The first step in any skincare routine is the cleansing.

1. What exactly are we cleansing?

Let’s call it gunk. It’s the pollution particles, car fumes, dirt, sweat and sebum (from our own skin). Sebum is not gunk but when we produce too much sebum, it needs to be cleansed. When we cleanse, we also affect the microorganisms (bacteria, virus, fungi) of our skin. More on this under ‘What’s the optimal pH of the cleanser’.

2. Is it important to cleanse?

Let’s answer this question the other way around. If we don’t cleanse, the accumulation of gunk on the skin invite the bad microorganisms to settle in. The gunk will also choke the skin from doing its job. Remember the skin is an active layer of cells that get continuously pushed upwards. The combination of dead skin cells that accumulate on the top of the skin and the gunk make your skin look lifeless. Yep! It’s really important to cleanse!

3. Do we need to exfoliate?

When the skin cells reach the top, they need a bit of help to be sloughed off to allow new skin layer to take over. Sloughing off means exfoliation. Regular exfoliation is very important for all skin types. New skin, post-exfoliation, is the first step to achieve skin ‘glow’ (and the first step in anti-ageing!).

4. How do cleansers work?

Gunk is mostly oil-based and so is sebum. Water alone can’t remove oil-based gunk (Remember Chemistry 101? Oil and water are frenemies – they don’t get along but they fuse with emulsifiers). You need ingredients that attach to these oily particles to detach them from your skin. These ingredients are either another oil or surfactants.

Surfactants are ingredients that have ‘2-heads’. One head loves oil and the other loves water. The oil-loving head attaches to the oily gunk and the water-loving head makes it easier to rinse off.

Another oil can be used to remove the gunk, but without the water-loving head of a surfactant, the oil and the gunk remain on the skin even if you rinse it with water. You would need pads to wipe them off the skin.

5. What is double cleansing?

It’s cleansing twice. The correct way of double cleansing is to first use an oil-based cleanser. This can be an oil cleanser (contains oil and surfactants) or a milk cleanser (contains oil, water and surfactants). Rinse well, then cleanse again with a second cleanser that can be the same milk cleanser or a gel-like cleanser (usually water and surfactants, no oil). Rinse well.

6. Why double cleanse?

The first step is to remove all oil-based gunk, heavy makeup (waterproof makeup), sunscreen lotion (oil based) and sebum. The second step is to cleanse again to remove what the first cleanser didn’t, providing a deep cleansing of the skin.

7. Do we need to double cleanse?

If you wear heavy makeup, waterproof makeup or sunscreen lotion daily, then it is important to double cleanse. Do this only once at night.

However, if you wear very little makeup and no sunscreen, then a one-step daily cleanser should be enough. Double cleansing can strip the skin of its natural protection (which consists of healthy oils and some of the sebum the skin produces).

8. What is the optimal pH of the cleanser?

The human skin has an average pH of 4.7. A good cleanser is formulated with a pH between 4 and 5. The right pH of the cleanser is important as it affects the skin microflora (bacteria, virus, fungi), which is one of the pillars of the skin’s defence mechanism. If you have acne, using a cleanser with the right pH is critical as balancing the bacterial population is one of the targets of treating acne.

The only way for the cleanser to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria is its pH. A pH of 4-5 keeps the resident bacteria (‘good’ for simplification) adhered to the skin. A cleanser with a high pH of 8-9 promotes the dispersal of resident bacteria.

9. Can we use soap to cleanse?

A soap has a pH of 8-12 and is formulated without surfactants, using saponification. We wouldn’t recommend the use of soap on the face, and even less if you have acne.

10. What is micellar water?

It is a water-based cleanser with surfactants (the 2-headed ingredient, one water loving head and the other oil loving head). Just like a normal cleanser, the surfactants in the micellar water attach to the oily gunk and detach them from the skin. Micellar water is marketed as a non-rinse product.

However, if you don’t rinse after cleansing your face with micellar water, you are leaving traces of the surfactant with gunk on the skin. If you are on the road and clean water is difficult to find, wiping your face with micellar water could be handy. But we would recommend rinsing it off at the earliest opportunity you get to cleanse.

Skin Diligent says...

  • Surfactants can remove your skin's protection - the sebum, the natural oil of the skin and the resident bacteria. A good cleanser should remove the dirt and extra sebum without stripping the skin.
  • Choose a cleanser with a pH between 4-5. Skin Diligent Triple Action Cleanser has a pH of 4.4.
  • Surfactants to avoid: Sulfates are harsh and sensitising for the skin.
  • Gentlest surfactants: Sodium cocoyl isethionate, Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate (both used in Skin Diligent Triple Action Cleanser)
  • Remember that double cleansing means you are applying twice the surfactants, so double cleansing every day can strip your skin of its natural protection.
  • Here is our tip if you use waterproof makeup or sunscreen:
  • Use gentle oil (NOT oil cleanser, just oil without surfactant) to remove the waterproof makeup and sunscreen, using pads.

  • Then cleanse with your gentle cleanser that also exfoliates, like Skin Diligent Triple Action Cleanser. Rinse off.

  • This way, you can remove the gunk and achieve deep cleansing without stripping the skin.


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  • Mathieu said:

    very interesting reading. thanks for having simply demystified the subject and reminding me of my (101) chemistry class.
    one quick question. in the last part you mention using gentle oil any suggestions? is neem oil a good one ?

    December 10, 2021

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