Face: Cleanser Evangelist’s Preach

Cleansers as a category of facial skincare products are to be chosen based on your ski type. As the name would suggest, cleansers are meant to unclog pores and remove make-up, dead skin, oils, dirt and any other type of pollutants from the skin on the face.

There are two major types of cleansers as distinguished by function:


Face wash

How it works:

Cleansers dissolve excess oil, make-up and grime from the skin. All of these are oil-soluble impurities and cleansers work best there

Face wash’s function is to remove deeper seated debris and clean the pores

Be aware:

For your morning routine, you can use only face wash

For your evening skincare routine, it is suggested that you double cleanse: first use cleanser and follow up with a face wash


As a category of skincare products, cleansers come in solid and liquid form. Cleansing powders have been recently introduced to the market and have quickly become a new trend.




pH balance

Soaps are the alkali salt of fatty acids

Due to their acidic pH, liquid cleansers are considered to be more gentle

There is no info on the pH balance of cleansing powders so it is best if you test your cleanser at home. That said, foams are usually considered to be more on the alkaline side

pH balance Test

Each liquid and solid cleanser has different pH balance so it is best to test it at home. Essentially, you are looking for a cleanser that would be slightly on the acidic side (no more than pH level 6)

Product formulas:

Based on generalized pH trend, skin does better with liquid cleansers. However, solid cleansers sometimes prevail based on the particulars within the formula

Most liquid cleansers are water based which means that they require more microbe – blasting preservatives compared to solid cleansers. This is the reason why parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate and petroleum derivatives are found in liquid cleansers

Powder cleansers do not need many of the preservatives, alcohol, or detergents that average liquid cleansers do


Try to choose cleanser without added fragrance and color dyes

You can control the degree of exfoliation when adding water to the powder

Some powdered cleansers may contain enzymes that can be too aggressive for sensitive skin


Solid cleansers explained:


Beauty Bar and Dermatologic Bar / Cake

How it works:

Traditional soaps (ex. soaps you find in hotels) are composed of anionic surfactants. They are

often alkaline – have high pH level (9-10)

Beauty bars are composed of variety of surfactants and contain emollients to reduce dryness. They usually do not raise pH of the skin


By creating alkaline environment on the skin, soaps remove skin’s natural acid protection and compromise moisture barrier. Overall effect is that the skin becomes vulnerable to irritation and infection

Product formula is suggested to be gentle for the skin

Be aware:

Never use

Use as a face wash, if it is agreeable with your skin


Liquid cleansers explained:

Oil based cleansers




Water (Micellar Water)

How it works:

There are 2 types of oil cleansers: cleansing oil products  and oil cleansing method

Cleansing oil products remove make-up and water-proof sunscreen that regular cleanser cannot take off. Emulsions in the cleansing oil products allow the oil to be washed off with just water.

In the oil cleansing method, plain oil (ex. Coconut oil) is rubbed on the dry skin and later washed off. To remove oil residue, people usually follow up with face wash

Dissolve and digest emollients found in make-up. Remove oil and grime

Eliminate surface oil and acne-causing bacteria

Draw oil, dirt, grime out of the skin that make up wipes cannot reach. It is said to be more gentle compared to toners

Usually better for*:

Dry skin

Dry skin

Oily and normal skin

All skin types

When to use:

Cleanser / Make-up remover

Cleanser / Make-up remover

Face wash

Face wash / Cleansing toner

Some women use toner as a way of checking if they have properly cleansed their skin. Micellar water would be better option given the objective. Though, some women use micellar water as a cleanser since it does have the capacity to remove make-up.

Very handy if you need to correct any makeup mishap / remove false lashes

Be aware:

Oil cleansers usually have hydrating formulas. That said, if not washed off properly, the oil has a tendency to linger on the surface of the skin. This means that oil residue  creates a barrier inhibiting serums and

moisturizes from penetrating into the skin

Oil cleanser alternative for travels – face butter

The simpler the ingredient list, the better

Some people find that constant use of micellar water causes skin to become dry.

There is a debate whether micellar water should be rinsed off or not. It is designed not to be rinsed off; however, many people feel more comfortable with surfactants (cleaning agents) being washed off before proceeding to the next product in the skincare routine.  It is best to look at the ingredient list


Coconut oil; Make-up melters; Make-up removers; Boscia – Makeup Breakup

Facial balms and milks

Gels; Exfoliating gels

*- This is a general guideline. The best way is to look at the product formula and ingredient list in order to see what skin type it is good for

There are medicated cleansers that come in any of the above mentioned forms. Such cleansers are usually marketed for acne prone skin and contain salicylic acid (to help unclog pores) and benzoyl perioxide (to help kill bacteria) as active ingredients. Some say that such cleansers are too harsh and suggest using gentle cleanser and applying acids as part of the treatment stage of the skincare routine. The concept of skin pH is being actively explored and no conclusive findings are published. As a result, there are number of beauty professionals and bloggers who suggest that using cleansers that are slightly acidic is absolutely fine as it is close to the naturally acidic nature of human skin.


pH balance of the skin and cleansers

pH balance of our skin is 4 – 5.5. Acid mantle, protective film of amino / lactic acids and oils on top of our skin, guards our skin from environmental factors (bacteria, pollutants) that contribute to premature ageing and irritation. The relative success of your own personal acid mantle depends on its pH level.

Skin’s state of being

Oily skin

(Red, irritated and oily skin)


Dry skin

(Irritated, dry and fragile skin which is susceptible to wrinkles)


On the pH balance continuum (between 1 and 14, 7 being neutral), our skin’s natural pH balance is between 4.5  and 5.5

pH balance of the skin


Acidic skin



Alkaline skin

Appropriate cleanser formulations

Oily skin might be a result of overuse of acids in the skincare routine so it is best that you exercise caution in that respect

Try to choose gentle cleansers. You might consider using cleansers that have some acids like glycolic acid

Cleansers have one objective which is to cleanse the face. As such, I would suggest not paying too much attention to marketing promises of skin transformations and miracles as a result of choosing the right cleanser. In other words, put away the pinatas and confetti and remember just those major points:

1)            Anything above pH 5.6, the upper range of healthy skin, will raise the skin’s pH and cause issues (universal rule when it comes to skin care)

2)      Acidic cleansers do not disturb the skin’s pH like alkaline cleansers do. As such, everyone can benefit from an acidic cleanser, oily or dry skin types alike!

There is certain category of beauty experts who assert that cleansers need to be alkaline in order to cleanse properly. What they often refer to are those “harsh” soaps that boast alkalinity well over 9 but leave you feeling squeaky clean. According to the research, there is no correlation between efficacy of cleaning and pH level of the solution. As such, low- pH cleansers are just as effective as high – pH cleansers but with an added benefit of maintaining healthy skin with the acidic cleanser. Just to make this point more evident, consider this: high- pH soaps make acne worse while the acidic cleanser makes acne better since low pH is inhospitable to acne.

Acidic / slightly acidic cleansers might include AHAs or BHAs which will give some exfoliation effect as well. Please be mindful of skin-care product ingredients and their compatibility.

3)      Consider that water itself has neutral or slightly base pH in most cases. For example, in my locality pH of tap water rose from 6.5 to 7.2 in a matter of one year (2009 – 2010). The reason for raising the pH of naturally “soft” and acidic water was that acidic water is corrosive, causes pipes to leak and leaches heavy metals from pipes/ plumping fixtures into the tap water. As such, local administration authorized introduction of sodiumcarbonate (soda ash) into the tap water to make it more alkaline. This essentially means that whether you use acidic or alkaline cleanser you have to consider that tap water will further raise pH level of your skin. For that precise reason some people try to avoid or minimize contact of skin with the tap water

4) Make sure to use toner to pH adjust your skin right after cleansing. It will take the skin between 20 to 60 minutes of “overtime work” in order to return to its natural pH level after cleansing. Toners are designed to immediately return the skin to acidic / slightly acidic state. This means that the skincare products applied after the toner will work in the most optimal conditions: the products will not be wasted while the skin is working to restore its 4.5 – 5.5 pH balance before it can become receptive of other ingredients.

Thank you for reading,

1 thought on “Face: Cleanser Evangelist’s Preach”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s