The Best Soap to Clear Your Skin
How Soaps Clear Your Skin
Last year, American women spent almost $2.7 billion on products to clear their skin.
Do you wash your face with soap? Many of us do, for precisely the reason: It's the only way we feel really clean.
As kids, we were taught the best way to clear your skin is to scrub ourselves with soap. As teenagers, we used more soap, sometimes in extremely strong formulations, to combat acne and oily skin. Now that we're older, many of us continue to follow the same skin care regimen, even though our skin has altered considerably. We may no longer need quite as strong a cleanser, but we use it anyway.
How do cleansers clear skin, anyway?
All soaps, whether fancy bars for your face or no-nonsense detergents for your floor, function the same basic way. They contain surfactants, substances that persuade oil and water to mix so they can be washed away. The stronger the surfactant ingredient in a soap, the oilier the residue it can remove.
Healthy skin is constantly secreting sebum, a waxy lubricant, from pores onto the skin surface. Ideally, an effective soap clears undesirable oils off your face while leaving enough sebum behind to moisturize your skin. If a soap leaves your clean skin feeling dry, it is removing too much of this natural moisturizer or altering your natural pH. If it leaves your skin feeling greasy, either it isn't removing enough oil or it contains heavy lubricants of its own that could clog pores.
The pH Problem
In ads for soap and shampoo, you'll hear references to a product's pH. The pH of a substance is a measure of its acid or alkaline content. We rank pH on a scale ranging from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. The further below 7 a pH value is, the more acidic the substance; the higher above 7, the more alkaline.
Why am I boring you with chemistry? Because soap has a built-in problem of incompatibility with clear skin: Its pH is generally too alkaline. Our skin is slightly acidic, with a pH of about 5 to 6, but the pH of most bar soaps hovers around 10 (although some are neutral, and a few are acidic). This change in the skin's pH can leave us with a tight, uncomfortable feeling.
A Survey of Soaps, or, A Soap by Any Other Name
If you look in any drugstore, you'll face a bewildering variety of soaps, each claiming to do wonders for clearing your skin. What type of soap clears your skin best for you? Here's a rundown:
Deodorant soaps are stronger than many others because they contain an antibacterial ingredient to get rid of odor-causing bacteria. Use them on your body if you like that squeaky-clear skin feeling, but I don't recommend them for the face.
If it seems like there's no perfect soap, well, that's true. By its nature, soap offers a tradeoff: clean versus de-moisturized. As with all clear skin care products, experiment to determine what works best for you.
Antibacterial Soap to Clear Your Skin
In recent years, Americans have gone on an antibacterial binge, buying antiseptic facial soaps, body soaps, household cleaners, even pretreated germicidal sponges. Do you really need to use such a strong soap at home?
Probably not. Most antibacterial soaps on the market contain triclosan or other compounds that do kill bacteria and some viruses more effectively than regular soap. However, most regular soaps also get rid of most of the microbes we worry about and clear your skin effectively.
Many doctors believe that it's overkill (so to speak) to use antibacterial soaps in the home. Some of these cleansers can be harsh and may irritate your skin. Unless your home situation requires hospital-quality disinfecting or you have a particular problem with infection, you probably don't need them.
What About Natural Soaps to Clear Skin
Many of people ask about soaps containing natural ingredients, like avocado, oatmeal, and citrus juice. They expect these soaps to be milder and less drying than synthetic products.
Ironically, however, synthetic cleansers may be far more gentle than their natural counterparts. Why? Because their pH can be custom-crafted in a laboratory to match the skin's own pH as closely as possible. Soaps with a similar pH are easier on your skin, since they clear with less impact on the skin's natural pH level. This leaves your skin feeling less dry after washing.
Basic Ingredients of Natural Soap
In my opinion, there's a lot of hype surrounding natural skin care products in general, and natural soaps in particular. Many natural soaps contain the same basic ingredients: animal or vegetable fat (such as lard, tallow, or coconut oil) and an alkaline surfactant. In addition, many claim to have nutrients that nourish the skin and promote good health, including vitamins, herbs, flowers, vegetables, and fruits.
Just be aware that you cannot absorb these nutrients through your skin, and you can't nourish your skin from the outside. Using a vitamin E soap won't supplement your body's supply of that particular vitamin, and sudsing with a vegetable-based cleanser doesn't count toward your daily quota of veggies.
Having said that, I realize that many people do enjoy experimenting with natural products. If that includes you, go for it.
Some of the most popular ingredients in natural soaps include:
Getting the Most from Clearing Your Skin with Soap
No matter what soap you prefer, here are some tips for using it effectively:
Water-Soluble Cleansers for Skin Care
If your skin feels dry, especially after you clear with soap, consider trying a water-soluble cleanser. These products, which come in liquid form, dissolve in water. You can splash them off or wipe them away. Some also contain a light emollient to leave the skin feeling moisturized.
Water-soluble cleansers represent a tradeoff: They don't clear quite as well as soap, but their ingredients are milder and often they are less drying. A good product can do an effective job of clearing your skin and removing makeup, without stripping away as much oil as soap would. As with all skin care products, it's important to comparison shop. Any company can label its cleanser water- soluble, but some of them definitely clean better and rinse away more easily than others.
When using a water-soluble cleanser, follow these tips:
Lathering cleansers may not be appropriate for washing off eye makeup, since they may be too drying for your eyelids. A good compromise might be a non-lathering cleanser around your eyes, and a foaming variety on the rest of your face.
Wipe-Off Skin Cleansers for Clear Skin
Wipe-off cleansers include cold creams and liquid makeup removers. They tend to be heavier than water-soluble cleansers and harder to remove. Often they require repeated wiping, which pulls at your skin.
I'm not a big fan of these products myself. However, cold cream remains popular with many women for removing makeup. Certainly modern cold creams are a big improvement over their greasy forebears, and they wipe off much more easily.
Look for one with a light texture that wipes on and off easily; if you have to rub and tug at your skin to get it off, it's too heavy. Remove the cleanser with a soft clean cloth or soft, high-quality facial tissues (bargain-brand tissues can be rough and irritating). It should leave your skin feeling pleasantly moisturized and clear, but not greasy.
Try a sample of a product, or buy a trial size rather than a magnum container. Before you invest a lot of money in any wipe-off cleanser, make sure it won't block your pores and cause pimples. If you have extremely dry skin, wipe-off cleansers may be your best choice. However, many women have better luck with the water-soluble cleansers described earlier.
Shedding Your Skin: Exfoliants
Your skin cells are born deep in skin's lower layers, migrate to the surface over a period of about two weeks, and then form part of the horny layer before being shed. Sometimes the cells in the horny layer don't shed as evenly or regularly as they should. Skin cells may clump together after they reach the surface and not slough off like they're supposed to. The old cells, enduring greater exposure to the elements, become dry, cracked, and uneven.
Often these developments are caused by natural changes that occur in your skin as you get older. You may also see similar changes in acne-prone skin, where clumps of sticky skin cells plug up the pores. Whatever the cause, the result is clear skin that looks dull, rough, even flaky (the flakes are those dead horny layer cells hanging
around after they're no longer wanted). Another result can be acne, if excess cells block pores and interfere with the normal secretion of sebum.
How can you get rid of old skin cells? You might try an exfoliant, a product that removes excess cells from your skin surface. A word of caution here: Advertisers would have us believe there's fabulous new clear skin lurking just underneath the outer layer, and exfoliating a few cells will unveil it in all its glory. But remember, all the horny layer cells are dead anyway; the difference between the ones on top and those just below is subtle, to say the least.
Shedding your outer microlayer will not magically clear up all skin problems. It won't stimulate your skin to produce new cells, nor will it give you the gleaming epidermis of your favorite model or movie star (sorry).
So what can exfoliants do? They can clear your skin and make it look a little smoother because they rub off beat-up surface cells and expose the newer ones underneath. They also help your skin absorb moisturizers better because the hard, dead surface cells have been removed. And they can minimize acne by removing the clumps of sticky cells that block the surface of the pores.
Pretty good, when you find a product that does something beneficial for both dry and oily skin! Exfoliants come in many forms: abrasive sponges, pads, and brushes; cosmetic scrubs; facial masks; toners; alpha and beta hydroxy acids; tretinoin; and skin peels.
Abrasive Sponges, Pads, and Brushes
Several companies market special pads and brushes for exfoliating and clearing your skin. I don't recommend them as a rule. Many are too abrasive and irritating. They're also hard to keep clean, and you certainly don't want to scrub your face with a rough, dirty pad.
If you really want to try one of these items, here are some tips:
Cosmetic Scrubs to Clear Your Skin
I sometimes advise patients to use cosmetic scrubs rather than brushes or pads. Remember that they too must be used with extreme care to avoid irritation. Cosmetic scrubs are creams or lotions containing small particles. When you rub them on your face, the particles scrub horny layer cells from your skin, to be washed away when you rinse off the cream.
There are a number of good cosmetic scrubs available. Here's how to find one that works well for you:
A third exfoliant option is a facial mask, a product that you rub on your face and leave in place for awhile. When you remove the mask, it can lift old skin cells and impurities off your skin.
There are four main types of masks:
Masks can feel soothing, moisturizing, and refreshing. On the other hand, they can also be irritating and drying. It all depends on the ingredients and how your skin reacts to them. A mask should not hurt or sting. If you experience any discomfort while it's on, remove it immediately and splash your face with tepid water. If your skin still feels uncomfortable, wash and clean with a mild soap, preferably a water-soluble cleanser, and rinse thoroughly.
Then blot your face gently dry, apply moisturizer and find a different product!
The Least You Need to Know
Skin changes constantly, and so should the way you wash it. The soap you use during summer may parch your face in winter. Although it's the most popular way to clear your skin, soap can be harsh and drying. Explore alternatives, like water-soluble cleansers and mild exfoliates. Exfoliates, which remove dead skin cells, can benefit a wide variety of skin types. No product should burn or sting your skin. If it does, it's not for you.