Many of us put more thought into washing our delicate items of clothing than we do into washing our skin. Unlike your favorite delicate shirt, skin does not come with a "gentle cycle" tag -- but using a light touch will help keep it in great shape. Your skin has a very important job: It's the main barrier protecting you from the environment. It protects you from the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that can make you sick. To do this, your skin produces a type of oil called sebum.
The trouble with sebum is that, in addition to moisturizing and protecting your skin, it can also catch some of the dirt and bacteria on your skin. It also holds on to some of your dead skin cells. If you wear makeup, that's mixed in there, too. And particles from cigarette smoke or other pollutants can also build up on your skin's surface.
For healthy skin, you need to be able to remove the dirt, bacteria, pollutants and dead skin cells without sacrificing the natural protective layer of oil that your skin needs [sources: Bouchez, Kunin]. That's where mild cleansing comes in. The idea is to take away the bad particles that are harmful to skin, leaving enough of skin's natural oils for the skin to continue doing its job. If you cleanse your skin too vigorously or use a harsh product on it, you could strip all of the oil off your skin. That will only make skin dry and irritated. And dry, irritated, unhealthy skin will lead to future skin problems.
So, it might be time to rethink your skin care routine -- if your skin did come with an instructional tag, the first thing on it would say, "Wash with a mild cleanser." Read on to learn how to select a soap that's pH balanced for the delicate facial area.
Often, we use the term "soap" to mean any kind of cleanser, even though many of these are not actually soaps at all. True soap is made from fats, oils and salts, and it works by attaching to dirt and some bacteria, allowing water to rinse them away. Soap has a high pH level, generally around 9 or 10, but your skin generally has a slightly more acidic pH, usually about 4.5 to 6.5 [source: Draelos]. Using a product that alters this pH, such as soap, is not good for your skin and can lead to dryness, itching and irritation.
Although true soaps are not good for cleansing skin -- especially facial skin -- many other types of cleansers might be a better option. Liquid cleansers, which contain glycerin, cetyl alcohol or propylene glycol as their main ingredients, are commonly used by people who need a mild cleanser, such as those with problem or sensitive skin [source: Draelos]. Sometimes these liquid cleansers have a more neutral pH that won't affect the pH of your skin. They rinse clean and usually do not cause irritation.
Another option is for you to use a cleanser that has a moisturizing cleanser. These tend to have the words "cream," "lotion" or "milk" in the name and often contain mineral oil or other oils. These products can cleanse the skin of excess oils and impurities without drying it out [source: P&G Beauty & Grooming].
Once you've selected the proper cleanser, it's time to read the second instruction on your skin-care label: "gentle cycle only." To learn techniques for freshening up without the use of force, read on.
Mild Cleansing Methods
A good cleaning regimen should remove dirt, pollutants and dead skin cells without stripping your skin of important oils. Choosing a mild cleanser is a good first step in that process, but you won't get as much benefit from it unless you also use "mild" techniques for cleansing your skin.
The first step before you wash your face is to wash your hands. Your hands are probably much dirtier and carrying more bacteria than your face, and you don't want to transfer that to your delicate facial skin. Once your hands are clean, use a gentle eye makeup remover to get rid of mascara, eyeliner and any other eye makeup you might be wearing.
After this, wet the rest of your face. You don't want to use water that is too cold or too hot; just use water that is lukewarm or slightly warm. Squeeze a small amount of cleanser (either liquid cleanser or cleansing lotion) onto your fingers and gently rub it onto your face using soft, circular motions. Do this for about a minute.
The key thing to remember: Don't scrub your skin to death. You could counteract all the care you took selecting a mild cleanser, and you could further aggravate any skin irritation that may exist, such as acne or eczema. In fact, for problem or oily skin, your technique can be as important as the product you use.
Then, thoroughly rinse your face. Again, use lukewarm water. Make sure you get all of the cleanser off, or it might leave a residue and irritate your skin.
The final instruction on your skin-care tag would tell you to "pat dry with clean towel." Resist the temptation to rub the towel over your skin, which could cause irritation. When your face is dry, apply a gentle moisturizer to provide a surface layer of protection on your skin.
If you care for your skin as well as you do your delicates - using mild cleansers and a light touch - then it just might repay you by looking great for years to come. Read on to the next page to discover even more about washing your face.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bouchez, Colette. "Oily Skin: Solutions That Work -- No Matter What Your Age." WebMD. Oct. 19, 2007. (Accessed 9/1/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/oily-skin-solutions-that-work
- Draelos, Zoe Diana, M.D. "Skin and Hair Cleansers." eMedicine. May 14, 2009. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1067572-overview
- Kunin, Audrey, M.D. "Oily Skin: The Good, the Bad & the Oily." DermaDoctor. (Accessed 9/1/09)http://www.dermadoctor.com/article_Oily-Skin_99.html
- Mayo Clinic. "Hand Washing: An Easy Way to Prevent Infection." (Accessed 8/23/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hand-washing/HQ00407
- Mayo Clinic. "Acne: Prevention." April 30, 2008. Accessed 8/21/09 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acne/DS00169/DSECTION=prevention
- Oakley, Amanda. "Soaps and Cleansers." New Zealand Dermatological Society. June 15, 2009. (Accessed 8/23/09) http://dermnetnz.org/treatments/cleansers.html
- P&G Beauty & Grooming. "Skin Cleansing." (Accessed 9/1/09)http://www.pgbeautyscience.com/index.php?id=664
- Skin Care Guide. "The Disadvantages of Soap." (Accessed 9/1/09)http://www.mildcleanser.ca/basics/disadvantages_soap.html
- Skin Care Guide. "Liquid Soap." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.mildcleanser.ca/types/liquid_cleansers.html
- Skin Care Guide. "The Right Way to Clean Your Skin -- Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin." (Accessed 9/1/09)http://www.mildcleanser.ca/articles/mild_cleanser_1.html
- Skin Care Guide. "Mild Cleanser Basics: Why Cleanse?" (Accessed 9/1/09)http://www.mildcleanser.ca/basics/why_cleanse.html