What makes a cleanser mild?

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You may have quit scrubbing your face with abrasive soaps and opted for specialty cleansers years ago -- but maybe you've fallen prey to the promises of clean skin only to find your face stinging after applying an astringent or toner. Or maybe you've been using perfumed beauty bar soaps that smell wonderful but leave your skin red and dry. If you think your skin needs to tingle or smell to be clean, it's time to rethink your skin cleansing routine.

Your skin is a delicate organ that relies on oil secretions to stay soft and flexible, but the more you wash your skin, the more you strip away the natural oils your body needs. Even if you have oily or acne-prone skin, cleansing twice a day is really all you need [source: WebMD]. Water alone removes about 65 percent of the dirt and oil that builds up on your skin during the day -- but you don't need harsh soaps and toners to remove the other 35 percent [source: SkinCareGuide]. In fact, just using a mild skin cleanser may be all you need to give your skin a younger, healthier glow.


If you're ready to find out how switching to a mild cleanser can do your skin wonders, read on to learn about the chemistry behind them.

Chemistry of Mild Skin Cleansers

Mild skin cleansers are termed mild because they're less likely to cause breakouts, rashes or other skin problems. Traditional soaps can be very drying to your skin. The nature of soap is to bond to dirt and oil to remove it -- but soap isn't able to differentiate between good and bad oil [source: Draelos]. This is why it's important to use a mild cleanser made for your skin type.

Here are some typical ingredients you may find in skin cleansers -- including a few to avoid:


  • Surfactants are wetting agents that lower the surface tension of water to make it easier to remove dirt and oil from the skin [source: SkinCareGuide]. Look for skin cleansers that contain silicone surfactant or sodium lauryl isethionate, surfactants that are less drying than the sodium lauryl sulfate found in many soaps [source: Draelos].
  • Moisturizers help you replenish the body's natural oils that are removed during cleaning [source: Mayo Clinic].
  • Fragrances give soaps and skin cleansers a pleasing scent, but fragrances can irritate sensitive skin. Look for mild cleansers labeled "unscented" or "fragrance-free."
  • Dyes and pigments may make a cleanser appealing, but they can also cause skin irritation. Using a transparent body bar made with glycerin will clean and moisturize the skin -- without causing irritation [source: Mayo Clinic].

Now that you know what to look for in a mild skin cleanser, read on to learn more about these cleansers' benefits.


Benefits of Mild Skin Cleansers

Washing your skin until it's red, dry or irritated won't get it any cleaner or prevent breakouts. In fact, you could be causing more damage to your skin and encouraging the onset of fine lines and wrinkles. But washing your face twice a day with a mild skin cleanser could be just what your skin needs.

Using cleansers with a lot of added ingredients -- fragrances, dyes and harsh detergents -- can cause contact dermatitis, a painful rash caused by allergens. Soaps, cleansers and cosmetics are some of the main causes for contact dermatitis, but mild skin cleansers decrease the likelihood of allergic reaction because they contain less irritating ingredients [source: Mayo Clinic].


It's common knowledge that acne doesn't affect only teens. Harsh, drying soaps can aggravate sensitive and acne-prone skin, increasing the likelihood of breakouts -- even in adults. But using mild skin cleansers will soothe inflamed skin and help prevent acne [source: Libov].

Oily skin can benefit from mild skin cleansers as well. The more oil -- or sebum -- you strip away with harsh cleansers, the more oil your glands will produce to counteract this drying effect. If your skin already overproduces oil, don't give it a reason to go into overdrive. Mild skin cleansers will keep your skin from drying out too much and keep oil glands from overproducing sebum [source: Web MD].

For more information on mild skin cleansers and how they can benefit your skin, view the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Draelos, Zoe Diana. "Skin and Hair Cleansers." eMedicine. (Accessed 8/29/09)http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1067572-overview
  • Libov, Charlotte. "Adult Acne: Why You Get It, How to Fight It." WebMD. (Accessed 8/29/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/adult-acne-why-you-get-it-how-fight-it
  • Mayo Clinic. "Contact Dermatitis." (Accessed 8/29/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/contact-dermatitis/DS00985/DSECTION=causes
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dry Skin." (Accessed 8/29/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dry-skin/DS00560/DSECTION=lifestyle%2Dand%2Dhome%2Dremedies
  • SkinCareGuide. "The Right Way to Clean Your Skin -- Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin." (Accessed 8/29/09)http://www.skincareguide.ca/articles/mild_cleansers/mild_cleanser_1.html
  • SkinCareGuide. "Cleanser Ingredients." (Accessed 8/29/09)http://www.mildcleanser.ca/basics/cleanser_ingredients.html
  • WebMD. "Acne: Topic Overview." (Accessed 9/24/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/acne-vulgaris-topic-overview
  • Web MD. "Oily Skin: Solutions that Work." October 19, 2007. (Accessed 8/27/09).http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/oily-skin-solutions-that-work?page=1