way to keep facial skin clean and healthy," said Dr. Draelos.