In ancient times, elite Egyptians used castor, moringa, and sesame oils to preserve the youth of their skin. Facial masks comprised of milk and honey were used to moisturise, rejuvenate, and soften. They combined clay and olive oil into a paste to cleanse their faces, and used sea salt to purify and exfoliate. The ocean has forever been aligned to cleansing, healing, and rebirth. Did you know that the chemical composition of sea water is almost identical to our blood plasma? Aside from therapeutic salt (circa 3.5% salinity), the ocean is rich in beneficial minerals – including calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and zinc – that can assist with detoxification, exfoliation, and cellular regeneration. Time spent in the ocean also accelerates peripheral circulation, which can maximise the absorption your most treasured serums and moisturisers. Inspired by a sun-smart, beach-side Summer, this Editorial Feature unveils a deep dive into the fundamentals of cleansing. Understand the science, take note of the expert dermatological insights, and discover the recommended ‘tried and tested’ products, to amplify the most crucial, and first step of your daily skincare routine.


Esteemed skincare professionals – including dermatologists, beauty therapists (aka estheticians), and cosmetic physicians – advocate the use of a facial cleanser, as the first and most fundamental step, to create and maintain a healthy, radiant-looking complexion. Fuelled by the expertise of key opinion leaders, the conversation about facial cleansing has embraced the protection and restoration of the natural skin barrier. “The skin barrier (stratum corneum) is the outermost layer of the epidermis – the skin’s protective barrier. Think of it as a ‘brick wall’ comprised of protein-enriched cells, held together by ‘mortar’ – a mix of vital ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. This crucial barrier shields skin from harmful allergens, bacteria and irritants, whilst simultaneously locking in essential moisture (oil), and hydration (water)”, explains dermatologist Dr Michelle Rodrigues, Director of Chroma Dermatology, Pigment and Skin of Colour Centre.

pH (potential of hydrogen) is a numeric scale (0-14) that indicates how acidic or alkaline a substance is. Distilled (pure) water showcases a neutral pH of 7 – anything below 7 is acidic, and anything above 7 is alkaline. The surface of our skin (often referred to as the ‘acid mantle’), is slightly acidic and showcases a low pH that sits at around 5. Our skin’s natural acidity combats harmful bacteria and damaging free radicals. Traditional soap bars are highly alkaline. Dermatologist-recommended cleansers are soap-free, and mimic the skin’s natural pH, sitting at a pH of 5-6. Anything lower or higher can lead to a compromised skin barrier – the consequences include atopic dermatitis, dry skin, breakouts, inflammation, and sensitivity.

According to Dr Rodrigues, ‘squeaky clean’ skin is not the goal – the ideal cleanser should lift and sweep away impurities, without stripping the skin to avoid impairing the skin barrier. A healthy skin barrier = healthier, more resilient skin. Despite the influx of education (particularly across the social media highway), the navigation aligned to purchasing an efficacious cleanser can remain overwhelming. Assisting consumers should ideally begin with identifying their skin type and key concerns, and recommending a gentle but effective, skin barrier-loving formula. The texture of the cleanser – foam, gel, cream, oil, or balm – is preference-based, but should also be considered with due care.


Many facial cleansers are powered by chemical surfactants – ‘surface active agents’ (designed to interface oil with water) that attract and suspend oil, impurities, and makeup from the outermost layer of the skin, and allow them to be rinsed away. “Surfactants vary in strength – products formulated with skin-sensitising Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) should be avoided, whereas products powered by (the similar sounding but milder surfactant) – Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) – tend to be more considerate of the natural skin barrier”, says Dr Rodrigues. The most reputable skincare brands are embracing a considered approach to create barrier-respecting formulations. Research should never be disregarded, but rest assured, many of today’s new-age cleansers are mindfully combined with a beneficial combination of gentle chemical surfactants, and/ or natural surfactants, including those that are Amino Acid based. Furthermore, they are infused with skin-loving ingredients such as essential Ceramides, moisturising Glycerin, hydrating Hyaluronic Acid, collagen-boosting Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), soothing Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5), and antioxidant-rich Tocopherol (Vitamin E), to strengthen and protect the natural skin barrier.


Foam and gel cleansers are ideal for normal, and combination to oily skin types – including those prone to breakouts. Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser is a pH-balanced foaming cleanser formulated with (olive-derived) Squalene, and Vitamin E to strengthen the skin barrier, a blend of Avocado and Apricot Kernel Oils to moisturise, and Vitamin C to brighten. This brand icon is fragrance-free, suited to all skin types, and effortlessly removes grime and makeup. Like all CeraVe products, the brand’s Foaming Oil-Free Cleanser has been developed with dermatologists, is fragrance-free, non[1]comedogenic, and includes three skin-identical Ceramides, to fortify the skin’s natural barrier. Supplemented with Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide, the refreshing gel texture provides a thorough, non-stripping cleanse. It Cosmetics Confidence In A Cleanser presents a unique, hybrid gel-serum formula loaded with a powerhouse Ceramide Complex, Colloidal Oatmeal, Hyaluronic Acid, and Niacinamide. The sulphate-free cleanser effortlessly removes grime and long-wear makeup, but leaves skin feeling hydrated and soft. SkinCeuticals Simply Clean Exfoliating Gel Cleanser offers a ‘backed-by-science’ formula powered by an Amino Acid surfactant system, and exfoliating Sulphonic Acid to remove dirt, excess oil, dead skin cells, and waterproof makeup. Ideal for normal, and particularly combination or oily skin types, this refining cleanser is formulated with Glycerin, and soothing Aloe Vera and Chamomile Extracts. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Gel Cleanser is specifically designed to address the concerns of sensitive, oily, acne-prone skin. The gentle but effective formula showcases a considered pH of 5.5, and is infused with the brand’s soothing (antioxidant-rich) Thermal Spring Water, and Zinc PCA – an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial trace element to reduce sebum production and the occurrence of breakouts.


Hydrating cream or milk cleansers are suited to all skin types, but are especially beneficial for dry to very dry skin, and skin prone to sensitivity. “It’s a common misconception that oily skin susceptible to acne is not suited to cream cleansers – like skin prone to sensitivity, oily skin can become aggravated by potent foam and gel cleansers”, says Dr Rodrigues. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Gentle Cream Dermo-Cleanser showcases a minimalist, ‘made for sensitive’ formula enriched with Glycerin, and the brand’s soothing Thermal Spring Water. The nourishing, milky texture effectively removes dirt and makeup, hydrates, reduces the risk of irritation, and can removed with a cotton pad, or rinsed off with water. One of MECCA’s best-sellers, Tatcha The Rice Wash is inspired by the ancient Japanese ritual of using left-over rice water to cleanse, brighten, and soften skin. The comforting cream cleanser is formulated with an Amino Acid surfactant base to gently remove impurities, Hyaluronic Acid, and the brand’s proprietary Hadasei-3 Complex – a twice-fermented blend of Akita Rice, Kyoto Green Tea, and Okinawa Algae, to replenish and protect the skin barrier. CeraVe Hydrating Cream Cleanser integrates skin-identical Ceramides, Hyaluronic Acid, and Glycerin to strengthen and protect the skin barrier. Recommended by skincare specialists across the globe, this affordable, non-irritating formula gently removes impurities and makeup, and provides all-day hydration via the brand’s Moisturising Multivesicular Technology.


Oil and balm cleansers are having a moment. “Oils attract other oils. Oil and balm cleansers tend to be formulated with a combination of skin-loving oils, to effectively attract and lift impurities, sunscreen, and long-wear makeup from the surface of the skin. They can balance and hydrate, but some can leave an oily residue on the skin, which may warrant a second round of cleansing”, explains Dr Rodrigues. Spotlighted by Korean ‘double cleansing’ skincare rituals, oil and balm cleansers are often deployed as the first step to dissolve and lift makeup and sunscreen, followed by a prescribed rinseable cleanser, to remove any residual oil and grime. The ritual is practiced AM and PM, although many consumers prefer to double cleanse in the evening only. Dr Rodrigues warns that ‘double cleansing’ can lead to over cleansing, which can disrupt the natural skin barrier. Seek out dermatologist-tested products, proceed with caution, and monitor the condition of your skin to avoid dryness, inflammation, and breakouts. Emma Lewisham Illuminating Cleansing Oil is curated with specialised Botanical Cleansing and Protective Conditioning Complexes – the synergetic mix of nutrient-rich phyto-actives includes conditioning Camelia Seed Oil, and Vitamin E-rich Organic Chia, Rosehip and Macadamia Extracts. The 100% natural, and mindfully refillable cleanser offers a luxurious formulation that effectively removes makeup and impurities, while leaving the skin feeling fresh, dewy and hydrated. Gently massaged onto dry skin to dissolve excess oil, pollutants, and makeup, the unique formula lathers into a milky fluid with the addition of water to rinse away residual grime. Avène XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil is formulated with 86% natural origin ingredients, and is ideal for very dry skin prone to atopic dermatitis and eczema. The fragrance-free formula contains Avène’s soothing prebiotic Thermal Spring Water, Glycerin, Arginine, Evening Primrose and Jojoba Seed Oils, and Vitamin E. This versatile cleansing oil can be lathered onto wet hands to remove grime and makeup from the face, and added to bath water to cleanse, soothe, and reduce irritation. Highly rated by ‘in-the-know’ Beauty Editors and customers alike, Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm is formulated with Safflower Seed Oil (renowned for its cleansing properties), and Vitamin E to neutralise harmful, ageing free radicals. The fragrance-free, solid balm transforms into a silky oil upon application, to effortlessly dissolve tenacious makeup, sunscreen and impurities, and rinses off thoroughly to impart a soft and hydrated complexion. Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm is infused with nine beneficial oils – including Elderberry, Roman Chamomile, Starflower, and Sweet Almond. Star anti-ageing ingredients include Vitamin E, Glycerin, and Padina Pavonica – a Mediterranean[1]sourced algae (rich in fatty acids), that promotes skin elasticity. Available at MECCA, the spa-inspired, aromatic balm transforms into an oil to dissolve impurities, and into a hydrating milk upon contact with water. Glow Recipe’s cult-status, Korean-inspired skincare pairs antioxidant-rich fruit extracts with gentle, clinically proven actives. The brand’s Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm is formulated with exfoliating Papaya Enzymes, antioxidant-rich Blueberry Extract and Apricot Kernel Oil, and hydrating Camelia Seed Oil. Also available at MECCA, this radiance-boosting balm showcases a smooth sorbet texture, which transforms into a milky oil to thoroughly cleanse and soften skin.


Facial cleansing is fundamental – ideally AM and PM. Dermatologist-approved, pH-balanced, fragrance-free, non[1]comedogenic cleansers that are formulated with a combination of gentle surfactants, and skin barrier-loving ingredients reign supreme. Facial skin is delicate – abrasive, physical (granular) scrubs are not recommended. Dr Rodrigues advises using lukewarm (never hot) to emulsify and remove rinseable cleansers – be tender, and dedicate a solid minute to massage the product onto the face and neck with circular motions. Rinse thoroughly, and gently pat dry with a delicate, absorbent cloth. Toners? Not so mandatory (the choice is yours), but if you’re using a rinse-free cream cleanser, consider applying an alcohol-free, barrier-respectful toner suited to your specific skin type to remove residue. Double cleansing? The ritual can be virtuous, but proceed with caution – monitor the health of your skin to avoid over-cleansing. If you’re addicted, consider complementing your initial oil or balm cleanser with a dermatologist-tested Micellar Water. My top French pharmacy brand picks – Avène, Bioderma, or La Roche-Posay. Home hygiene? Our pillowcases accumulate saliva, sweat, grime, and an alarming number of bacteria – replace yours on a regular basis. Post-cleansing? Apply a professionally prescribed powerhouse serum, followed by a minimalist, barrier-replenishing moisturiser. In the AM, be sure to apply a broad spectrum SPF50+ sunscreen, as the last step in your (year-round) routine prior to makeup. It’s estimated that 90% of ageing results from harmful (cancer-causing) UV exposure. Deep dive cleansing fundamentals to maintain a healthy, radiant-looking complexion unveiled. Take the plunge.

This article was first published in the Autumn issue of Retail Beauty :

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