April 02, 2019

The myth and mystique of super sudsy face cleansers - and if they actually work

It’s a cultural myth that cleaning needs to involve suds, foam, or bubbles. Despite what cartoons and commercials have taught us, super foamy cleansers don’t always mean more clean. When it comes to skin care, this is especially true – in fact, overly-foamy cleansers should be avoided, as they indicate the presence of irritating chemicals and super harsh skin side-effects.


If you suffer from dry or easily irritated skin, you especially should be opting out of synthetic foaming face washes, and instead choosing an organic plant based cleanser, which will do a better job clarifying, while also respecting your natural epidermal lipid layer.

Tiny-Bubbly How Over-Sudsing Hurts Your Skin

First things first: what are some risks associated with high-foaming face washes? Despite leaving skin with a ‘squeaky clean’ feeling, ultra foamy cleansers can actually leave you with less clear skin in the long run. This is because they contain ingredients called surfactants, which cut through and damage your skin’s natural lipid barrier.

The lipid barrier, also called the moisture barrier, is found in your Stratum Corneum. It consists of layers of dead skin cells and the natural fats that occur in skin (sebum). Having adequate sebum in this layer of skin is essential for it to continually regenerate, recycling and sloughing off the dead skin cells to make room for new ones. Surfactants effectively throw off your lipid balance, leaving your skin unable to adequately recycle dead skin. This leads to clogged pores, blemishes and dullness – in other words, using foaming cleansers that disrupt your lipid barrier can ultimately leave you with less clean skin.

The problem is that in the short term, it can sometimes be hard to tell if you’ve damaged your lipid barrier with chemical surfactants. Generally, blemishes and clogged pores will appear only after you’ve been continually compromising your lipid barrier, over a period of time. In the short term, increased sensitivity, irritation, redness, dryness, and itching should all be red flags, letting you know that your cleanser is too harsh, and that your skin’s natural processes are being disrupted.

African-Soap-Bark Safe (and Unsafe) Surfactants for Your Skin

The evidence above doesn’t mean that you have to give up bubbles for ever. There are plenty of organic face washes that will lightly foam because of natural chemical reactions; think lighter, larger and looser bubbles. These gentle cleansers will leave you with clarified pores sans irritation. The key is to find a formula that doesn’t contain chemical surfactants, namely Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (one of the most common surfactants, which you’ll find at the top of most conventional cleanser ingredient lists).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS, has been classified as a ‘moderate hazard’ linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption. It’s also sometimes listed as sodium dodecyl sulfate, sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt, sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate, aquarex me, or aquarex methyl. You can pretty much assume that if you’re looking at a foaming cleanser that doesn’t have all organic ingredients, it will contain one of the above surfactant variations. And note that not all surfactants are designed to foam – some are used as emulsifiers and stabilizers in thick and creamy formulas. If you’re curious to learn more, we give a full breakdown in our recent post on skin surfactants!


Instead of chemicals, opt for a natural surfactant, which can still give you the light foaming action, minus the health risks. Saponified coconut oil is found in many organic face wash formulas, and is an excellent plant-based alternative with the natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of coc Deep Dive.onut oil. It’s created with coconut oil and fruit sugars, which chemically break the oil down into a naturally foaming agent that’s both gentle and respectful of your skin’s PH balance and lipid layer.

More options in natural cleansing formulas come in the form of plant and fruit oils, included for their gentle cleansing action (oils can actually leave you with a clearer dermis than foaming clarifiers can). Puristry’s Nopal Cactus Cleanser boasts some of the most effective plant-based cleansing oils. Organic bergamot fruit oil is naturally antibacterial and clarifying, while also speeding up the rate at which your skin recycles dead skin cells. This means it can contribute to clearer and more open pores, and an overall even pigment tone.

Cedarwood bark oil is also a natural astringent, able to cut through oil in your skin and particularly effective for skin types suffering from sebum overproduction and congested pores. Also featured in the formula is Vetiver is another essential oil that works synergistically with other cleansing ingredients to remove bacteria and toxins, which can get trapped in our pores and often lead to blackheads and roughness. These oils all work together in a base of antioxidant rich organic aloe water, which endows the formula with soothing and anti inflammatory action. It’s a must-have for those of us looking for a gentle cleanse that won’t strip skin.

Other tips when it comes to cleansing: make sure not to over cleanse, don’t use super hot water, and that’s right – steer clear of extra-foamy formulas! Huge suds and bubbles, as it turns out, doesn’t mean your skin will stay happy and clean.

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