Soap: Clean or Mean?

17 May

How clean is TOO clean?!

Since starting this blog, people have been coming to me with their skin problems (challenges!). While I am by no means a medical authority on skin, I have seenand tried a lot and encourage discussion and experimentation.

In my most recent conversation about a skin challenge (a very mild form of eczema), we started talking about soap and the frequency with which we bathe. This particular gentleman said that he showers at least once, sometimes twice a day, and was very turned off by the idea of using the soapless cleanser his dermatologist recommended.

I know the first time I heard about soapless cleanser (or soapless soap, as I sometimes put it), I was both confused and intrigued. Intrigued because I knew soap could be harsh on the skin, but confused because how does something clean if it’s not soap?!

According to Cetaphil’s website (more on this in a sec), there are three main kinds of cleansers:

Made from sodium or potassium salts of animal or vegetable fats

Usually alkaline with a pH of 9 – 10 or higher
Soaps can irritate the skin, especially diseased skin because the skin’s pH is slightly acidic
Clear soaps, glycerin bars, contain alcohols, glycerin and sugar to produce a clear, soft bar
Forms a soap scum on the skin that can be irritating

Synthetic Bars
Contains synthetic surfactants as cleansing agents
Milder than soaps, pH is close to that of normal skin and therefore less irritating to the skin

Does not form a soap film on the skin

Lipid-Free (or soap-free) Cleansers
Contains glycerin, cetyl alcohol (moisturizing alcohol) and proplylene glycol
They don’t contain oils or fats
Provides a thin moisturizing film on the skin that is ideal for sensitive or irritated skin.
Cetaphil makes Lipid-Free cleansers so this breakdown isn’t the most unbiased info in the world, BUT, from my own research, it checks out. As much as I love those gentle, milky cleansers, sometimes I don’t really feel clean after use, so it’s good to know what’s at work in these products and what’s making you tingle from damage instead of cleanliness.


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