Ask Alex: Cleansing
by Alex Hushcha
Alex is an esthetician and makeup artist currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a professional she fancies herself the Hermione Granger of skincare. Truly an insufferable know-it-all. Most nights Alex can be found wearing onesie pajamas, clutching a cup of tea, and having a chat with her last living houseplant, Helga. To follow Alex and see what she is currently loving and working on check out her Instagram (@alexdoesskin).
As an esthetician, I ask each of my clients to walk me through their daily skincare regimen, it is an essential part of understanding someone’s skin and it will be the essential piece going forward to correcting any problems they have. A good skin care routine can be very simple or very complicated but each individual part should be serving you. Without having too much background knowledge behind their products, most consumers tend to use trial and error on their own skin before falling into a product. I wanted to save a little bit of trouble for you by walking through each step of a routine and where I see the most common mistakes.
Cleansers are some of the most common culprits of woe in my clients' skin. The majority of the time they are too harsh or aggressive in some way and are jeopardizing the barrier function and pH of the skin. This is how your skin protects itself from bacteria, infection, and from drying out like a raisin. Cleansing is where I most often see people getting it wrong, even the skincare junkies. I understand that at the end of the day you have a layer of makeup, oil, and pollution stuck to your face and you not only want it gone, you want it banished. But taking out your rage on your face will do you no favors. It is also really tempting to go for cleansers that boast more active ingredients and claim to deeply clean, exfoliate, tone, and add Tinkerbelle’s fairy dust to your face. But realistically, there’s no way a product on your skin for two minutes is going to give that to you. A cleanser should only cleanse and in the gentlest way possible. It’s very difficult to get a great routine going if your first step has already jeopardized the integrity of your skin. If you support your skin in adjusting itself to appropriate pH levels and maintaining the healthy oils it wants to produce, you can create clear, glowing, and healthy skin.
Cleansers that contain sulfates to give you that foaming effect, or cleansers that have a scrub are going to be the most damaging to your skin. With a scrub, even a gentle one, daily use will traumatize the delicate areas of your skin. If you really feel like you need that extra exfoliation and love the feeling, keep it to once a week. Also, please never use St. Ives on your face. If you own a bottle, keep it and use it on your feet because it has the strength of a pumice stone.
Sulfates can be a slightly more controversial issue and I don’t know if here is the place to break down the whole debate. Most people are aware now that overly foaming “squeaky clean” cleansing isn’t good for their skin. My best suggestion to those people who want that feeling is to just take their time with a more gentle cleanser. Give yourself a little facial massage, really take your time getting into nooks and crannies, and remove your cleanser with a warm damp washcloth. A gentle but thorough approach will give you the feeling that you are completely clean, but your skin will be much happier.
Additionally, if you are washing your face in the shower you could also be stripping your skin. Hot water that feels great on your shoulders and scalp causes a lot of trauma to your skin, particularly on our cheeks and nose. If you’ve ever noticed the small red threads running along the sides of your nose to your cheeks, those are frequently from the shower. Broken capillaries are usually caused by extreme heat or cold, blood vessels constrict or dilate too quickly and then break. Keeping your face out of the shower stream will keep that redness at bay.
Moving towards a gentle crème/gel non-foaming cleanser or a cleanser that foams by function of the pump (it will be a water like liquid inside the bottle but the pump will cause it to come out as a light foam) will help support your skin. My all-time favorite cleanser is the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser. The ingredients are perfect, it feels lightweight, smooth, and moisturizing, and they make no insane claims on the bottle. I have also recently used and loved the Pixi x Caroline Hirons Double Cleanse. This one is handy because it has both a solid oil cleanser to break your makeup down and a second crème cleanser to use immediately after. I also keep a bottle of Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser around. This is one of those foaming pump cleansers, which are ideal for the very sensitive because they are so light and come off so easily that there is minimum manipulation and rubbing on the face. It’s also great for mornings when I am feeling like a demon dragged from hell and have no patience for rubbing my face all that much. This one is also cool because it has whole green tea leaves at the bottom in a little strainer. This is a little gimmicky, but I still find it cool and green tea is an excellent way to give your skin a boost of antioxidants, as well as bring down inflammation.
I advocate for simple and gentle cleansing but that doesn’t mean only using only the most minimal ingredients. There are still some great active ingredients that will do you great benefit in a cleanser. These ingredients fall into two camps in my mind: 1) the protective and moisturizing ingredients that both create a beautifully textured cleanser and maintain skin barrier function, and 2) soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredients that can immediately cool irritated skin and will prevent any irritation from the cleansing that you are doing.
For moisture and protection, look for emollients (ingredients that make skin softer, smoother, and more supple) that are functional in giving your cleanser “slip”, but also add benefits to your skin. Oils high in the ingredients list are generally a good sign. You don’t have to be so picky with oils in cleansers as you may be in your moisturizer but good ones to look for are jojoba oil, sunflower oil, and argan oil. Ceramides are also nice to see in cleansers. They are kind of a lipid (more fat!) and are great for protecting the skin. Anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient examples are going to be the easiest to spot on a label because they won’t have as many confusing chemical names. Aloe juice, rose, cucumber juice, licorice, and azulene/chamomile are all common names and will have a beautiful and immediate effect on your skin.
I think a lot about every step and product someone uses. That’s my job and I love it. For some, this may seem like overthinking the easiest part of their routine. With cleansing, it’s true it is on your skin for the shortest period and it doesn’t seem all that complicated. But adding some more intention and thought to what you’re using to cleanse and how can make all the difference to your skin overall. Start strong. You got this.