Tips for proper skin cleansing

Woman smiles at the camera and spreads a cleansing product on your face.

For healthy skin, skin cleansing is enormously important. Especially the face should be cleaned regularly. And not only when you wear makeup a lot and often: Throughout the day, dirt and bacteria collect on the skin and in its pores. But what is the right skin cleansing for dry skin or sensitive skin? Is exfoliation once a week enough? We give you important tips on skin care and cleansing.

How to clean your face 

Facial cleansing is not only the first step of any skin care routine, it's also one of the most critical. And for two reasons: First, cleansing prepares your skin for all subsequent care by removing sunscreen and makeup, dirt and sweat, microorganisms, and excess sebum and dead skin cells. 

On the other hand, you can already do a lot of damage to your skin during cleansing by using a cleansing product that is too aggressive. In fact, improper facial cleansing can diminish or even undo all subsequent skincare efforts. Cleansing your skin both thoroughly and gently is a true balancing act, and it can be different for every skin. To understand why, it's worth taking a look at what actually happens during facial cleansing.

The invisible cleaning power against sebum and dirt

Some of what needs to be removed from the skin's surface and pores during facial cleansing is greasy: cream and makeup residues, but also excess sebum. For all this, it is not enough to wash the face with water, because it simply beads up on greasy substances. That's why many facial cleansers contain so-called surfactants. These are refined molecules with a split personality: they like oil and water equally, because they consist of a lipophilic (fat-loving) and a hydrophilic (water-loving) part. This is also called "amphiphilic structure." This gives them the ability to dissolve fats and combine them with water: The hydrophilic side aligns itself toward water, while the grease-friendly sides arrange themselves around a dirt particle. The oily dirt film is trapped, droplet by droplet, within a spherical structure and finally washed off, as the following graphic shows:

The graphic shows how surfactants arrange themselves in a circle and a dirt particle to clean the skin.

Unfortunately, many surfactants tend to exaggerate. They cannot distinguish between the important (oily) components of your skin and unwanted substances, so that they wash out not only the latter but also the proteins, lipids and moisturizing factors from the horny layer (in the graphic on the right). However, your skin needs all of these to maintain its acid mantle. Even worse: if they are not thoroughly washed off, they become trapped in the lipid film and permanently disrupt the skin barrier. The result: moisture evaporates too quickly from the skin. If the skin lacks moisture, however, it becomes more susceptible to pollutants and bacteria! 

That's why it's important to distinguish the good from the not so good. Unfortunately, there is no simple rule of thumb here, but a short and easy to remember one 

Negative list for surfactants:

  • Everything that ends on "SULFATE 
  • Everything that contains "PEG

Skin cleansing: acidic, alkaline, skin neutral? 

Another factor has a major influence on how mild or aggressive a product is for cleansing the skin: the pH value. More and more cleansing products advertise with the term "pH skin neutral" and presuppose completely naturally that one knows what "pH" even means and what exactly is supposed to be skin neutral about it. So it's high time for a little explanation: 

The term "pH" was invented by a Danish chemist over 100 years ago. It is an abbreviation for the German expression "Potency of hydrogen". The H stands for the element symbol of hydrogen and is capitalized because that is what chemists do.

This value is therefore a measure of how concentrated hydrogen ions are in a solution - or, put simply, how acidic or alkaline (also called basic) it is. Distilled water serves as a reference here, because here the content of hydrogen ions is balanced. Its pH value of 7 is therefore described as neutral. In an acidic solution, the hydrogen ion concentration is greater. If it is smaller, the solution is basic. The pH scale ranges from 1 (maximum acidic and corrosive, for example battery acid) to 14 (alkaline, maximum alkaline and also corrosive). 

By comparison, tap water in Germany is usually between 7 and 8.5, which means it is slightly alkaline in many places.

The acid mantle of our skin is slightly acidic, depending on the body region and skin type, the value is between 4 and 6. 5.5 is often reported as the average, but for most people it is even slightly lower. 

What does this mean for skin cleansing? If the pH value of a cleansing product is too high, this can change the pH value of the skin surface for a short time, and the skin's microbiome is disturbed. Healthy, robust skin is relatively unaffected by this. It manages to restore its natural state in about an hour. However, if the skin is already stressed and its barrier is correspondingly disturbed, it finds this self-regulation much more difficult. This in turn makes it more susceptible to the next cleansing - the beginning of a downward spiral!

Even if not every wash gel available is strictly skin-neutral, most modern products respect the skin's protective acid mantle. Soaps, on the other hand, are problematic. They are the least suitable means for skin cleansing, as they range between 8 and 11. They are therefore not considered in the following overview.

Tips for cleansing the skin: Gel, milk, lotion, oil or solid? 

Cleansing gel / cleansing foam

Quasi the classic among facial cleansers and, depending on the ingredients used, suitable for almost every skin type. The gel is foamed with water, distributed on the face and briefly massaged in (avoid eyes!), then rinsed thoroughly with lukewarm water.

By the way, the amount and type of foam says almost nothing about the mildness of a cleansing gel. It's better to follow the negative list above and pay attention to how your skin feels immediately after cleansing: If you have the urgent need to apply cream after cleansing, the gel is too degreasing for your skin.

Suitable for: 

  • Normal skin 
  • Oily skin
  • Combination skin
Product tip: Our gently foaming PORIFY CLEANSER uses particularly mild surfactants and is therefore ideally suited for normal to oily skin.

Washing cream, cleansing milk

These comparatively gentle and moisturizing facial cleansers usually (not always) do without surfactants. The products are used like a wash gel, but do not usually foam. Cleansing milks are also not washed off with water, but wiped off with a cloth. These cleansing products are very mild, so it is possible that one pass may not be enough to remove makeup, for example. Then there is nothing to stop you from repeating the skin cleansing process.

Suitable for: 

  • Normal skin 
  • Dry skin 
  • Combination skin
Product tip: Our surfactant-free CALM CLEANSER is a particularly mild cleanser that thoroughly cleanses the skin without drying it out. That is why it is so suitable for sensitive and dry skin.

Cleansing Oil, Cleansing Balm

These oil-based products dissolve make up in particular well. They are applied to dry skin and gently massaged in. The surfactants contained only come into play when the product is washed off with water: they dissolve the oil and combine it with the water - the product thus becomes milky. Nevertheless, oil residues may remain on the skin, so that subsequent cleansing is necessary.

Suitable for: 

  • Normal skin 
  • Dry skin 

Solid wash pieces

This, as mentioned above, does not mean the classic soap, because soap is the worst option for skin cleansing: Too acidic, too aggressive surfactants. Products with the alternative term "wash piece" or "syndet", on the other hand, are good alternatives. They are economical to use and by no means more aggressive to the skin than a wash gel. However, be sure to look for the statement "skin neutral".

Suitable for: 

  • Normal skin 
  • Oily skin

You can use these two products as needed:

Basic care for healthy skin 

Facial cleansing is part of the basic care for healthy skin. Here I would like to introduce you to the so-called skin care pyramid. It divides all skin care measures into a total of 4 different levels:

The graphic shows a pyramid with four layers (from bottom to top): Basic care, intensive care, cosmetician, dermatologist.

The foundation of this pyramid, as in real life, is basic daily care.

  1. Facial cleansing (Cleanser) 
  2. Preparation with facial tonic 
  3. Special care (serums, boosters & eye and lip care) 
  4. Finish (moisturizers, creams, oils with and without UV protection)

The next floor builds on basic care and adds care steps that are performed regularly but not daily (e.g., weekly):

  • Deep cleansing (peeling or masks) 
  • Intensive supply of active ingredients (serums or masks)

The skin care pyramid does not end here: If you suffer from difficult skin conditions, regular visits to a specialist cosmetician are obligatory. Irrespective of the skin condition, it is also recommended that every adult in their mid-30s or older should have a medical skin cancer check-up at least every two years.