Cleansing properly is the only way to set your skin up to get the best from your treatment products. It doesn’t matter how great the rest of these products are, choosing the wrong cleanser can undo all your good work before you’ve even started. And foaming cleansers are the worst offenders.
So what’s so bad about them? “Foaming cleansers dry and tighten the outer layer of your skin, keeping oil and congestion from getting out, which can cause breakouts,” says Nerida. “This surface dryness also prevents nutrients and treatment products such as AHAs and retinols from getting in. It often has an aging effect as well, making your skin look falsely lined and wrinkled. Even a naturally oily skin type can be left dry, irritated and flaky.”
A cleanser’s only job is to gently sweep away make-up, grime and sebum, leaving your skin balanced and perfectly prepared to receive your serum and moisturizer. “It’s so important to get this right,” says Nerida, “because you use your cleanser morning and evening, so the effects of choosing something drying and harsh will quickly mount up. If it’s making your skin sensitive, irritated, over-scrubbed, over-processed or over-dry, you simply won’t get the best from the rest of your routine.”
If you’re not sure whether or not you have a foaming cleanser, the best way to tell is if you see suds when you wash your face and if your skin feels dry and uncomfortably tight afterwards. You can get so used to this feeling that you stop noticing it but, with the right cleanser, your skin should never feel tight or stripped of essential moisture.
Watch out, too, for cleansers with granular exfoliants – used daily, they’ll toughen and thicken the delicate skin on your face, which also makes sure oil can’t get out and can cause congestion underneath. Detoxing cleansers that promise to draw out impurities, or anything heavily fragranced that leaves a residue behind can also be too much for everyday use and will keep your treatment products sitting on the surface of your skin. And although they can be handy in a pinch and won’t dry out your skin in the same way, steer clear of face wipes as well – they just don’t cleanse as thoroughly as a good non-foaming cleanser paired with water and a washcloth.
If you’ve been using one of these cleansers and you’re worried that your skin is now dry and tight, there’s an easy fix. Simply stop using your foaming cleanser, put down the harsh exfoliants and step away from anything that leaves your skin feeling stripped. Switch to a gentle non-foaming cleanser and give it a week or two. That’s all you need to rebalance your skin so your serum and moisturizer can be properly absorbed through every layer, where they do the most good.