What’s in Your Face Cleanser?

Smiling woman washing face at bathroom sink
What’s in Your Face Cleanser?
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A cleanser is a product that most people use at least once a day, and many have a go-to cleanser that they simply cannot do without.

However, have you ever stopped to take a look at the ingredients that have been used in your cleanser?

While you are likely to find several beneficial ingredients in there, you may also come across a few that will likely surprise you…


Surfactants are a pretty important component of a cleanser. These ingredient are the ones responsible for clearing away the dirt, oil and dead skin cells from the surface of the skin.

There are many different surfactants out there, and you will likely notice more than one of these on the ingredients list of your cleanser.


Because, when used on their own, each surfactant can have quite an irritating effect on the skin. This is because they would need to be used in quite a high concentration in order to effectively cleanse.

So, to keep a cleanser as gentle as possible, a variety of surfactants are usually combined together. This means that they can be used in lower concentrations, but, when working together, they are still able to have a powerful effect.

Although surfactants are a pretty essential part of a cleanser, not all of them are good for your skin…

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is an example of a surfactant that you should stay well away from.

What’s so bad about SLS?

A couple of things:

  • It is known to be extremely irritating, even when used at low concentrations. This is due to the way in which it interacts with individual skin proteins
  • It is a potential carcinogenic ingredient, although more research is still needed to explore this connection further

With SLS being found in everything from cleansers to shampoos, this can be a difficult ingredient to avoid, but it really is worth doing so. 

Wondering which surfactants you should be using?

Cocamidopropyl betaine is a good one. This ingredient is derived from coconut oil and is relatively gentle on the skin. It also features quite a low pH, meaning that it will not interfere too much with the skin’s natural pH level.

Fatty acids mixed with potassium hydroxide is also a great surfactant combination. This forms quite a rich and nourishing cleanser, so you will likely find this combination in creamy, rather than foaming, cleansers. Although these surfactants are both gentle and effective, they do have a very high pH level, so would require the use of a toner afterwards.

The 24K Mousse Cleanser is a good example of a cleansing solution that incorporates fatty acids with skin-cleansing ingredients. This way, you’ll be able to care for your skin and clear out grime and dirt without irritating or drying the skin out.

Moisturizing Ingredients

A cleanser clears away any oils on the surface of the skin, leaving the skin quite vulnerable after.

While those oils do need to be cleansed away in order to prevent them from clogging up your pores, they do also provide your skin with a water-tight layer that prevents your skin’s moisture from evaporating into the air.

Cleansers are known for being common culprits when it comes to drying out the skin, which is why many of the new cleanser formulas out there are now packed with a variety of moisturizing ingredients.

These moisturizing ingredients can be divided into two main categories…

The first is occlusive ingredients.

What are occlusive ingredients?

These are moisturizing ingredients that form a thin barrier over the surface of the skin. They help to counter the oil-stripping effect that surfactants, taking on the role of the oil by preventing moisture from evaporating out of the skin.

However, not all occlusives are good…

Many cleansers contain occlusives that have been derived from mineral oil and petroleum. These are known for clogging up the pores, which leads to breakouts.

Occlusives to avoid include:

  • Mineral oil
  • Parraffin
  • Propylene glycol
  • Petrolatum
  • Butylene glycol
  • Isopropyl alcohol

Ideally, you want the occlusives in your cleanser to be sourced from plants. These plant oils will not only keep your skin moisturized, but also contain a wide range of antioxidants as an added bonus. 

Next up, you’ve got the non-occlusive moisturizing ingredients…

These ingredients moisturize by attracting moisture to the surface of the skin, feeding it to the skin cells as and when they need it.

These ingredients are fantastic for all skin types, and include:

  • Glycerin – another popular humectant that also softens and conditions the skin
  • Oatmeal – highly nourishing and gentle, and is a great one for soothing sensitivities
  • Hyaluronic Acidthis humectant is able to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. When in the form of Sodium Hyaluronate, it has smaller molecules that will help to lock moisture on the skin even more efficiently

Infographic on hyaluronic acid

There are some ingredients out there, such as jojoba oil and olive oil, that work as both an occlusive and a non-occlusive. These multi-functional ingredients are very beneficial when it comes to moisturizing the skin.

Curious about Orogold products that boost skin moisture? We recommend starting with the 24K Cryogenic Restoration Cream, as it is formulated with a good amount of glycerin and hyaluronic acid, along with other skin-beneficial ingredients, to promote moisturization and protect from water loss.


Some cleansers also contain exfoliating ingredients.

This means that in addition to cleansing the surface of your skin, those exfoliating ingredients will also clear out the lining of your pores.

Exfoliation is great for countering dullness and roughness. It keeps the complexion fresh and radiant, thanks to the way in which it stimulates skin cell regeneration.

However, exfoliating every day isn’t for everyone…

Some skin types, such as dry and sensitive, need to give their skin time to build up those vital protective oils. If you exfoliate every day, you don’t give the skin enough time for this to happen, meaning that you will end up causing serious damage to your skin’s protective barrier in the long run.

Of course, this does also depend on the exfoliants you use, as they vary quite greatly in intensity.

Many cleansers contain physical exfoliants, which usually come in the form of beads or seeds.

There are two main problems with this:

  • Physical exfoliants do not penetrate deep enough within the pores to give them a thorough clean
  • Many physical exfoliants are too harsh to be used on a daily basis, and will end up causing micro-tears in the skin

If you want your cleanser to exfoliate too, then you would be best off with a cleanser that contains a chemical exfoliant.

Alpha hydroxy acids, such as lactic acid and glycolic acid, can be used daily, so long as you opt for a concentration that is suitable for your skin type. Those with dry or sensitive skin would need an AHA cleanser that is extremely mild, whereas those with a normal skin type could go for something a little stronger.

Is your skin quite oily?

If so, you may be best off with a cleanser that contains a beta hydroxy acid, such as salicylic acid. This will give your pores the deepest clean, helping to keep them free of blockages.

Fruit enzymes are also great for gently exfoliating the skin. However, they need to be packaged in opaque and air-tight packaging in order for the enzymes to remain active and stable, which is something that many cleansers tend to lack.


Most of the cleansers out there will contain at least a couple of antimicrobial ingredients.

What do antimicrobials do?

They perform two main roles:

  • They remove any harmful microorganisms that are on the skin
  • They extend a product’s shelf life by ensuring that bacteria is not able to grow within the product

In other words, antimicrobials act as a preservative, but they can also bring with them other benefits too.

Many people immediately become wary when the word “preservative” is mentioned.

After all, aren’t preservatives something that you should be trying to stay away from as much as possible?

In an ideal world, yes.

However, unless you are willing to buy yourself a new natural cleanser every week or so, then a preservative is essential.

Of course, there are still a few preservatives that you should stay away from whenever possible, with parabens being the ingredient that top the list.

Parabens have been linked quite strongly to cancer, which is why many companies are now choosing to create paraben-free formulas.

Unfortunately, there is no FDA regulation when it comes to the use of parabens in skin care products. This means that it really does come down to you to check the ingredients list and make sure that you are happy with all of the ingredients that you are applying onto your skin.

Keep in mind that there are many different types of parabens out there, and each one has its own name…

However, you don’t need to worry too much, as they will always have the word paraben after their name, with propylparaben and methylparaben being two examples of these.

When it comes to the antimicrobials that help to clear away bacteria on the skin…

Keep an eye out for the following effective ingredients:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Honey
  • Azaleic acid

These ingredients are particularly useful for those who are dealing with oily, acne-prone skin. They are able to destroy the bacteria that causes breakouts, giving you much clearer skin in the long term.


Noticed any alcohol-based ingredients in your cleanser?

Alcohols are another popular ingredient to add in, for two main reasons:

  • They help a product to feel much lighter and less greasy
  • They increase the rate at which the skin is able to absorb other ingredients, including vitamins A and C

After reading that, you are probably thinking that alcohols are something you want in your cleanser…

Well, this all depends on which alcohol you are talking about.

Many of the alcohols out there can cause a severe amount of damage to the skin. The reason that they are able to increase the absorption of other ingredients is because of the way in which they break down the skin’s natural barrier.

While this does mean that other ingredients can penetrate more effectively, it also leaves the skin open to impurities, allergen, bacteria and more, while leaving it so much more susceptible to dryness. Studies have proven how regularly cleansing the skin with alcohol-based products quickly erodes the skin’s barrier.

The alcohols that are responsible for these detrimental effects include:

However, not all alcohols are bad…

There are certain alcohols out there that are known as fatty alcohols.

These not only help to stabilize volatile ingredients within products, but they also encourage a smoother and softer skin texture. 

These good alcohols include:

  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Stearyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol

Of course, even though those alcohols may bring some benefits with them, you still want to ensure that they are listed towards the end of your cleanser’s ingredients list.


Does your cleanser have a beautifully distinct fragrance?

Have a quick look at the ingredients list to see if “fragrance” is one of the listed ingredients.

If it is, then this is probably a cleanser that is best avoided.

What’s so bad about an added fragrance?

Well, “fragrance” is actually an umbrella term that can refer to hundreds, if not thousands, of different chemicals. When a product contains a fragrance, you will never quite know exactly what is in that product, as companies are not required to list the chemical breakdowns of their fragrances.

You are probably thinking…

Does this really matter? After all, my cleanser smells amazing!

The fragrances in skin care products tend to be quite irritating to the skin. They can lead to sensitivities, while also causing the skin to dry out. The chemicals within fragrances have also been shown to cause:

  • Headaches
  • Asthma attacks
  • An increase in allergies

In addition to that, most of the synthetic fragrances out there have been created with phthalates. This is a chemical group that has been shown to lead to birth defects and other reproductive issues.

Don’t want to go for an unscented cleanser?

You don’t have to!

There are many natural fragrances that can be used in products, and more and more companies are now jumping on this bandwagon. Look for products that have made use of essential oils and other plant-based extracts to give their formulas a gorgeous scent.