Acne and cleansers – is there a problem?

Acne and cleansers – is there a problem?

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Dr Travis Badenhorst is the Scientist at Snowberry Skin Care and Vice President

In my days as a practicing pharmacist, I was frequently called upon to give advice to young adults who were concerned about acne and sometimes, associated dermatitis.

There are very good acne treatments available, but I have since became concerned about the role of two products we commonly sell in conjunction with acne treatment – cleansers and toners.

It is obvious that the foaming surfactants and volatile alcohols in many inexpensive cleansers, are extremely good at dissolving and removing lipids or oils.

Acne prone skin is frequently oily and consequently, it is natural to want cleansers that instantly remove oil and sebum.

Unfortunately, the skin responds by producing more, rather than less sebum and lipids, and this encourages an aggressive cleansing cycle that has an inevitable and undesirable outcome – increased inflammation.

If we also consider how sebum and sweat, combine with the phospholipid layer and the keratinocytes to form the protective wall that is the skin’s natural barrier, it is also clear that some cleansers and toners are responsible for damaging that barrier every time they are used.

The outcome of that damage is a greater opportunity for unwanted bacteria to invade, which is exactly what we don’t want.

In this regard, recent consumer research confirmed what we have all observed – that where consumers will spend freely on anti-ageing creams or serums, there is reluctance to spend on cleansing products.

Indeed, the research showed that 48% of the typical spend on cleansers, is on products less than $15, and that cleansers under $24, account for 70% of purchases.

This is a problem because many inexpensive cleansers and toners use aggressive surfactants and volatile alcohols, presumably because they respond perfectly to the misguided consumer demand for ‘squeaky clean’ skin, and a low-cost product.

What does this mean for pharmacists, and more importantly, our customers? I propose that we should be educating consumers, at any age, about the importance of maintaining the integrity of the skin’s barrier.

We should be debunking the myths that the object of cleansing is to remove oils, or that an oil-based cleanser will increase skin oil content.

We should be alerting consumers to the dangers of using cleansers and toners that will accelerate skin ageing and unwanted skin conditions.

At Snowberry, we have formulated three cleansers that include natural plant saponins, chelating agents such as Phytic Acid and skin strengthening Niacinamide.

Simply by changing to a cleanser such as Snowberry’s Cleanse & Tone, users already experiencing acne, see the condition improved within 1-2 weeks; and even those who’s skin is not acne-prone, show a reduction in redness.

I am not proposing that cleansers are an acne treatment, but consumers need to understand that one of their highest priorities in helping to prevent acne and to prevent premature skin ageing and damage, is in investing in skin strengthening cleansing products.

As pharmacists, we are very well-placed to help.


TAPS Approval No: PP2054 of the NZ Society of Cosmetic Chemists.