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Buying Guide: How to Shop for a Facial Cleanser


Shopping for a facial cleanser is no easy task.  Some doctors will tell you that any old soap will do, but that is just not the case.  There are oily cleansers, drying cleansers, creamy cleansers, acne cleansers, glycolic cleansers, essential oil cleansers and hydrating cleansers.  To determine which one is for you, first you have to determine your skin type.

There are four main factors that determine how to shop for a cleanser.  

  1. HYDRATION: Water in the skin – Is the skin hydrated enough or do you live in a very humid climate where you lose water into the air or do you perspire a lot?  To test for hydration in your skin, pinch the skin together.  If the skin stays in position, your skin is dehydrated and needs a cleanser that will provide hydration while cleansing.  Many people who have oily skin also have  skin that is dehydrated at the same time resulting in very fragile skin.   Before any other skin condition can be corrected, dehydration has the first priority.  The lesson here is not to overdry oily skin and strip off too much oil.
  2. LIPID: Oil (sebum) in the skin – Does the skin feel oily?  Does the skin feel oily immediately after washing or late in the late afternoon.  Determining when the skin becomes oily is the priority.  Many think they have oily skin and strip off the natural oils creating the non-stop oily-dryness syndrome.  The skin is not really oily, but because the natural oils are stripped because of using the wrong cleanser, the skin appears oily. 
  3. MELANIN: Pigmentation in the skin – Although most don’t consider melanin when selecting a cleanser, one should think about it as the pigmentation in the skin can be lightened by the cleanser. 
  4. REDNESS (ERYTHEMA) : Redness in the skin with capillaries or rosacea will determine the sensitivity of the skin.  If the skin is sensitive, the redness will increase, due to inflammatory reactions.  You want to choose a cleanser that is calming and soothing to the skin, while helping to keep the redness down.

Types of Cleansers

There are all types of cleansers including bar soaps, creamy cleansers, foamy (sudsy), medicated and oily cleansers.  Each type of cleanser works on the skin and the face with different affects.  Some will strip the oil, while cleaning, while others will emulsify the toxins and debris.  Below are various types of cleansers.

  • Foamy Cleanser
    Perhaps the most popular, foamy cleansers are liked because of the ability to foam and lather.  You think that your skin is cleaner, which is not necessarily true.  Foamy cleanser are really for oilier skin, as they will strip the oil off the skin.  There are creamy foam cleansers and gel foam cleansers. Just be careful not to strip too much oil off the skin in attempt to over "clean" the skin.  This can dehydrate and dry the skin and actually causes the skin to create more oil.
  • Gel Cleansers
    Gel Cleansers are mild and do not get overly sudsy.  These cleansers are for sensitive skins.  Some gel cleansers will not have enough "elbow grease" to dissolve makeup or sunscreen.  Gel cleansers can be used on all skin types, but is best used on sensitive skin.
  • Creamy Cleansers
    Creamy cleansers are used for dry, normal to dry, and dehydrated skins. A great creamy cleanser will dissolve makeup, sunscreen and mascara, leaving the skin super soft and hydrated.
  • Pre-Cleansers
    Pre-cleansing utilizes oils to remove cosmetics and sunscreens prior to washing with a cleanser.  The pre-cleanser is very popular for dry skins and acne skins (believe it or not).  While dry skins benefit from argan oil, a popular oil for acne skins is jojoba.  Both oils do a remarkable job of removing debris prior to cleansing with the cleanser type of your choice.  The oils work with the top layers of the skin to hydrate the cells so that the cleanser doesn't over-strip the acid mantle (the oil layer) of the skin.  As estheticians in the spa, we know that oil dissolves oil.  The sebum in your pores is dissolved by using an oil, which helps to loosen the sebum in the pores.  When followed by a cleanser, it simply washes it away.
  • Acne Cleansers
    Acne cleansers are predominantly gel or foamy cleansers that have active ingredients in the cleansers.  Most acne cleansers on the market have ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid.  The major problems with these cleansers is that the active ingredient is at too high of a level, which results in over-stripping the skin.  When purchasing an acne cleanser, look for the active ingredients to be at a level of 2-3%.  Any higher, will result in an imbalance of the skin.


Below is a Buying Guide for Cleansers based on Skin Conditions

Skin Conditions Type of Cleanser Possible Choice
Dehydration Creamy or Gel Cleanser with an Exfoliant Image Skin Care Ageless Total Facial Cleanser
Rosacea Gel Cleanser with Calming Ingredients Nancy Reagan Organic Beta Facial Cleanser
Redness Gel Cleanser  Environ Skin Care Cleansing Gel
Pigmentation Creamy or Gel Cleanser with Lighteners Sisley Paris Phyto-Blanc Lightening Cleansing Milk
Oily (No Acne) Gel Cleanser Nancy Reagan Organic Beta Facial Cleanser
Oily with Acne Foamy Cleanser - Lightly Medicated Environ Sebuwash Cleanser

Normal Creamy or Gel Cleanser Nancy Reagan Organic Beta Facial Cleanser
Dry Creamy Cleanser Image Skin Care Vital C Hydrating Cleanser