You know how sometimes when you wash your face you get that tight, dry, squeaky clean feeling? We don’t want that! And it’s a sign that you should probably choose a new cleanser.
Believe it or not, cleansing is potentially the most skin-damaging part of your routine because it uses a type of ingredient called surfactants to lift oil and dirt off your skin. We want surfactants because that’s what helps clean your skin! But certain surfactants work too well and can actually damage your skin barrier.
A damaged skin barrier can lead to irritation, sensitivity, dehydration, excess oiliness, and increased breakouts.
This is why for every skin type it’s important to choose a cleanser that’s gentle on your skin and leaves your face feeling hydrated and bouncy.
Here’s what to look for when you choose a cleanser!
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When choosing a cleanser, pH Matters (like a lot)
Your skin’s pH is around 5.5, so you should always choose a cleanser with a low pH between 4.5-6.0 (I actually recently tested my pH with the Atolla testing kit and found that my pH was around 5.0! Woo!).
Cleansers that are too high (or basic) in pH can lead to that tight, dry feeling and irritation. So I’m calling out anyone that cleanses their skin with bar soap – girl, don’t do it. It’s not worth it ;). Most bar soaps are way too high in pH for your skin.
How do you figure out your cleanser’s pH?
Check the brand packaging or website. A lot of brands know that consumers are becoming aware of how important pH is, and they’re including that info more openly.
Ask the brand directly. Brands are usually pretty open to letting you know the pH if you reach out to them via email or Instagram.
Buy pH testing strips and test the pH yourself. This is obviously only helpful if you’re looking to test a cleanser you’ve already purchased.
Google magic! Testing the pH of cleansers yourself sounds like a lot of work. The good news is there are a ton of skincare addicts out there that have done the hard work for you. You can usually find the pH of most cleansers with some digging.
But to give you a head start, here are the pHs of some of my favorite cleansers!
KraveBeauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser: pH ~5.0-6.0
Paula’s Choice Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser: pH ~5.5 (this is the advertised pH for all Paula’s Choice cleansers)
CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser : pH ~5.0
Then I Met You Soothing Tea Cleansing Gel: pH 4.5-5.5
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser: pH ~5.5
CeraVe Renewing SA (Salicylic Acid) Cleanser: pH 5.0-6.0
Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser pH: ~4.5-5.5
Avoid cleansers with harsh surfactants like sulfates
Sulfates, specifically Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate can be stripping and even irritating to some people. Sulfates can be formulated in a way that makes them more gentle (one of my favorite cosmetic chemists Kind of Stephen has a great blog post about this), however I just try to stay away from them in general.
A note on Cetaphil cleanser: One of the most popular drugstore cleansers, Cetaphil, actually contains SLS. I personally don’t like or recommend Cetaphil’s cleanser.
However, it’s often recommended by dermatologists because it has a really simple ingredients list and it’s in no way a terrible cleanser. But, in my opinion, using sulfates is just kind of outdated at this point. Cetaphil might have been the best gentle cleanser of its time but at this point, there are so many better, gentler surfactants out there. To me, the fact that they haven’t adjusted the formula to replace SLS just feels like they haven’t kept up with the times.
Related: How Double Cleansing Changed My Skin
Choose a cleanser with hydrating, moisturizing, and skin-barrier-friendly ingredients
No matter how gentle the surfactant is, they will always remove some moisture from your skin.
The solution? Look for hydrating ingredients in the cleanser to make up for any moisture lost in the cleansing process.
Ingredients like hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, glycerin, sorbitol, stearic acid, fatty acids, and ceramides are great for hydrating and keeping your skin barrier healthy.
Two of my favorite hydrating cleansers are Paula’s Choice’s RESIST Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser and CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser.
Experiment with different formulas to see what works best for your skin!
Cleansers come in so many different textures and formulas – foaming, gel, milky, cream. The world is your oyster! Everyone’s skin is different, so while there are guidelines you should use when picking your cleanser, there will always be a little bit of testing involved to find the right fit for your skin! Have dry skin? You might want to look for gel or cream-textured cleansers. Oilier skin might prefer a gentle foaming cleanser or a gel cleanser.
Use these guidelines above and experiment with different formulas and textures to see what you like best!
BONUS ingredients you can look for when choosing a cleanser
Have oily or acne-prone skin? You can also look for a cleanser that meets the above criteria and contains salicylic acid.
If you have oily or acne-prone skin you don’t need to choose a cleanser with salicylic acid (especially if you use a BHA toner or serum in your routine already).
Even oily skin will still benefit so much from a gentle, hydrating, and effective cleanser (in fact, I have oily skin and I personally prefer hydrating cleanser). However, Salicylic Acid can be a bonus for some people!
I love products with antioxidants because they provide protection from free radicals. I personally prefer cleansers with antioxidants because it just gives my cleansing routine an extra little boost!
Some of my favorite cleansers include antioxidants like:
I hope this guide will help you the next time you choose a cleanser!
Have any more questions about how to choose a cleanser? Drop a comment and I’ll answer it in my next post!