THE DOCTOR'S TAKE
For all of the beautiful images we see on Pinterest, we all know that attempts to recreate these at home may result in epic fails. Unfortunately, some of these images depict perfectly radiant skin accompanying D.I.Y. skin care tips that, as a dermatologist, I have seen result in epic beauty fails. The worst offender of these is the "cleansing oil" trend.
I often advise my patients that oil-based cleansers are wonderful for acne-prone skin, especially for those who have sensitive skin or skin prone to dryness who are struggling with breakouts. Since oil dissolves in oil better than it dissolves in water, it makes sense that oil could be beneficial in cleansing acne-prone skin. Also, for people with very dry skin, oil-based cleansers can be ideal for removing makeup without leaving skin feeling tight and dry. An oil-based cleanser is very different from the oil that you might find in your pantry, however, contrary what you may see on Pinterest or read online. Taking olive oil, coconut oil, or other pure oil to clean your skin is not a good idea for most skin types. In fact, I have seen patients who come in with severe cystic acne as a result of this D.I.Y. cleansing oil approach.
The gold standard cleansing balm is Eve Lom Cleanser, and it remains the best ointment-type cleanser that I've found. Other brands have launched oils that morph into milks as you add water, such as La Mer The Cleansing Oil. These can work wonderfully to rebalance acne-prone skin or dry skin, and are mild enough for sensitive skin. Products such as these have a very different composition from off-the-pantry-shelf olive oil, however, which is why they are a better approach than D.I.Y.
The one thing that all of these cleaning oils and balms have in common is a surfactant. Surfactants are the main ingredients for anything claiming to clean including commercial cleansing oils. Here’s how they work…Imagine tiny little sperm-shaped molecules with water-loving heads and oily loving tails. Each want to be happy surrounded by what it loves but they are connected together- so what’s a surfactant to do? Like any well balanced relationship the surfactant compromises. They surround the oil droplets allowing the tails to immerse themselves and mingle with the droplets while the heads remain at the surface. Picture a beach ball with peach fuzz. The fuzz represents the surfactant heads waiting patiently on the surface for their beloved water. Once water comes along (think rinsing), the heads are instantly caught up and swept away. But they can’t leave their tails behind so they join together (aka emulsify) and are all swept away together.
Oils without surfactants are missing the key emulsification step to effectively clean the skin. It cannot simply be rinsed away because as most of us learned in elementary school- oil and water don’t mix. Wiping it with a warm towel is more effective than rinsing alone but only the surface oil is being removed- the pores are not getting clean. The proper method involves a very hot towel being placed on the face until it cools down, gently wipe the face with the towel and then repeat (several times if necessary). BTW, steam does a great job of purging congested pores…
If you really want to create your own cleansing oil then I would suggest visiting one of the many beauty D.I.Y. suppliers to purchase polysorbate 60 or polysorbate 80. These are easy to use liquid emulsifiers that turn oils into cleansing oils without much effort.
(Don't Do It Yourself)
Dr. Noelle Sherber* & Ni'Kita Wilson
*Dr. Noelle Sherber will be a regular guest on skinects commenting on skin care issues that she runs into daily at her successful practice in Washington, D.C.