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
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 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 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."
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
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.
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
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.