Is Your Cleanser or Face Wash Aging Your Skin?

Find out if you are unwittingly damaging your skin with your daily routine. Plus my top 5 'clean beauty' picks.

Does your skin feel dry and tight after cleansing?

If the answer is yes, then check your face wash or cleanser for harsh surfactants and alcohols. With prolonged, daily use these ingredients strip the lipids (fats) from your skin, and create a 'chain reaction of damage' that leads to premature aging.

This goes for oily/acne-prone skin types too. Alcohol in skincare —think astringent, has often been recommended for these skin types. But you should avoid alcohol and surfactants like the plague because they actually cause excess oil production. As the skin dries out it confuses the body into producing more natural oils (sebum).

The Structure Of Your Skin

Let's start at the beginning. Having a better understanding of the structure and function of your skin can actually make it easier to look after it. All you need to know is;

There are 3 main layers of skin the epidermis (the outermost layer), the dermis (the 'scaffolding' layer) and the hypodermis (the fatty layer).

The epidermis is made up of 5 layers. In the deepest layer (the stratum germinativum) cells are continuously dividing to generate new epidermal cells that move up the layers until they reach the top layer (the stratum corneum) and are shed from the surface of the skin. Complete cell turnover, a process that occurs every 28-30 days, slows as we age.


The outermost layer of the epidermis —the stratum corneum, is responsible for providing a protective barrier between your body and the outside world, known as the skin's barrier function. A major player in your anti-aging skin goals!

The skin barrier is made up of dead skin cells (corneocytes) embedded in a wall of lipids (lipid bilayers). Lipid bilayers are composed of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol. The structure of the skin barrier can be likened to a brick wall, with the cells as the bricks and the lipids as the mortar sealing and holding the cells together.


A healthy skin barrier will keep your skin young and glowing by keeping moisture inside your skin, which prevents dehydration, and keeping free radicals like environmental pollutants and UV rays out!

How does your skin become damaged? Over time, things like bad daily habits, harsh synthetic skincare ingredients, will slowly but surely disrupt the skin's barrier function. And this, my friend, is where the 'chain reaction of damage' comes into play.

The dermis houses most of the collagen and elastin in our skin. These protein fibres create 'scaffolding' -like structures just beneath the surface that holds the skin up, giving it a firm, youthful and supple appearance.

Now, if your skin barrier is damaged then the dermis is left vulnerable to environmental hazards. Thus creating more damage. For example, when UV rays (in particular, UVA rays, which are longer than UVB rays and cause irreparable skin damage) hit the dermis they fragment and hardened collagen and elastin fibres. Basically they cause the ‘scaffolding’ in our skin to collapse!


  • Ceramides: This lipid makes up approximately 50% of the lipid bilayers and is responsible for the skin's hydration. It locks moisture into the skin by binding water molecules together. Ceramides create a sandwich-like structure (water x lipids x water) to form the 'mortar' that sits between the cells strengthening and hydrating the skin barrier function. A deficiency in this lipid leads to moisture loss and dry skin.

  • Free Fatty acids: Not to be confused with essential fatty acids, free fatty acids have important biological roles in the body, both structural and functional. They are an important part of the cell membrane.

  • Cholesterol: This type of lipid improves the skin's elasticity and speeds up the skin barriers recovery process. Visible skin aging is often caused by cholesterol deficiency in the skin. Cholesterol also plays an integral role in the bodies vitamin D levels. When UVB rays hit cholesterol in the skin they provide energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur.

Surfactants In Skincare

Surfactants are extremely aging for you skin. They are known to disrupt the lipid bilayers that form the wall-like structure of the skin barrier, and damage the lipid structures themselves.

This 'stripping' of fats from the skin, over time, will leave the skin feeling 'tight' and 'dry' after washing, and also susceptible to environmental damage and dehydration.

Surfactants are used in skincare for their cleansing, foaming, thickening, emulsifying, solubilising and antimicrobial effects. There are four types of surfactants, non-ionic, anionic, cationic and amphoteric. The most common types used in skincare are anionic and amphoteric. Below are some examples of anionic detergents you may find in your face wash, plus your shampoo, bubble bath and shower gels;





Below are some examples of amphoteric detergents that are considered milder and less irritating;




Cocoamidopropyl betaine is created by mixing raw coconut and dimethylaminopropylamine (try saying that after a few wines!) It can be found in many natural and organic personal care products. Brands will often use the words "coconut-based cleanser".

Alcohols In Skincare

Alcohols are used in skincare as a preservative, to make formulas lighter, or to help other ingredients penetrate the skin. Alcohols in skincare can be incredibly drying, irritating and damaging for the skin.

But, there are good alcohols, which are high-molecular-weight, and bad alcohols which are low-molecular-weight.

Good alcohols, also known as fatty alcohols have emollient properties, giving products a silky texture and keeping ingredients stable. These alcohols are generally classified as no to low toxicity and are mostly found in creams, lotions, ointments, hair conditioner, balms, butters etc.

Examples of good alcohols include cetyl, stearyl and cetearyl alcohol. Bad alcohols to look out for in your face wash are;







Alcohols like SD and "denatured" immediately harm the skin, starting a chain reaction of damage that continues long after it has evaporated. A study published in 2003 found that with regular exposure to alcohol-based products, cleansing becomes a damaging ordeal. Skin is no longer able to keep cleansing agents from penetrating into it, or prevent dehydration.. thus further eroding its surface layers.

Yep, an anti-aging nightmare for your skin!



Moisturising Facial Wash: Contains two sulfates and no alcohols. But just to make up for it, Simple added not ONE but TWO PARABENS!


Visibly Clear Pink Grapefruit Cream Wash: will remove the dirt from your face while taking all the goodness in your skin with it! It contains TWO SULFATES, THREE ALCOHOLS (the bads ones. not the good ones), and TWO PARABENS!


Purifying Foaming Gel For Oily Sensitive Skin: contains two sulfates and also parfum/fragrance. The term "parfum" was originally developed to protect a company’s proprietary perfume blend or trade secrets, under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966. In other words, it protected Coty and Chanel No. 5 from copycatscreated to protect perfumery scent formulations, which were considered a closely guarded trade secret. These days however it has become a labelling "loophole" where manufacturers can hide a multitude of potentially harmful ingredients. Currently, UK cosmetic legislation allows over 200 different chemicals to be listed under "parfum".


Special Cleansing Gel: Developed by The International Dermal Institute, Dermalogica is a professional brand used by therapists in spas and salons. I have used this face wash (long before I learnt about SLS) and it smells great and leaves your skin squeaky clean. But after prolonged use, it left me with dry patches and irritated skin. Two sulfates, three 'bad' alcohols, and two parabens.


Hydra Sensitive Face Wash: Just to show you that men have to put up with the same rubbish that we do, here is the ingredient list for L'Oreal men's face wash. It contains three sulfates and "parfum". And as with all of the above examples, there are no nourishing or replenishing ingredients for the skin in here either.

Top 5 Clean Beauty Picks

Normal - Dry Skin Type

Normal - Oily Skin Type

Normal - Oily Skin Type

Normal Skin Type

Oily Skin Type

I think it's near impossible to eliminate every single bad ingredient from your life. I buy SLS free shampoo, but I know that it still contains some other type of surfactant. But, if you can cut down your daily intake, it's a great start. And changing your face wash to a kinder one is vital to your skin. Basically, surfactants and alcohols in your face wash (and other skincare products) damage and AGE your skin.

An amazing alternative to these products is The Oil Cleansing Method. This is a more natural form of cleansing using a blend of suitable oils for your skin type —Living Libations Best Skin Ever Seabuckthorn is a great oil cleanser for oily skin types. The Oil Cleansing Method doesn't leave the skin feeling stripped, damaged and dry. Instead it feels deep cleansed AND hydrated!


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