- Exfoliating cleansers are not only beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin but for sensitive and dry skin as well
- They are formulated to clear pores of oil and debris buildup, and to slough off dead skin cells on the skin’s surface
- Shortcomings of each skin type can be addressed with the addition of skin-balancing active ingredients
- Exfoliating cleansers are available in gentle to full-strength formulas to meet the needs of all skin types
Exfoliating cleansers are a convenient way to combine the benefits of cleansing and exfoliating in one single product. The cleanser targets grime, makeup and environmental pollutants; the exfoliant not only works deeper to remove excess oils and debris within pores, but removes dry flakes and dead skin cells at the surface level.
The combined forces of both agents effectively work to remove dirt and excess shine. This serves to refresh, clarify and smooth skin for a more even-toned, brighter complexion.
What Is an Exfoliating Cleanser?
An exfoliating cleanser does double-duty to clear the skin by addressing debris not only at the surface level but deep down within pores. Most are formulated to be gentle enough to use every day.
Standard cleansers typically contain emulsifiers that bind to dirt, oil, makeup and debris which are then easily rinsed off. When using a gentle formula that is fortified with skin-strengthening ingredients designed to target the needs of a specific skin type, they can render the skin clear and refreshed without causing any imbalance to the skin barrier.
However, with the addition of chemical exfoliants, a more thorough cleanse can be had to achieve greater results. Exfoliants gently slough off dead skin cells and flaky patches of dry skin to eliminate a dull complexion; they also penetrate pores to clear and prevent buildup.
Lastly, both components of exfoliative cleansers prime the skin to allow better absorption of subsequent skin care products.
Types of Exfoliating Cleansers
A wide range of cleansing products are available, each formulated for a specific skin type. To maintain hydration for all types (especially dry and sensitive skin), active agents are added to leave skin healthy and feeling comfortable. These agents are classified as either humectants, emollients or occlusives.
Cleansers for oily and acne-prone skin typically include ingredients such as salicylic and glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide.
For all skin types, it is important to choose a cleanser that leaves skin balanced in order to avoid disrupting pH levels; doing so compromises the skin barrier function causing irritation and dryness.
Following are three examples of cleansers, prized for their skin-improving qualities.
Benzoyl peroxide exfoliating cleanser
Benzoyl peroxide is well-known for its efficacy in treating mild–severe forms of acne. It is an effective antibacterial agent to kill acne-causing bacteria and an anti-inflammatory to soothe redness and irritation resulting from acne lesions.
As an exfoliant agent, its mild keratolytic nature can loosen the bonds between skin cells and encourage exfoliation; it is also an astringent which effectively clears excess oils and residue from the skin’s surface.
Glycolic acid exfoliating cleanser
Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) notable for its small molecular size. This enables it to penetrate deeply into pores, making it the most effective AHA in its class. This acid is found within cleansers at low concentrations to allow for gentle exfoliation without irritation.
As with benzoyl peroxide this acid acts as a keratolytic to erode the bonds between dead skin cells which can then be easily rinsed away. It is also a powerful humectant that works at the surface to attract and draw moisture deep into the skin to hydrate and plump; skin is clarified, refreshed and balanced.
Salicylic acid exfoliating cleanser
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) widely used in acne treatments due to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It also effectively clears and maintains pores of oils and debris buildup by breaking the bonds between dead skin cells and prompting them to shed.
BHAs are oil-soluble and are therefore better able to penetrate deep into pores to break up and clear away plugs of debris.
Best Exfoliating Cleanser for Your Skin
To maintain skin health, it’s important to consider your skin type and its individual needs when choosing an exfoliating cleanser.
For best results, choose a cleanser that is formulated for your skin type and one that includes both nourishing ingredients to cleanse skin without compromising the skin barrier.
Acne-prone skin can benefit from a range of ingredients to address active breakouts, inflammation and oiliness.
The scientific community has established that cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide, azelaic or salicylic acid show the best results for acne-prone skin.
Benzoyl peroxide is the cornerstone of acne treatment due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can kill acne-causing bacteria, ease inflammation and redness, and reduce oiliness.
Salicylic acid deeply penetrates pores to dissolve sebum and debris, and prevents blackheads and whiteheads from forming; azelaic acid has the same properties as benzoyl peroxide but is more gentle than salicylic acid.
Exfoliation is an important measure for dry skin in order to smooth rough patches – but dry skin also requires an effective infusion of much-needed moisture.
Those with dry skin should opt for a lactic acid cleanser. In addition to providing gentle but effective exfoliation, this acid provides deep hydration and helps protect the moisture barrier.
These combined actions brighten dull skin and render it more comfortable.
There are a multitude of products to choose from that are geared toward oily skin. Among the most popular is salicylic acid, for its ability to clear away excess oil and reduce oil production.
Another strong choice is glycolic acid. It can gently but effectively clear pores of excess oils while attracting moisture to skin and maintaining hydration.
Sensitive skin can benefit from a gentle cream-based exfoliating cleanser to help desensitize stinging, irritated skin. This can be achieved by choosing a cleanser with low concentrations of glycolic or lactic acid with soothing hydrating ingredients such as aloe vera, glycerin and ceramides.
To avoid further irritating your skin, choose a cleanser that is fragrance-free and use the product just once per week at the start to see how your skin reacts. Ensure you follow with a rich moisturizer to balance your skin.
How to Use an Exfoliating Cleanser
Most exfoliating cleansers are gentle enough to be used daily but some people may find daily use too harsh for their skin. How often you use this cleanser should be determined by your skin type, cleanser formulation and individual response.
Overuse can damage the skin barrier and cause several unwanted side effects including redness, irritation and dry skin. Stripping the skin of much-needed oils can also lead to the skin responding by overproducing oil and leaving skin slick and acne-prone.
Nighttime is when skin switches to repair mode and regenerates, so the best time to use an exfoliating cleanser is during your evening routine. This will remove the environmental debris, and dirt that has accumulated over the day. Clear pores will be more receptive to the skin care products that follow, and allow for deeper penetration and effectiveness.
Most exfoliating cleansers are designed to be gently massaged into damp skin and rinsed off with lukewarm water. After rinsing, ensure you apply a potent hydrating serum such as one that contains hyaluronic acid, ceramides or glycerin.
Two-in-one exfoliating cleansers are a convenient and effective means of gently washing away dirt, oil and debris, and exfoliating dead skin cells and debris trapped within pores.
All skin types can benefit from this type of cleanser when the right product includes ingredients and concentrations of active agents suited to individual needs.
To avoid irritating your skin, to begin, use an exfoliating cleanser once per week. If you do not see signs of irritation, you may increase gradually to reach daily use. This frequency is likely to be too harsh for dry or sensitive skin; once per week may be the best.
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