Understanding skin care ingredients will help you to make better choices when buying skin care products. For example, knowing and understanding moisturizer ingredients and their action will help you to choose the right moisturizer for your skin type. It will also help you to evaluate the potency and effectiveness of a product you are planning to buy. For instance, if you have oily/mixed skin, you should avoid heavy occlusive ingredients which will clog your pores and keep to humectants that are lighter and work by attracting moisture to your skin. Quite the opposite, if you have dry skin you need products with strong occlusive properties. Let’s look closer at some basic skin care ingredients in cleansers and moisturizers.
Cleansing of the skin is quite a complex process of removing environmental dirt and body secretions off the skin surface. An ideal cleanser should remove dirt effectively without causing irritation or damage to skin’s protective barrier (the stratum corneum barrier). Did you know that washing of the skin is one of the most common causes of a dermatologic disease? However, skin cleansing is necessary in terms of personal hygiene and health
Cleansers are based on the action of surfactants that, simply put, help to “dissolve” dirt / sebum and remove them from the skin’s surface.
Common Cleanser Ingredients: Common ingredients in cleansers include the following:
Less common ingredients:
Examples of exfoliating agents are Glycolic Acid & Lactic Acid. These acids work by dissolving the cement that holds dead skin cells together and this way stimulate cell turnover.
Some cleansers (usually, the ones for acne prone skin) may contain antibacterial ingredients to prevent break-outs. Examples of antibacterial ingredients include benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, triclosan, triclocarban. Antibacterial cleansers should be used only if necessary as they have a potential of irritating or drying out the skin.
Types of Cleansers:
Some experts divide cleansers into 3 types:
1. true soaps
True soaps are composed of long chain fatty acid alkali salts with a pH of 9-10 and can be very harsh and irritating for the skin. The term soap is very confusing as it is often used in relation to an end cleansing product as well as a detergent/ingredient of a cleanser. However, one thing is clear, it is recommended to avoid soaps, as their pH is too high and they can be damaging to the skin.
Combars (solid bar-type cleansers) are a combination of alkaline soaps and surface active agents (surfactants). They can have various levels of pH that, usually, are still high and therefore most combars are harsh for the skin.
Syndet cleansers are composed of synthetic surfactants and fillers. Syndets contain less than 10% soap. Due to this they usually have a pH of 5.5-7. They usually contain sodium lauryl isethionate and use lactic or citric acids to adjust pH level.
Cleansers can also be divided into:
1. Solid bar-type cleansers
2. Liquid Cleansers
Surfactants (also referred to as detergents, soaps):
Cleansers’ action is based on surfactants. They help to “dissolve” and remove dirt from the skin’s surface. Surfactants are composed of two components: the water loving component (hydropilic) and and the oil loving component (lipophilic). The lipophilic component adheres to sebum and dirt, the hydrophilic one is attracted to water and allows to rinse off the debris.
Surfactants can vary in their strength and harshness. Even if you have oily skin type, avoid harsh surfactants as they will misbalance your skin’s pH level and can damage skin's protective barrier.
Common surfactants in bar-type cleansers are sodium cocoate, sodium tallowate, sodium palm kernelate, sodium stearate, sodium palmitate, triethanolamine stearate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium isethionate, sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate, and sodium cocoglyceryl ether sulfonate.
Surfactants in liquid formulations are sodium laureth sulfate, cocoamido propyl betaine, lauric acid diethenolamine (lauramide DEA), sodium cocoyl isethionate, and disodium laureth sulfosuccinate.
Types of Surfactants: We won’t go into too much pf chemical details and will just state that surfactants are divided into:
Irritating Surfactants Recommended to Avoid
The following surfactants are irritating to skin and are recommended to avoid:
Mild surfactants used in skin care products belong to amphoteric (zwitteronic) or nonionic group.
Examples of mild surfactants and surfactants with low rating of irritation used in cleansing products include:
Note, mildness of surfactants very often depends on other ingredients in the formulation. For example, formulators can incorporate nonionic, amphoteric and cationic surfactants into a single product and thus reduce surfactants’ mildness. On the other hand, proteins, gums, and polymeric ingredients may help reduce irritation potential. Sources: Anatomy of a Skin Cleanser by Howard A. Epstein, MS Skin and Hair Cleansers by Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, Wake Forest University
Coming soon: Moisturizer Ingredients
Skin Care Basics
Do you know the basics of skin care? Brush up on fundamentals!
To make the best of your daily skin care adjust it to your skin type.