Are Foaming Cleansers Bad For Your Skin?

By April 19, 2018

Are foaming cleansers bad for your skin? We get to the bottom of this often-asked question!

There are few things more satisfying than working up a cloudy foam on your face when you wash in the morning. But for those of us with dry and sensitive skin, we have probably heard someone say at some point that foaming cleansers should be avoided at all costs. And in recent years, more and more people are choosing to toss their foaming cleansers and switch to non-foaming gels and cream cleansers.

But I love a good foaming cleanser! I think it feels better and leaves my skin feeling cleaner. So I decided it was time to investigate just what made foaming cleansers so bad, and what I needed to know to make sure I was choosing the right cleanser.

Why do people avoid foaming cleansers?

The easy answer to this is that foaming agents—the ingredients that allow your cleanser to make those satisfying little bubbles—can be super irritating for your skin. But, not all foaming agents are created equal!

The most common culprit is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS. SLS acts as a surfactant and is common in shampoos, conditioners, facial cleansers, and other products. Extensive studies have been done on SLS, and it has been found to be incredibly sensitizing to skin, and has been linked to irritation numerous times. In fact, when new ingredients are being tested they are often compared to SLS to determine if they are gentle enough for skin. So, it’s pretty harsh, and if you have sensitive skin, you probably want to avoid it, as it may strip your skin and leave it dry and irritated.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a foaming cleanser—there are lots of foam cleansers that are gentle and made without SLS. One that we love is the Etude House SoonJung pH 6.5 Whip Cleanser, which is made without SLS and has hydrating ingredients, like glycerin, and calming ones, like madecassoside. Plus, it has a low pH of 6.5.

It should also be noted that there have been multiple studies done which have determined that SLS isn’t bad for you, it just sensitizes your skin. So, if you aren’t someone who struggles with sensitive skin, SLS may not be an issue for you at all! As always, patch test, and if your skin seems to be fine, you probably don’t have a sensitivity to SLS.

My cleanser doesn’t have SLS…why is it still irritating my skin?

First, you should check if there are other reasons your cleanser could be irritating your skin beyond foaming agents. For example, if it has a high pH, it can dry out your skin and wear down your skin barrier, leading to irritation and sensitivity. Or, it could contain drying ingredients like denatured alcohol (alcohol denat).

Make sure you are using a foaming cleanser that has a low pH and gentle ingredients to avoid these issues. A great option is the COSRX Low pH Good Morning Cleanser, which has a perfectly-balanced pH and soothing ingredients like tea tree leaf oil and sacchromyces ferment. But it still has a super satisfying suds because it uses a far gentler surfactant: Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate. This surfectant is like the super gentle and sensitive sibling of SLS.

If you are still getting irritation and dryness from your cleanser, your skin may just be a bit too sensitive even for the mildest foaming agents, and that’s OK! You should stick to gentle and soothing gel cleansers, which get the job done just as well without stripping your skin. My favorite is the Troiareuke Acsen Oil Cut Cleanser. It’s soothing and refreshing and made specifically for acneic and sensitive skin. It also features great ingredients, like papaya extract and aloe. 

Bottom Line

Foam cleansers, like all of skin care, just aren’t one size fits all. If your skin isn’t sensitive, you’re probably fine to use just about any cleanser you want, as long as it works the way you want it to. If you’re struggling with sensitivity or dryness, you may want to give a gel a try.

But if you’re like me and love the feeling of a sudsy, cloudy foam, just steer clear of SLS and look for a cleanser with mild foaming agents, gentle ingredients, and a low pH. Happy cleansing!

+ What do you think? Are foaming cleanser bad for your skin? Share your thoughts below!

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