101: Cleansers Defined

101: Cleansers Defined

Do you remember when a cleanser was a cleanser? You bought your favorite brand, washed your face and then focused on serums and moisturizers. Now you’re seeing cleansing waters, cleansing gels, cleansing balms, cleansing powders… and wondering “if” you should try them – and which one? No worries, here’s your  “Cleanser 101”.

Cleanse Well

For best results, it’s important to wash your face every morning and night. Many suggest that you double wash at night; especially if you wear makeup. The first cleanse is to remove cosmetics and impurities from your day, and a second cleanse is to deep clean and prep skin for treatments and moisturizers. To remove heavy makeup, you will need to use an oil-based makeup remover before cleansing.  

Determine the Best Face Wash for You

Start by understanding what type of skin you have – oily, dry, combination or sensitive? Even if you have been caring for your skin regularly, as you age your skin changes, so it is important to reevaluate. Understanding the typical characteristics of your skin can help you determine its type:

  • Dry skin feels dry right after you wash it. It can also feel “tight”. Even if you use a gentle cleanser or it is humid outside, you still feel the need to moisturize it.
  • Oily skin feels like you need to wash it often, and you probably have problem breakout areas and large pores. You may feel like you need little to no moisturizer.
  • Combination skin typically has oily areas in the T-zone (foreheads, nose and chin), while the cheeks tend to be dry. You may notice large pores and breakouts concentrated in the T-zone.
  • Normal skin typically doesn’t feel too dry or oily; and has a smaller pore size, with a soft, smooth appearance. You may feel like you need a light moisturizer but your skin doesn’t feel “tight”.
  • Sensitive skin often stings when you apply certain products (especially those with high fragrance levels) and has a tendency to develop redness. This skin type is also usually dry.

Your dermatologist can help you determine your type. There are also at home tissue tests you can do to determine where oil generates on your skin. Wash you face, put nothing on it and wait 30 minutes. Go to the mirror, take an oil blotting paper and pat it on areas of your skin to see where you have oil. You can also do this in the morning before you cleanse after a night when you didn’t use any product. Pay attention to the pore size and texture of your skin too.

It is also important to consider the pH level of the products you use, and what’s best for your skin. Naturally, skin has a pH of around 5.5 and is slightly acidic, helping to retain moisture and repel/fight germs. A product with too high of a pH level (i.e., regular soap, which usually has a pH of 10+) breaks down the skin’s acid, causing dryness and breakouts. Look for products that state “pH-balanced” and are fragrance-free.

Guide to Cleanser Types

Cleansing Water

Cleansing waters (also known as “micellar”) are a water-based, non-soap cleanser. They may even seem more like a toner. Micellar waters have “micelles” (tiny oil molecules) suspended in water. The micelles attract and dissolve dirt, oil and makeup particles. You use this type of cleanser by wiping the solution on with a cotton pad, and then tissue off, or rinse clean. Good for dry, acne or sensitive skin. This type of cleanser can also be used as a second cleanse, after removing makeup first.

Cleansing Gel

Cleansing gels are usually clear and have a gel-like consistency with little to low foam. Today’s gel formulas are usually water-based, good at removing oil and providing light hydration without clogging pores. This type of cleanser can be a big change if you haven’t used one before. It may feel like it isn’t cleansing, but it is designed for deep cleaning of pores, removing excess oil, and eliminating acne prone bacteria. Good for oily, combination or acne-prone skin.

Cleansing Milk

Milk cleansers have less water and tend to have more nourishing ingredients (such as lightweight emollients and oils) that help to decrease dryness and irritation. Oil, dirt and makeup bind to the emollients and are washed away leaving skin smooth and hydrated. Milk cleansers tend to leave less residue on skin than an oil cleanser. Good for normal or combination skin.

Cleansing Balm

This cleanser has a thick jelly-like or “cold cream” consistency and is very good at gently removing makeup or waterproof products without having to “tug” on skin. Balm cleansers typically have the highest concentration of emollients and can seem more like a moisturizer, making them very good for dry skin. They are more of a solid that becomes liquefied when applied to skin. Starting with a dry face and hands, balm cleansers are rubbed onto dry skin and wiped off with a wet cloth or a tissue. Both the form of this cleanser and the application helps to lock in moisture. To help the balm “melt” into your skin during application, you can take a warm, wet cloth and lay it over the balm on your face. Good for dry, sensitive or 40+ skin.  It can also be used as the “first” cleanse at night to remove makeup and impurities and followed by a lighter cleanser.

Cleansing Oil

Cleansing oils are, you guessed it – made from oils! Often a mix of botanical oils. Oil dissolves oil, so this cleanser is good at breaking down makeup and excess oil from skin. It can linger on some skin types after rinsing; in those cases, it should be used as a “first” cleanse and followed by a lighter cleanser to remove all residue. As a cleansing balm, an oil cleanser is a good way to remove makeup without tugging on skin. Good for all skin types, but dry or sensitive skin will benefit most from its moisturizing properties. Oily skin types should look for an oil cleanser with an emulsifier verses just oils, otherwise, it may add to skin’s oiliness.

Cleansing Mud or Clay

As the name implies, a mud or clay cleanser has a thicker “mud-like” consistency. Often these cleansers are formulated with ingredients like charcoal, which act like a “magnet”; capable of drawing out dirt, toxins and even environmental impurities like smog. This type of cleanser deeply cleans pores without irritating or over-dying and can help to calm acne and redness. Good for oily and combination skin.

Cleansing Powder

A soft powder typically made with pulverized grains. It changes into a cream or foam cleanser when water is added. The particles are typically very small and provide a deep cleanse to exfoliation the skin. Aging skin “turns over” (removes itself of dead skin cells) slower which can cause dry, dull skin. The size and texture of the exfoliating particles help to cleanse with less irritation. Good for all types, including sensitive or 40+ skin. This type of cleanser can also be used to exfoliate a few times each week as a supplement to regular cleansing.

Cream Cleansers

Cream cleansers are usually thick, creamy and contain moisturizing ingredients like botanical oils. They gently cleanse your skin without stripping it of its natural moisture. Cream cleansers can also come in the form of “milk” or “lotion". Good for dry and sensitive skin.

Foam Cleansers

A more traditional type of cleanser, these are usually a cream or gel that turns into a foam when water is added. This type of cleanser gives skin a good general clean while leaving it moisturized. Good for oily and combination skin. Self-foaming cleansers are also available but should be avoided if you have dry skin.

Bar Cleansers

One of the oldest types of cleansers, bar cleanser (soap) has been making a comeback in recent years. Many of the newer bar formulas contain very little “soap” making them more skin-friendly; adding highly moisturizing ingredients as well as a balanced pH level. Good for oily and combination skin.

Cleansing Wipes

Wipes are so convenient and easy to use. Over recent years the formulas embedded within the wipes have been enhanced to include deep cleansing, moisturizing and even anti-wrinkle benefits; environmentally friendly substrates have come on the market too. While wipes are convenient and will do a good job removing makeup and dirt, it is recommended to follow a wipe with a second cleansing product. This will deeply cleanse your skin and prepare it for any product you may apply. Look for a wipe without dyes or fragrance. Some have extra moisturizers packed inside; avoid these brands if you have oily skin. Good for all skin types.

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