I find that nothing feels quite as good as when you splash some coldish water on your face and just feel everything coming off. It’s quite like taking off a mask that burdened you the whole day. Feeling the kind of freedom that lets you breathe through every pore of your face.
And that is how I would describe cleansing.
Cleansing is ultimately the most basic step in your skincare routine and that’s why it comes first after preparing your face. It’s a crucial and fundamental step you should never skip. We’ll discuss the reasons in detail and explain the type of cleansers you can use to really get that naked, exposed feeling on your face without leaving any consequences for your skin type.
So, let’s start explaining what cleansing is, all the different types of cleansers out there, and how to choose the right cleanser for your skin type.
Cleansing is the process of removing dirt, debris, dead skin cells, and makeup residue from your skin. I would completely understand if your mind is going “so, why don’t we just use the typical everyday words like cleaning or washing the face?”
I totally get you. The jargon in the beauty industry can be a little overwhelming at times, but in this case, there’s a good reason for it actually.
Cleansing is different from simply washing your face because you’d be using a cleanser (a product with active cleansing ingredients) that produces a chemical reaction to stimulate the removal of pollutants and dead skin cells on the surface of the face. Think of it as a more advanced and efficient way of thoroughly cleaning the face.
Don’t fear the word “chemical reaction” because even natural ingredients like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar produce strong chemical reactions if applied on the face, even diluted. Just as with natural remedies, if you use the wrong ingredients you will worsen your condition. If you learn how to use the right ingredients and products for your skin you will improve your complexion and notice results.
That’s why the beauty industry has given us a variety of different products specifically formulated to care for different skin types.
Here’s what you need to know about them.
People say they want to have options, but when you have too many options how do you decide? There are a lot of different types of cleansers - foam, gel, cream, clay, and many other formulations with as many more brands, each offering something specific.
But it doesn’t have to be confusing at all. Let’s clear the air.
Foam cleansers are just that - cleansers that are really foamy, lightweight, and might start off as a cream or gel but once applied on the face they form a rich, bubbly lather meant to deep clean the skin and get rid of any impurities there may be on the skin’s surface. They’re very efficient in getting rid of excess oil and sebum which is good news for all of you who are suffering from frequent acne breakouts.
On the downside, foam cleansers usually contain sodium lauryl sulfate in their formulation, which makes them too harsh for sensitive skin. If you have a foam cleanser and you find your skin feeling dry or irritated after cleansing, check the ingredients for this little chemical.
If this is the case, you should switch to another type of cleanser with a gentler formula.
The name kinda gives it away. Gel cleansers are the cleansers that look and feel like a typical gel. Their consistency is completely different from foam cleansers, yet they are both designed for deep cleansing, clearing out clogged pores, removing excess oil and providing your skin with antiseptic and exfoliating properties.
Gel cleansers are considered milder than foam cleansers, meaning they would be a better option for people with sensitive skin, especially if you’re also suffering from the occasional zit. Nevertheless, they are not the friendliest option for sensitive skin and can cause irritation in some extreme cases.
The word on the street is that most gel cleansers work well on all skin types, so they’re definitely a safe option to start with.
The creamy cleansers are the most polite ones in the group. They won’t declare war on pores but rather move quite gently, cleaning the pores and providing hydration on your skin as well.
Cream cleansers are generally thicker in consistency and have moisturizing ingredients with the main purpose of not stripping the skin from its natural oils.
This doesn't make them ineffective.
Creamy cleansers can still give you that clear and fresh look you’re after - given that you’re using them on the right skin type. For example, oily skin might not benefit from them so much, but I’m sure people with a dry skin type are thankful they exist.
Now that oil cleansing is a thing, we’re here to debunk the myth that if there’s oil there’s a breakout.
Cleansing oils are a wonderful alternative for removing makeup, debris, and dead skin cells from the face, especially for people whose skin gets really dry after using the more traditional types of cleansers we explained so far.
The typical water-soluble cleansers with foamy, gel or creamy texture primarily use surfactants as their main active ingredient. This process allows for the skin’s impurities to be rinsed with water. Oil cleansers, on the other hand, work by dissolving the similar substances they’re attracted to - sebum.
Now, depending on the formulation of the product, we can even argue that some oil cleansers won’t make a blemished skin worse, but rather help soothe the irritation. However, the rule of thumb is that most oil cleansers work best for people with dry and sensitive skin.
Having so many other options, oil cleansers would probably sit on the bottom of the list for oily and acne-prone skin.
Clay cleansers use the powerful absorbing properties of clay to remove impurities from the surface of your skin. Why clay, you ask? Well, they’re potent detoxers. Experts agree that clay has strong pulling action and works like a magnet, bonding with the debris, dead skin cells, makeup residue, and other impurities stuck in our pores.
Clay cleansers provide a deep clean without leaving the skin dry. They’re also great for soothing redness and irritated pimples.
A micellar cleanser or micellar water is somewhere between a foam and a cream cleanser, providing a powerful combination of their properties. It’s purified water mixed with hydrating ingredients, as well as low concentrations of mild surfactants.
The goal of this type of cleanser is to use surfactants as a magnet for superficial debris, dirt, and oil, without drying off or irritating the skin.
Because micellar cleansers are so mild and have hydrating properties there’s no need to rinse them off the face after applying. This makes them really practical since you can use them at any time and anywhere.
They are great for people with irritable, sensitive, and acne-prone skin. Arguably the most beneficial use of micellar cleansers is that you can take them with you and use them after exposing the skin to pollutants or sweat. For example, you can rinse your face with lukewarm water and apply micellar water after a workout.
Another practical type of cleanser that’s making its big, modern comeback. Powder cleansers are a good way to gently exfoliate the skin with natural ingredients. Don’t be surprised that most common ingredients found in powder cleansers are baking soda, rice bran, oats, and seeds. The purpose is to provide a gentle scrub without gritting the skin harshly.
As sophisticated as they are, you can find powder cleansers enriched with enzymes and powerful antioxidants.
Powder cleansers are considered harsher than the liquid type of cleansers and most dermatologists advise you to use them at night for removing makeup and deep cleansing the face. The word “harsher” here means stay away from them if you have a sensitive skin type, or if you are prone to atopic dermatitis.
Bar cleansers are probably the most familiar and overly used type of cleansers in this group. I mean, if you have ever used a soap, then you have used a bar cleanser to clean your skin.
Let’s move over to the less familiar part. There are two basic types of cleansing bar – soap bars and synthetic detergent (syndet) bars.
Soap bars come with amazingly diverse formulations, forms, and scent. Although you can find some of them which are milder, most act really abrasively on the skin and leave it dry. For really, really oily skin they might be a good choice, but still, syndet bars are probably the smarter option.
Syndet bars use blends of synthetic surfactants derived from oils, fats, or petroleum products. They work by surrounding the debris with small particles that are later removed with water. Syndets are recommended for cleansing more sensitive skin as they are far more “skin-friendly” than traditional soaps which have a high pH value.
It’s worth noting that although they’re far better than soap bars, syndets can still cause irritation on extremely sensitive skin.
Technically cloths, mitts, and sponges are considered cleansing agents because they do the actual work of removing dirt, dead skin cells, and other impurities away from the skin’s surface.
On the other hand, we can really put them in the same basket with the above-mentioned type of cleansers because these tools are the only ones that provide mechanical exfoliation of the skin’s surface. Also, the most efficient way to use them would be in combination with some cleanser, rather than just water.
When used in combination with a cleanser, they give the advantage of better product-absorption, deeper cleansing, and improved circulation.
Their disadvantage is that the mechanical rubbing of the skin can really be harsh and cause redness and irritation.
Choosing the right cleanser will involve some trial-and-error for sure. It’s all about figuring out what works for your skin, and not just blindly following skincare “rules”. Every type of skin is different. Even if two people both have dry skin, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same type of cleanser would work equally well. However, if a product works well on people with dry skin, and you have dry skin, the smart choice would be to start there and in the meantime keep your options open for other alternatives. So, here’s where you start.
Cleansing can be a challenge for all skin types, but I do understand that when you have a dry skin type this process can really be off-putting. Nevertheless, you should never skip it. Remember that cleansing is not the problem, the problem is probably the type of cleanser you’re using.
And, even though unfortunately, the options for dry skin are more limiting, still, there are some good products out there.
You should start with a cream or an oil type of cleanser since that’s your best bet. Micellar water will probably work for you too, and gel cleansers are also an option.
Never leave your skin exposed after cleansing. Finish your skincare routine with applying a powerful moisturizer that will lock water and keep your skin hydrated and soft. This is good advice for all skin types, but imperative for people with dry skin.
Sensitive skin type can be even trickier to handle than dry skin, but let’s not make it a competition. What you need to know is that lukewarm water is not the only thing that you can use to clean your skin without causing irritation.
Micellar water works well for people with sensitive skin type, so you can start there. Another option to consider is cream or some types of powder cleansers.
What you need to understand is, although the type of cleanser is important, what you need to be focusing on is the formulation of the product itself. What this means is that even micellar cleansers differ from one brand to another.
Choose a mild product with really low concentrations of active ingredients and check for added fragrances or other irritants in the formulation.
Sometimes it’s not the cleansing ingredients that are causing the problem.
If you think you’re skin is normal (doesn’t feel oily or dry and isn’t acne-prone), then consider yourself lucky. You have a variety of products to choose from and you can experiment with almost all types of cleansers without fear that there will be an adverse reaction.
It’s good to try out different products to see what works best and gets your skin glowing.
Using cleansing products that overdry the skin can send the sebaceous glands into overdrive and lead to more breakouts. Using cleansing products that are creamy and have oils in their formulation can highlight that unwanted shine. So, what’s left?
The expert’s advice is to use foam, clay, and bar cleansers if you have oily and acne-prone skin. Other cleansers that will probably work well on your skin type are gel and powder cleansers.
Feel free to use cleansing cloths, mitts, and sponges for a deeper exfoliation, but be really gentle. You don’t want to burst the inflamed pimples and cause an infection. There’s no need for pressure. Gentle and soft movements.
Combination skin is the type of skin that can be a mix of any of the other skin types - oily and normal, or oily and dry, for example.. In this case, cleansers that work well for all skin types are the way to go. Gel cleansers are a good option, as well as micellar water, although it's considered milder and you might not see extreme changes.
Probably the best advice I can give you is to use the cleansers that work well for the oily skin types, such as foam, clay, and bar cleansers, and then always, and I mean always use a hydrating moisturizer to soothe the dry areas on your face and help maintain water and moisture.
Some oil cleansers’ formulations that have surfactants might work really good on oily skin.
If you are cleansing the skin in the morning, the preparation step is simply splashing lukewarm water on the face to really wake up every pore and remove any makeup residue or buildup of dead skin cells.
If you are cleansing the skin in the evening, the preparation step means to remove any makeup you have applied before starting to cleanse the skin.
This is really important because it will clear the skin and expose the pores for more efficient cleaning.
No product can work if it can’t reach the skin, right?
Makeup works as a wonderful barrier between the product and your actual skin tissue. So, instead of unclogging the pores and clearing the skin, if you don’t remove makeup, cleansing would simply be a makeup-removal procedure.
After you have prepared your face, the next step is to apply the cleanser.
Simply wash your face with lukewarm water, apply a small amount of the product on your hand and gently apply it on the face, massaging it for a minute in a circular motion.
Make sure you cover your whole face, from chin to forehead, avoiding sensitive areas around the mouth, nose, and eyes.
Once you finish massaging your face with your cleanser, rinse your face with lukewarm water to remove any residue from the product. Don’t leave the cleanser on your face. Wash it well, and then pat it dry.
The fundamentals of almost every skincare routine are based on good and efficient cleansing. Aside from simply making you feel amazing, cleansing will keep your pores clear, prevent a buildup of dirt and pollutants, remove irritants, and stimulate circulation.
Don’t you dare skip this step! Instead, learn how to do it right.
To advance in your cleansing skills, take into consideration the concentration of the active ingredient in the product’s formulation, and be careful in your application. You need to prepare the skin before applying a cleanser, and you always need to moisturize afterward.