ALL ABOUT CLEANSING
Here's The Science:
The outer layer of your skin (the stratum corneum or SC) consists of dead, protein-rich skin cells filled with water-binding chemicals (your natural moisturizing factor or NMF), surrounded by carefully arranged oily lipids (fats: mostly ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids). Constructed much like a brick wall, skin cells act as bricks and lipids act as the mortar. Together, these form a surface barrier preventing water evaporation from the skin into the environment, and protect against external irritants entering your skin.
When the SC's structure is disturbed, the skin becomes dry feeling, itchy, flaky, red and irritated. Luckily, the SC is pretty hardy and holds up well against most things... but unfor tunately, the wrong surfactants are good at messing things up.
How Cleansing Damages Your Skin:
Cleansing can be one of the most damaging things you do to your skin on a daily basis, especially when you should be cleansing twice daily. But, it's necessary to get rid of all the dirt, pollution, makeup, oil and sunscreen you've accumulated over the course of the day; even more so for smokers and those of whom work in a 'dirty' environment. The majority of these unwanted substances won't come off with water alone. That's why most cleansers contain surfactants and syndets (synthetic detergents), which are wonderful substances that can help the grime and oils dissolve in water and wash them away without damaging the skin's acid mantle (barrier) when properly formulated, and you use the correct type of cleanser for your skin type/condition.
Surfactants in facial cleansers are amazing substances that can bind with both oil- and water- soluble contaminants creating what is called an emulsion (a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally unmixable or unblendable), enabling the grime to be rinsed away. Using the wrong cleanser will remove proteins and NMF components from your skin, meaning it won't be able to hold onto water as effectively. This all leads to dry-feeling, dehydrated skin, and creates noticeable or sub-clinical inflammation which you can't see or feel. This is why your skincare professional will recommend the proper type of cleanser(s) for your particular skin type/skin condition. (Some people use 2 different cleansers daily: one for regular cleansing of makeup at the end of the day, and another more gentle cleanser in the morning.)
After cleansing, most of the surfactant gets rinsed off, but unfortunately not all of it. What remains in the skin can disrupt the acid mantle cause further irritation. Some surfactant molecules can bind to proteins in the skin, causing them to denature (change shape) and swell. The more swelling, the greater the irritation. (Interestingly, this interaction with proteins is probably a bigger contributor to the "tight" feeling after cleansing than the loss of oils!) Additionally, surfactants can remain in the lipid "mortar" of the SC, changing its structure. Together, these effects lead to a compromised SC that's prone to letting water escape and irritants enter.
Good skin cleansers have blends of surfactants rather than 1 or 2, which helps prevent this negative phenomena from happening. And the types of surfactants used have just as an important role determining how they can negatively or positively affect the skin.
Skin is acidic, meaning it has a low pH (around 5). Maintaining the proper pH of the skin is very important because many of the biochemical reactions that occur in skin only work within a narrow pH range. The wrong cleansers are particularly good at changing skin's pH for delayed periods of time, meaning that if your cleanser has a particularly high pH, then it's going to hinder your skin from repairing itself. High pH also makes skin swell and reduces its flexibility.
If you're acne-prone, there's more bad news: an alkaline or "high pH encourages" the growth of acne-causing Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. For that matter, anything that disrupts the acid mantle of the skin causes problems. The correction the skin has to make when using the wrong cleanser, or over-cleansing, takes at least a half day to correct itself. Think about that when you wash twice a day with the wrong product.
Dry skin is skin lacking LIPIDS (your natural oil). Most skin is lacking WATER (dehydration), and drinking more water does NOT usually correct dehydration. For proper skin health, I am adamant about correcting a dehydrated, damaged, or impaired acid mantle. Dehydrated (skin lacking WATER), may require a special substance which holds 1000 x's its molecular weight in water to increase hydration; followed with a gentle, protective moisturizer barrier especially for your skin type, to prevent trans-epidermal water loss/TEWL, and help to restore some of the missing cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides. When properly used, hydrators used in concert with moisturizers help restore a damaged acid mantle.
Picking a Gentle Cleanser:
Foaming cleansers, soaps, body washes, cleansing balms, cleansing oils, cleansing gels, and micellar water all have some type of surfactant in them. The only thing that really doesn't have surfactants are pure oil cleansers. (Not the best thing... another newsletter topic in the future). A properly formulated cleanser will clean grime off your face while keeping your acid mantle happy and intact.
Ever heard of micellar water? Different surfactants can gather together forming spherical shapes called micelles when mixed together in solution. Some individual surfactant molecules are so small, like sodium lauryl sulfate, their micelles are small enough to penetrate past the outer layers of skin. Sodium lauryl sulfate, on its own, is so good at causing irritation that it's often used as an irritation control in skin studies. If a micelle is very small, it penetrates more easily into skin, causing irritation. But mixtures of different surfactants, even when mixed with some stronger surfactants, tend to form large micelles which won't cause as much irritation and stripping, thus reducing irritation.
Avoid These Harsh Surfactants:
- Most bar soaps (e.g. "sodium ---ate" - sodium laurate, sodium cocoate, sodium tallowate).
- Note: DON'T USE BAR SOAP, even if it is marketed for the face. See below.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (aka SLS)
- Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), especially in combination with Cocoamidopropyl betaine (CAPB)
- Sodium cocoyl isethionate
- Alkyl sulfosuccinates ("--- succinate" in an ingredients list)
- Alkyl sarcosinatesdecyl glucoside
- Disodium cocoyl glutamate
- Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate
- Cocoyl methyl glucamide
- Sodium cocoyl isethionate
- Lauryl lactyl lactate
Though the names can be hard to pronounce, they're very mild to the skin on their own, reduce irritancy when combined with more harsh surfactants, and are bio-degradable.
Soap for the Face?
Real or "natural" soaps in bar form are made from lye or caustic potash reacted with fats or oils. (This includes products like African black soap and Castile soap.)
Soap is Bad For Your Face For Several Reasons:
Soap cannot work unless it is a very alkaline pH of 9.5 or higher; with many at a pH of 11! Your face has an acid pH of 4-6, and high (alkaline) pH will disrupt your skin's ability to stay intact, damaging the barrier whether you feel it or not. Every time you go up one pH point, it is a 100-fold increase in alkalinity; and every time you go down 1 pH point, it is a hundred-fold increase in acidity!
Soap's molecular structure does a great job of messing up the proteins in your skin! This results in destruction of the acid mantle/protective barrier.
Most people can use soap on tougher body skin with no big issues, but facial/neck/and decollete skin is very different. Pay attention to labels as a lot of companies will sell soap as facewash, and label it as "gentle, great for sensitive skin, because of its "natural" angle.
NO. JUST. DON'T. DO. SOAP.
If your skin is sensitive (even if you don't feel it), soap is not great for it (dehydration, inflammation, breakouts and roughness), and soap isn't really any more natural in composition than surfactant cleansers. Soap is fats and oils which have been chemically reacted to turn it into something else entirely - much like how plastic is made.
What you should use instead: A gentle face cleanser that's formulated with surfactants made for mildness.
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