‘Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, and poet

– The shelves in the pharmacy across the street or your favourite beauty shop in the swanky mall are stocked and piled up with skin care products. These vary from facial or body cleansers to moisturisers and skin care creams that promise everything under the sun—from brightening or whitening your skin to treating acne to everlasting youth. In such a situation, what to choose and how to choose can be a daunting task. In this chapter, I am going to make it easy for you to choose the right skin care product so that the next time you are out there in the batting field, you will surely find your feet and not be a doubting Thomas.

Let’s take on the challenges lining the shelves, one by one!


Cleansers are the first step in the overall skin care routine.

From Mount Sapo in Rome (where legend holds that soap was first discovered) to the present day, soaps and cleansing agents have come a long way. Mass soap manufacturing began in the 19th century in parts of Europe and this industry has changed considerably thanks to constant research being done to better the molecular ingredients so as to suit different needs.

When we talk about cleansers, a lot remains to be understood. It can only make more sense if we know what cleansers are, their basic ingredients, how they work and in the end whether they work for us, at all.

The four goals of cleansing

  • Remove all dirt and make up
  • Exfoliate dead skin
  • Remove harmful bacteria
  • Do all this with minimal damage to the epidermis

Choosing the right cleanser

Before you buy a cleanser, consider the following questions:

  • Is it recommended for your skin type?
  • Is it right for your skin in relation to the climate?
  • Is the cleanser (or face wash) too drying? Will it strip your skin of its natural lipids?
  • Does it clean effectively? Does it remove make-up, sunscreen, and other water-proof products?
  • Does it have any harmful ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol?

The primary ingredient of any cleanser is the surfactant or the surface acting agent. It helps dissolve the sebum, dirt, and oil from the skin surface. Surfactants are also responsible for the formation of bubbles and lather, something viewed as necessary for effective cleansing by most consumers. Higher concentrations and harsher molecules can lead to a lipid stripping effect on the skin’s uppermost layer, the stratum corneum, and hamper the skin barrier function (NMFs). The nature of these surfactants can vary and so can their effect on your skin.

Actor Monica Dogra says…

‘I use Bioderma sebium clarifying face wash with a clarisonic brush twice daily. An obagi toner in the morning and clean and clear astringent at night. I use aveeno face lotion with SPF50 and organix spot treatment when I’m breaking out.’

The various kinds of cleansers are:

Soaps and body washes

Have you ever noted the difference on your body skin when you bathe with the age-old lemony green bar or the white bar advertised to contain one quarter moisturising cream? I sure have. After using the green bar, the skin feels dry and stretchy but very clean, whereas after the white one, the skin seems more smooth and soft but sometimes leaves you wondering if it has really taken off all the dirt from the skin. Why this difference when both are cleansing bars? Well this is because the character of the surfactant in the two bars varies. This is how products are grouped as soaps or non-soaps, respectively. The latter has a milder or different class of surfactant, products containing which are called syndet bars ( SYNthetic DETergent bars), in addition to stearic acid, the secret behind the one quarter moisturising cream which protects the skin and also helps in moisturising.

Soaps and body washes are popular skin cleansers. It’s time to know them better!

The normal pH of the skin is acidic, between 4.5 and 5.5. The closer your soap’s or body wash’s pH is to this natural range, the lesser your skin will feel irritated. If you use an alkaline cleanser, it could leave your skin dry and itchy. A higher pH destabilizes the lipid layer of your skin and also disturbs its water holding mechanism.

Normal soap bars may have an alkaline pH, so they dry the skin. Moisturising soaps are basically syndet bars which have lanolin, paraffin, glycerin, olive oil and similar ingredients, which moisturise the skin and are closer to skin’s pH. Body washes are safer as their pH is closer to that of the skin, so they do not dehydrate the skin. Clear, fragrance-free shower gels are the safest. A lot of people are allergic to fragrance without being aware of it.

Medicated soaps may contain benzoyl peroxide, sulphur, or other antibacterials. These soaps have a pH of 9 to 10 and may cause skin irritation.

Facial cleansers

When it comes to cleansers for the face, there are plenty to choose from! From lathering cleansers and emollient cleansers, to milks, scrubs, toners and cleansing cloths, a variety of products fill the shelves. Facial cleansers are to be applied to the skin and then removed with a tissue or cotton. They don’t require water. Cleansers that are alcohol-based are drying and irritating for dry and sensitive skin. People with dry skin should avoid the sodium laurel sulfate family of ingredients in cleansers. They can irritate sensitive, dry skin and they strip your skin of too much oil. Instead, use a non-foaming cleanser.

Lathering cleansers, as the name suggests, lather a lot. They suit people with normal to oily skin best and are also good for removing make-up.

Emollient cleansers are mild on the skin and helpful for those with dry skin because they don’t lather. However, they may leave a residue on your skin’s surface, a feature that some people are not comfortable with.


This is an excerpt from ‘Skin Talks’ by Dr. Jaishree Sharad:


The Penguin India Blog


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