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  • Writer's pictureDr. Leslie Baumann

Do Cleansers Stay on the Skin Long Enough to Make a Difference?

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Cleansers play an integral role in any skin care routine, regardless of skin type. However, because cleansers have only a short contact time with the skin — less than ten seconds in most cases — many patients often question if their choice of cleanser can really have an impact on their skin’s health and appearance. Share this information with your patients to help them understand the importance of choosing the right cleanser, despite the fact that it is quickly washed off the skin.

When Cleansers Will Not Make a Difference

It is crucial that patients cleanse their skin twice daily, in most cases. People with very dry or sensitive skin, such as eczema or rosacea, may do best skipping morning cleansing and only washing their faces in the evening. In either case, the type of cleanser that they use can have a significant impact on their skin and the effectiveness of subsequent topical products.

That said, there are several expensive “buzzword” ingredients such as peptides and growth factors that do not impact the skin when used in a cleanser, as they would need a much longer contact time with the skin in order to be beneficial.

When Cleanser Choice Matters

There are, however, two primary ways that a patient’s cleanser choice does impact his or her skin, even in a very short amount of time. The first is by impairing the skin barrier. Foaming cleansers contain surfactants or detergents, which remove lipids from the skin and impair the skin’s protective bilayer membrane barrier. While these properties make foaming cleansers beneficial choices for patients with oily skin who need to remove excess oil from their skin, they are not suitable for dry or sensitive skin types.

This is one reason why many skin care products are trending towards being “sulfate-free,” as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a commonly-used foaming agent that strips lipids from the skin and disrupts the skin barrier. For oily skin types, this barrier disruption can help other topical products to more easily penetrate the skin’s surface, therefore making them more effective. However, when used on dry or sensitive skin types, SLS can be too harsh and irritating.

Dry and sensitive skin types, on the other hand, should choose creamy, non-foaming cleansers to avoid irritation and dryness. By depositing lipids onto the skin, creamy cleansers can help to hydrate and protect these skin types, while still aiding in the absorption rate of subsequent ingredients. Lipids such as oleic acid and humectants such as hyaluronic acid have been shown to increase skin penetration.

The second way that cleansers can impact a patient’s skin is by changing its pH. Human skin is naturally a pH of about 4.7, which is slightly acidic. If patients use products that are too alkaline, like soap, their skin’s natural pH balance will be disrupted, resulting in dry, flaky skin. On the other hand, very acidic, or low-pH ingredients such as hydroxyacids can cause stinging and burning. Therefore, dry or sensitive skin types do well when using milk, cold creams, and oil cleansers that have a neutral pH to avoid irritation and dryness.

However, if a patient is struggling with acne, recommending a cleanser with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can help. AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid have relatively lower pHs, making it difficult for P. acnes bacteria to thrive on the skin. AHAs simultaneously act as humectant ingredients, thus keeping dry skin moisturized while creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria.

Cleansers can also affect penetration of the products used on the skin after cleansing. For example,if your patient is going to use an ascorbic acid product after cleansing, lowering the skin’s pH first with a cleanser can help increase penetration of the Vitamin C,

Bottom Line

You cannot stress the importance of cleansers enough to your patients. Even though these products only stay in contact with the skin for a few seconds before being rinsed away, cleansers impact the skin in important ways. Not all cleansers are worthwhile, especially if they are on the expensive side and contain ingredients like peptides and growth factors.

Share with your patients specific guidelines for choosing a cleanser based on their Baumann Skin Type, as well as detailed written instructions for how to use them. Patients are often astounded at just how impactful using the right cleanser (and applying it correctly) can be for the overall look and feel of their complexion.

For more articles and information about assessing your patients’ skin types and helping them choose the correct products for their skin care needs and goals, connect with me (Leslie Baumann) on LinkedIn. Please also feel free to send an email to or call our Miami office at 305-714-5322.

©2018 MetaBeauty, Inc.


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