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With an overwhelming number of face-cleansing products on the market and often-conflicting advice coming from all quarters, it's little wonder that many clients are confused and are doing unnecessary harm to their skin. The board-certified physicians of New York-based Advanced Dermatology and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery highlight mistakes and fallacies and cut through the clutter with guidelines for face-cleansing that restore simplicity and common sense.
"The most common mistake people make is to overdo it," says Meryl Blecker Joerg, MD. "Facial cleansing is important because the face has so many sebaceous glands that secrete oil. In addition, we apply cosmetics and products that create a film on the skin, trapping pollutants from the environment. But in our zeal to remove the day's accumulation of oil, sweat, dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells, we tend to over-wash, over-scrub and over-dry our faces. Before scrubbing away all that oil and grime, people need to understand how delicate the skin on the face is. I recommend washes with salicylic acid in them rather than scrubs because scrubs can break up acne and cause scarring."
The outer layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, which is responsible for the barrier qualities of the skin, has fewer layers on the face than most other parts of the body, making facial skin thinner and more easily damaged. Also, the stratum corneum houses a layer of lipids, or fats, that make the skin soft and supple and play a major protective role. Scrubbing should never be so vigorous that it removes these barriers that protect the skin. "And cleaning your face should never, ever be painful," Joerg emphasizes. "A kinder, gentler approach will reduce irritation, dryness and flakiness."
Valerie Goldburt, MD, points out the other major face-cleansing mistake people make: using the wrong product. "The most frequent error is being overly aggressive, using a product that is too harsh for facial skin or for an individual's skin type," says Goldburt. "Some doctors advise against ever using soap on the face, but the most important thing to remember is to never use a product on the face - bar soap, gel or liquid cleanser - that is intended for use on the body."
Although facial and body cleansers have many ingredients in common, there are significant differences, particularly in the type of surfactant they contain. A surfactant (short for "surface-active agent") is a chemical added to many products that contains oil and water to keep the two famously nonmixing substances from separating. Facial cleansers are gentler on the skin because the surfactant they contain is milder than that of body cleansers. This difference in formulation explains why products for the face cost more than those for the body: milder surfactants are more expensive.