Disclaimer: Everybody has a face routine, but sometimes your routine can cause more acne. That was certainly the case for me in the past. I've made some extremely questionable skincare choices, either by following other people's advice or falling victim to constant marketing. I was guilty of not being knowledgable enough to make correct choices for myself and my skin, which made my skin journey extremely difficult.
My painful trial and error experiences, followed by years of research, inspired me to start a new rubric - ROUTINE CHECK. The articles will cover different categories of products that we usually include in our morning/evening routines, and discuss what we—acne-prone consumers—should pay attention to when purchasing those products. This is going to be a very informative rubric because my goal here is not to sell products. We owe it to ourselves to start making EDUCATED CHOICES when we pick products for our routines, and I hope these articles will provide you with valuable tools to make those choices. I will always provide suggestions at the end, so if you get overwhelmed with the research, please, feel free to skip to the bottom :)
STRESSED, DEPRESSED, BUT ALWAYS WELL-CLEANSED
Cleansing is arguably the most important step in skincare for all skin types, but it is especially crucial for people with acne-prone skin. Our pores are more susceptible to clogging since our skin produces more oil than normal, and renews itself at a higher rate than other skin types. Couple this with microorganisms and acne-causing bacteria that we are constantly surrounded by and - BAM! you got a face full of raging breakouts. The only way to avoid this is to regularly remove all this gunk of off our faces.
Oil and dirt we accumulate throughout the day are not water-soluble -- and so enter facial cleansers. Cleansers contain surfactants - chemicals that help to break apart all that gunk, enabling water to remove it. Sounds lovely, eh? Of course, there's a catch.
SURFACTANT, I HARDLY KNOW HER
Surfactants are no joke. They are the main reason why you get that squeaky-clean feeling after you wash your face, and let me tell you - that feeling is not a sign of a good cleanser. The feeling of after-wash tightness is caused by the high pH levels of the cleanser and by its harsh surfactants. Numerous studies suggest that using cleansers with harsh ingredients may cause repeated and subclinical damage to the moisture barrier of your skin, which basically compromises your skin's natural ability to protect itself from the external environment (i.e. bacteria and microorganisms) as well as its ability to retain moisture.
Surfactants are divided in four major categories depending on their ionic charge or a lack of thereof:
- Amphoterics (charge changes based on pH levels)
+ The "chameleon" of the bunch: at high pH act as anionics, and at low pH as cationics
+ Have very good cleansing power
+ Lather well
+ Have antimicrobial properties
+ Best option for most skin types
- Nonionics (no charge)
+ Lowest toxicity and irritancy potential
+ The weakest cleansing power
+ The most expensive type of surfactant
+ Usually used as thickeners or in combination with anionic surfactants
+ Some studies suggest that nonionics surfactants do a better job of solubilizing fats than anionics
- Anionics (negative charge)
+ Most commonly used in cleansers due to low cost of production
+ Effective in turning oil + dirt to liquid
+ Lather well
+ Penetrate skin deeply, but deep penetration increases risk of moisture barrier damage
+ Powerful irritants
- Cationics (positive charge)
+ Have lower liquifying properties than anionics
+ Do not lather as much
+ Have antimicrobial properties
+ Often used as preservatives rather than surfactants, and you can often spot them in shampoo conditioners and disinfectors
I know, that's quite a ton of information to consider! In a nutshell, the best cleansers for acne-prone skin would contain a mix of different surfactant types with predominantly amphoteric and nonionic surfactants..
pH IS EVERYTHING BUT JUST A NUMBER
You might remember from your chemistry classes that pH (potential of hydrogen) is a scale used to specify the acidity or basicity of a liquid substance. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, and 7 is considered to be a neutral pH number (equally acidic and basic).
Our bodies are comprised of mostly water, so our skin actually has its own slightly acidic pH range - from 4.0 pH to 6.5 pH. As a rule of thumb, anything falling close to our skin's natural pH range is considered safe to use.
Research has shown that different liquid substances with high pH (let's say, pH 10), even in the absence of surfactants, can negatively affect the rigidity of lipids (natural substances that make your skin healthy). The best non-irritating cleansers will contain mildness enhancers and moisturizing agents in order to bring down the pH levels to neutral or acidic range (up to 5.5pH).
SOOO... HOW DO YOU FIND ALL THIS INFORMATION FROM YOUR INGREDIENT LIST?!
Unfortunately, companies are not required to specify the pH of your cleanser or the surfactants used in the formula, so the task of finding that information falls to the consumers.
Before purchasing any product that will react with my skin, be it skincare or makeup, I always analyze the ingredient list first. Recently I stumbled upon a website called COSDNA that has a library of different ingredients and can analyze the formula for you. Simply click on this link, insert the ingredient list, click "ANALYZE" and you will be able to see what each ingredient does, as well as its clogging or irritancy rating (if it has one).
You will see every single surfactant in the formula, and from there you can simply Google their ionic charge and their pH to give yourself an idea.
I know, this is a lot of work - so to make it a little easier, here are a couple of my tried and true cleansers whose formulation is not only effective, but is safe for my acne-prone skin.
DEADLY VISION APPROVED: BEST CLEANSERS FOR ACNE-PRONE SKIN