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Face Washing

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Facial Skin Care Washing

Some things in life seem so simple—on the surface: Brushing your teeth, brushing your hair, washing your face…trouble is, there always seems to be someone, somewhere trying to tell us a different way to do it.

It used to be that brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and flossing regularly were all you needed for a bright, healthy smile. Now the powers that be tell you that your teeth need to be even whiter—multiple shades whiter. So, in addition to brushing and flossing, you’re supposed to put some strange gel on your teeth—or apply sticky paper to your teeth to make them whiter. Go figure.

When it comes to brushing your hair, you can’t simply brush it anymore. In fact, in some cases, brushing, they say, might break or otherwise damage your hair. Ah, it’s all so complicated.

So, to throw yet another monkey wrench into the mix, we’re going to tell you that, contrary to what you may believe, you are probably washing your face the wrong way, too.

How Dry I Am

Does your face feel tight and dry after you wash it? We mean right after you wash it—not after applying any number of available moisturizers. Once you lather up, rinse and pat dry, if your face feels like you’ve just tied that ponytail too tight, chances are you’re doing something wrong.

Contrary to what many of the high-priced beauty companies say, an expensive product does not guarantee that your face will feel smooth and supple after washing. In fact, you’d probably be surprised to know that sometimes less can be more.

Skin Science

The basic reason why skin and soap sometimes clash at the sink can be found in some simple chemistry. We all have some degree of oil on our skin. When you wash your face, many times you are stripping it of its pH balance. Skin can best be classified as an acid. Soap, on the other hand, is a base (remember those chemistry class experiments with the pH paper?) By combining the acidity of the skin with the alkaline properties of the soap, you are creating a reaction that can dry the skin.

How do you fix this imbalance? Non-soap products tend to work best, dermatologists say. Gentle cleansers tend to be closer to the natural pH of the skin (which by the way is between 4.5 and 5.5). If you’ve been saving time in the shower by washing your face with your regular body soap, you’re making a mistake. Sure, you’ll save a few minutes, but you’ll likely end up spending all of that saved time trying to find a moisturizer to fix the dryness.

Most standard body soaps are way too drying for the average face. In fact, some of these bars even may be too dry for the rest of your body. So if you’re a big fan of those deodorant bars, it might be time to change your allegiance.

And stay away from fragrance. Those pretty-smelling soaps and products may seem like attractive cleansing options, but beware: added fragrance can mean added annoyance when you wash your face. Another word to the wise: Just because a product indicates that it is unscented does not mean it is free from fragrance. Be sure your product of choice says “fragrance-free” on the label.

Dermatologists say that the more gentle the cleanser, the better. Some good, old-fashioned beauty bars are an inexpensive bet to keep your skin clean while banishing the tightness. Tone and Dove (be sure you buy the fragrance-free versions) are good options; however, some people with exceptionally sensitive skin still may find their skin is dry after washing with these old stand-bys. Keep in mind, though, that most of these bars are not designed to remove makeup; you’ll need to use a makeup remover before you cleanse.

If you wear waterproof makeup, your standard, run-of-the-mill beauty bar won’t cut through the war paint. Keep it simple if you have dry skin or skin that’s affected by washing. Stay way from the waterproof makeup.

Lather, Lather Everywhere

Nothing like a good, strong lather to clean your face, right? Not necessarily. In many cases, lather is just window dressing, designed to make you think you’re getting your skin clean. Truth is, some of the best cleansers produce little if any lather. One of the best, recommended by dermatologists everywhere, is good old Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. This basic formula will get your skin clean, but it’s so gentle that it can even be used on a newborn’s skin. You can use it dry or with water—but it won’t remove makeup. Following up with a good, basic moisturizer, such as Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion or Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream (a little heavier than the lotion, but still light enough for the face) will leave your skin in great shape. If you just can’t steal yourself away from a bar-type soap, try Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar Soap—same great, gentle ingredients in a bar form.

If your skin suffers from eczema or allergies to every day life, Vanicream products are made just for you. These products, including Vanicream Cleansing Bar are free of the most common allergens that create havoc with the skin. Atopic dermatitis patients (that´s a hereditary form of eczema), may want to top off with Triceram to help normalize the protective ceramide barrier typically lacking with this condition.

If your skin needs a little more help in the cleansing department, Aveeno Balancing Bar For Combination Skin is another great option. The natural oatmeal is soothing and super gentle to the skin. If adding a bit more oil back to the skin is your preference, then try Oilatum Cleansing Bar, Unscented.

Interestingly, none of these products product a superb lather when you wash—but you’ll know your face is clean, and it won’t feel stripped of its natural oils.

Toning Up

Speaking of your skin’s natural oils…there is a barrage of information out there from cosmetics and beauty companies touting the effectiveness of toners (usually the second step, after basic cleansing, in a regimen). That “ahhhhh” feeling you get after using the toner probably makes you feel as if the toner is getting rid of every last drop of oil on your skin. Chances are, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Remember: Some oil is good. Too much oil is bad. And no oil at all is REALLY bad.

The truth is, leading dermatologists say that toner is a waste of time. One prominent dermatologist-to-the-rich-and-famous told me, point blank, that toners are just a rinse agent for soaps that don’t rinse completely off the skin. Couple that with the fact that most toners are primarily made of alcohol, and you can see why you’d just be stripping your skin of it’s needed moisture each time you apply that toner to your face.

But what about those breakouts, you say? You NEED your toner to keep your skin clear, right? Wrong. What you really need is a good, gentle cleanser with alphahydroxy acids. A good one to try: M.D. Forte Facial Cleanser I. This formulation is great for those with sensitive skin, yet still offers excellent cleansing and exfoliation properties.

The other extreme is when your acne medications have left your skin parched and painful. Too much flaking from your Vitamin A treatment des jour? M.D. Forte Replenish Hydrating Cleanser and M.D. Forte Replenish Hydrating Cream were specifically made to counteract this situation. Spare your skin the nightly Vitamin A assault and try every other night use instead. These changes can make or break your decision to stick with a proven acne treatment.

If the idea of using a makeup remover AND a gentle cleanser is just more than you can handle, there are a variety of great products available that can do both jobs in the same amount of time—even for those with really dry skin. Neova Soothing Milk Cleanser attacks the dirt, makeup and daily grime that builds up on your face, while helping your skin retain its natural moisture.

Face It

If you’ve changed your routine, switching from a harsh cleansing regimen to one that offers gentle cleansing and moisturizing, and you’re still feeling that tight, dry feeling after you wash, chances are there may be something more complicated at work. Consult with a professional esthetician or dermatologist—they can help you make the best choices to keep your skin happy and healthy.

Robin Heinz Bratslavsky
Contributing writer to

(Any topic discussed in the this newsletter is not intended as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, please check with your doctor.)

Article posted January 28, 2003.

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