Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

How to Get the Most Out of Facial Cleaning

Dermatologists Explore the Many Options for Cleaning the Face

WebMD Health News

Feb. 22, 2005 (New Orleans) -- Soap or not? Cleansing bars or pads? Exfoliate? Dermatologists can help you sift through the choices and find what works best for you.

"There are an overwhelming number of facial cleansing products, implements, and tools available today," says Zoe D. Draelos, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Dermatologists agree that there are many acceptable methods for removing oil and dirt from the face, but each individual's needs are different and what works for one person may not work for another."

Speaking at the American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting here, Draelos explains that there are three ways to cleanse the face: facial cleansers, cleansing implements, or the use of a cleansing product along with a supplemental tool.

"There are an incredible number of successful products out there today," says Alexa Boer Kimball, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "But many in the general public can't distinguish between them."

Cleansing can remove oil, sweat, dirt, bacteria, fungus, and dead skin cells, Kimball says.

But what it should not do is remove the fat between cells that make the skin soft and supple, nor should scrubbing be so rigorous that it removes the skin barrier that protects the skin, Kimball says. One rule of thumb: "Facial cleansing should not be painful."

Many dermatologists advise patients not to use soap on the face, depending on the skin's sensitivity, she says. Some soaps, typically a deodorant or highly fragranced cleaners, are too harsh for the face.

Many of these soaps -- "like grandma made in the backyard" -- are alkaline detergents that dry out the skin, Draelos says. "This is why soaps can remove oil between the skin cells and make the skin tight and flaky."

Soap-free cleansers are more appropriate for use on the face, depending on the skin's sensitivity. These include beauty bars, mild cleansing bars, sensitive skin bars and liquid facial cleansers. While the bars are closer to the skin's natural pH level, the cleansers aren't as able to remove oil from the skin in individuals troubled by oily skin.

Latest and Greatest Facial Tools

In terms of cleansing implements or tools, the newest and most popular are net sponges, woven disposable pads, and woven cleansing pouches, says Draelos. She adds that many of the first-generation net sponges were made of polyester fibers, which were too abrasive. Newer net sponges use softer fibers that are gentler on the face.

"But the scrubbing sponge is giving way to scrubbing particulates such as aluminum oxide, ground fruit pits, polyester beads, and dissolving granules," Draelos says. But she says that these products require careful use. "Unfortunately, the overzealous cleansers -- aluminum oxide and ground fruit pits -- can, at times, result in too much skin removal."

Brush up on Beauty

woman with face cream
Sensitive Skin Solutions

Know the best way to cover dry, red skin?

women wearing mud masks
Anti-Aging Essentials

Your go-to guide for younger looking skin.

woman applying bright eye shadow
Make Your Eyes Pop

Makeup tips and more for bright, stunning eyes.

woman eating sushi
Wrinkle Reducing Secrets

Surprising ways to smooth your skin.

woman plucking eyebrows
Arch Support

How to shape the perfect pair of brows.

eyedrop
The Truth About Your Products

Are they doing more harm than good?

face cream
Retinol, Retinoids, Retin-A

What's the difference?

woman plucking eyebrows
Solutions for Unwanted Hair

Do you know how to get fuzz-free?

smiling woman
Age-Defying Makeup Tricks

Take years off your face without going under the knife.

woman smiling in mirror
Secrets of a Pretty Pout

Do you know how to get perfectly kissable lips?

woman touching forehead
Stress and Your Skin

Bad day at the office? Take a deep breath for better skin.

products
Decoding Skin Care Ingredients

AHA, retinol, salicylic acid. What do they do, anyway?

URAC: Accredited Health Web Site HonCode: Health on the Net Foundation AdChoices