‘Mom, what’s up with oil cleansing?’ An excellent question, my little smoosh-face. What IS up with oil cleansing? I keep running into the same tired story when it comes to the oil cleansing/double cleansing trend. Some estho with zero knowledge of surfactant chemistry always giggles and claims that the water-based cleanser you use after the oil wash will remove the oil. This is NOT true.

For those of you not familiar with this cleansing method, basically, you’re using an oil to cleanse your face of dirt and goo. The double-cleansing method involves washing your face with a second, water-based cleanser after the oil wash.

Now, if your skincare regimen doesn’t involve using a moisturizer containing active ingredients (for instance, if you only use oil to moisturize, or don’t moisturize at all after cleansing), you can ignore this post and oil cleanse like a mf. However, if you are using moisturizers that are made to exert some kind of anti-aging/oil control/skin protective/etc activity on your skin, this cleansing method destroys your moisturizer’s effectiveness. Oils are large molecules, and serve to cover the skin with a largely impenetrable layer. If this is the only method you use to wash your face, that oil layer will effectively block any subsequent products’ actives from getting any deeper than the skin’s surface, rendering them ineffective.

Here’s the part that non-chemists don’t seem to understand. Surfactants are cleansing agents, and are able to bind to both oils and water-based compounds, BUT, all surfactants are not created equal. Sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate is one of the strongest surfactants out there, and it cuts grease like nobody’s business. That’s why it’s in dish soap, shampoo, face wash, etc. It’s also hideously caustic, and often contaminated with carcinogens. Because of this, many companies are moving away from SLS to more mild surfactants. These milder surfactants are not as irritating or dangerous, however, they are also less effective at cutting grease. (If you’ve ever tried to use a non-SLS-containing dish soap, you know exactly what I mean.) So, when some esthetician tries to defend double cleansing by saying that the subsequent water-based cleanser will remove the leftover oil from oil cleansing, I just laugh and laugh and laugh. That is patently untrue. Maybe if you washed your face several times in a row, the mild surfactants may get the oil off your face, but short of that, the oil layer will remain, and will render your serum, moisturizer, and eye cream useless. It seems foolish to spend $$$ on these products if your choice of cleansing method renders them useless.

Every time I post about this, folks act like I’m stabbing them in the heart, so I’d like to pre-emptively state that I am here to give you valid, scientifically sound information, not to give you anxiety. It is a FACT that SLS is a super strong, caustic surfactant that should not be on skin. It is a FACT that non-SLS-containing surfactants are not as effective at removing oil. It is a FACT that covering your skin in a layer of oil and then expecting actives to penetrate that layer is unrealistic. I know I would be PISSED if I was spending hundreds of $$ on anti-aging products, only to discover I was rendering them useless with my cleansing method. I’m just looking out for your skin and your bank account here. Just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s not a bad idea. #themoreyouknow

2 Responses

  1. I love you. Like I’ve been here for 5 minutes and just…I love you. I’ve been doing the double cleanse and my skin seems to like it, for whatever reason. I use an oil cleanser with cica, and then a snail booger cleanser and essence. I have sensitive combination skin. I apparently really needed to hear ” stop treating your combination skin like it’s not combination skin”. I just want things to be simple and to do the same thing for my whole face but. I can’t. *sigh* Anyway. Thank you for all of this. <3

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