What You Should Know About Cleaning Your Skin

Originally published on Medium on December 1, 2017.

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I often get asked how to clean your skin without damaging it. My golden rule is “don’t clean your skin too much”. Through my experience as a skin scientist and when I had the opportunity to work on the skin microbiome, I came to realize that we’ve been taught to clean our face and bodies too often and with products that are too harsh.

The skin surface is composed of a very dense barrier of dead cells and lipids that protect our organism from external aggression, just like a wall made of brick and mortar to protect your home.

Scientists discovered that our skin is covered with living organisms such as bacteria and fungi called the microbiome. Just like in our gut, these bacteria are essential for our skin health. To preserve the skin microbiome it is important to choose products that do not disrupt this equilibrium and respect the protective barrier.

Out of curiosity of this subject, I quizzed some of my friends and family about their routines. I was surprised to learn that many among them are actually using no soap in there showering routine, just water. This does make total sense because if you don’t suffer from body odor or intensive perspiration you don’t need your skin to be over clean. Since the flora lives on our skin, it plays a crucial role in keeping your skin healthy.

If you need a soap, choose one that is not antimicrobial. Many cosmetic products, even natural and organic ones, can contain agents that kill microorganisms or stop their growth. Try to avoid for example highly fragranced products, alcohol and preservatives. Also even if natural, preservatives kill microorganisms once on your skin. As they are essential to preserve the products contaminations, look for brands with sterile systems so you can have a soap with water but with no preservatives and still be safe when using your product. It may sound surprising to some people, but be careful with essential oils and fragrances. They can be irritative for your skin and they are known for having an antimicrobial action. Oil and balm cleansers are also a great options especially for your face but make sure they contain mostly oils and not water!

I usually recommend soaps for very sensitive or atopic skin without irritative surfactant like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. When you choose your soap carefully, it will be gentle on your skin and won’t affect the skin flora too much. And remember, only put soap on the body parts that really need that extra clean.

As French we were then right in the first place to avoid bathing too often, I can now thank my grandma for forbidding me to take showers longer than 5 minutes ;)

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Written by Elsa Jungman, Ph.D.

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