When it comes to cleansing, gently does it
CLEANSING. You’d think we all know how to do this. I was given my first cleansing milk for my 12th birthday (frugal times, folks) and, bar two nights we won’t go into, I’ve never missed a date with my nightly ritual since.
In the intervening decades, while cleansing has, fortunately, never gone out of fashion, the potions that do the job have come and gone in faddish waves. Our grandmothers’ generation had cold cream and mine had milks, followed by Clinique’s astringent little numbers. Then there were the foamers, the balms, the oils and, lately, the oils that emulsify into milks.
It’s not the commodification of a relatively simple, instinctive act that bothers me – many of the lotions out there are wonderful – as much as the obfuscation of it. In the past 20 years, we’ve been sold all kinds of lore about skin-cleansing that isn’t doing any good, and actually may be doing harm.
The idea, for instance, that your complexion should feel tight or tingly after you’ve cleansed is just wrong. As is the notion – almost a doctrine, with some skin experts – that you need to remove layers of cells. Fact: you have 20 layers of cells. Fact: most of them are either almost dead or dead. But this doesn’t mean you don’t need them. Skin that’s functioning as nature intends takes about 28 days from new cells to over and done with. But many products on the market today are designed to speed that up because – guess what? – baby cells look fresher than the old dears do on day 27 of their existence.
‘All those layers are there for protection,’ says facialist Alexandra Soveral. ‘If your skin is healthy, its acid mantle – which is a blend of perspiration and sebum – has a ph level of around 5.5 and it thrives on those dead and dying cells. Unlike your gut, your skin should be slightly acidic. If you start sloughing off its top layers, you’re compromising it as an environment in which good bacteria can form.’
Soveral gets hot under her white labcoat collar about all the retinols, glycolic acids, benzoyl peroxides, fruit acids and salicylic acids that are in today’s cleansers. ‘There are consumers who feel that, if they’re not using something quite harsh, they’re not doing the job properly,’ she says. ‘The initial result might be smooth, shiny skin, but you pay the price when it simply becomes thinner.’
She recommends using a creamy or milky cleanser to remove make-up and daily dirt – ideally with a mild, natural antiseptic such as lavender. Two or three times a week, counsels Soveral, massage with an oil or balm for a deeper cleanse – the fat in it will bind with the lipids in the skin to draw out impurities. A light mist of a gentle toner, and some oil or moisturiser and you’re done. We’re overloading our skin with chemicals, people. It’s time to stop.