Cleansers Part 1: How They Are Made

We all know how important it is to wash our faces on a daily basis. Whether you wear makeup or not, dirt and oil still build-up on your face throughout the day. Being sure to wash this away before letting your head hit the pillow at night can save your skin from many problematic issues.

Cleansers: types and compositions:

Cleansers can be divided into two main categories. There are bar cleansers (or solid cleansers) and liquid cleansers. This can be broken down even further into subcategories of cleansers. In order to bind these cleansers into their form, specific ingredients need to be used. These binding ingredients are emollients and surfactants.

Emollients are thickeners for the cleansers and they also act as temporary moisturizers. Surfactants actually cleanse the skin. They do this by reducing tensions between compounds that are more oil-soluble and those that are more water-soluble. How successful a surfactant is at reducing this tension, is directly linked with its critical micelle concentration. Otherwise known as CMC, this is the minimum concentration a surfactant needed to form a micelle. Micelles are able to dissolve and move substances through an aqueous (of or containing water) area. Therefore, the lower the CMC of a surfactant is, the higher its potency.

Most “true” soaps are bar cleansers, but this does not mean that all bar cleansers are true soaps.

Bar cleansers: Most “true” soaps are bar cleansers, but this does not mean that all bar cleansers are true soaps. This can lead to problems in the skin if you use the wrong one. The distinguishing feature of true soaps is that they contain one or more forms of the ingredient alkyl carboxylate. This is from a family of surfactants. This particular ingredient is made by a process called saponification. This is where types of triglycerides (these are derived from vegetable oil and animal fats) are reacted with an alkali (typically sodium or potassium hydroxide) to form soap molecules.

Altered true soaps: True soaps, as described above, unfortunately have a disadvantage. They are extremely drying and irritating to your skin. In attempts to reverse these effects there have been many versions of true soap made.

  • Superfatted soaps: If more triglyceride is added during the saponification process and less alkali content, the relative triglyceride content will increase. This increases hydration by reducing water loss.
  • Transparent soaps: Soaps are usually a cream or off-white color when no colorants are added. Soaps may also be made transparent or see-through by adding a high level of glycerin which is both a humectant and an emollient. These soaps tend to be more mild than superfatted soaps and have a softer and smoother texture.
  • Combination soaps: These soaps contain a combination of the alkali-derived surfactants of true soaps, with the milder synthetic surfactants that are seen in liquid cleansers. They tend to have an extremely high pH which can be bad for the skin.

Unlike bar cleansers, they are not limited to components that remain solid at room temperature

Liquid cleansers: Liquid cleansers contain a lot more water and are generally more varied in which surfactants, emollients and humectants they can incorporate. Unlike bar cleansers, they are not limited to components that remain solid at room temperature and they do not absorb water when used like a bar of soap would. Formulating a gentle yet effective bar cleanser is much more difficult than a liquid cleanser. It is much easier to formulate a liquid cleanser with a pH similar to that of healthy skin.

  • Oil cleansers: Oil cleansers are still considered to be liquid cleansers. There are just much higher amounts of emollients in oil cleansers. This is good for removing longer-wearing makeup formulas because they increase the solubility of any oil or makeup on the skin. If you research how to get your makeup off effectively, you will most likely find that you should use an oil based cleanser first.
  • Micellar/water cleansers: Water cleansers have become extremely popular in the past few years. They utilize the same two types of compounds to do their binding: emollients and surfactants. The only difference that separates water cleansers from more traditional liquid cleansers is the choice of surfactants and emollients, as well as how much of each is used. In order for these cleansers to be like water, they use low amounts of water-soluble and lightweight emollients like glycerin to be more gentle.

Natural Cleansers: While many dermatologists will say that one of the above options is better, you may still be wondering about the natural options that the market has to offer. Some natural options are coconut oil, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. These options work based off the fact that like dissolves like. When you apply oil onto your face it will help to loosen and soften the layer of oil on the skin, while the physical force of friction (when rubbing the oil onto the skin) will help to emulsify that layer.

If you enjoyed reading about what makes up the facial cleansers you are using, be sure to follow along to part 2, which will cover long and short term effects of cleansers and how to choose the best cleanser for your skin type.


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