Until recently I had always figured that buying a cleanser with strong added ingredients, such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid, was a waste of money. Didn’t all those ingredients just get washed down the drain? Weren’t you wasting your money? It seemed better to buy a lotion, moisturizer, or serum with those potent ingredients than a cleanser.
It turns out I was wrong with all of my assumptions. I did a little research and discovered some interesting facts about cleansers with added ingredients. First I’ll discuss what some of most popular added ingredients do for your skin. Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxyl acid, is a mild exfoliant and helps to loosen and expel comedones, or blackheads, from the skin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties which can help with the redness of inflamed lesions. Additionally, the combination of exfoliation and anti-inflammatory properties helps the skin heal, prevents scarring, and helps to decrease the chance of future breakouts. Salicylic acid, which is oil soluble, is able to penetrate deeply into the pore helping to keep sebaceous follicles clear of cellular buildup and can help minimize the formation of new comedones. On the other hand, benzoyl peroxide destroys the acne causing bacteria in the follicles. Benzoyl peroxide can penetrate into the hair follicle to reach the acne causing bacteria while not causing too much irritation to your skin at the same time. Glycolic acid is a alpha hydroxy acid with very small particles that penetrate deeply into the skin. As such glycolic acid is a great exfoliator; it can also reduce fine lines over time and even help the skin stay hydrated.
According to Dr. Marmur in her book Simple Skin Beauty the acids in a cleanser, such as glycolic or salicylic, will begin to work the minute it touches your skin. And if you use a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide in it that ingredient will actually remain on your skin after you have washed off your cleanser and thus will have the desired effect on your skin. One thing to remember – cleanser that contain these added ingredients use a strong surfactant, or oil and debris emulsifying ingredient, to work so they can dry your skin out.
Dr. Fredric Brandt points out in his book Age-less that cleansers with AHA or BHA help prep the skin to receive their next treatment – whether that is a lotion, serum, or moisturizer. He also points out that your cleanser doesn’t necessarily need to contain a strong added ingredient. For instance you could use a cleanser with green tea in it in order to soothe irritated skin. Dr. Murad in his book The Murad Method seconds a few of the points already brought up here. He explains that if the cleanser you use is properly formulated than the added ingredients will penetrate the top layers of the skin as you cleanse. Cleansers with AHA and BHA, according to Dr. Murad, both exfoliate and enhance hydration during use. But Dr. Murad does point out that if you want to use a cleanser with AHA and BHA in it you should make sure it also has anti-irritant ingredients like allantoin and B vitamin panthenol so that it doesn’t irritate your skin in the process. Like Dr. Brandt, Dr. Murad likes cleansers with added ingredients that soothe the skin – such as licorice extract, chamomile, and vitamin E. If your skin is dry Dr. Murad suggests looking for a cleanser with added hydrators such as sodium PCA and hyaluronic acid.
In an article in Allure magazine called “Power Wash” from 2009 the experts interviewed for the article agree that glycolic acid in cleansers is indeed effective but Vitamin C, retinol, and antioxidants are not. The article does point out that cleanser with spf in them actually do leave sunscreen behind on your skin. I find cleansers with spf in them to be very intriguing (the article highlights two cleansers – one from St. Ives and one from Freeze 24-7) since so many people refuse or forget to use sunscreen on a daily basis. It is very important to point out that while these cleansers really do seem to do what they claim, leave a residue of sunscreen behind on the skin, the amount of protection you get isn’t enough. It is always important to use a moisturizer with sunscreen or just a separate sunscreen as well.
As already noted these cleansers with added ingredients can be harsh on the skin. Though using one might be a great idea for you be sure to watch out for any irritation once you start using one. If you do see any new redness, flaking, or irritation on your skin after starting to use such a cleanser back off and use the cleanser less (or even stop entirely). Though these cleansers might be a great thing for some people, other people may find that getting the benefits of those added ingredients works best for them in the form of a lotion, serum, or moisturizer. All of us are different so you might need to experiment to find what is best for you.