Cleansing is Critical

By Stuart Maddin, MD, FRCPC

When my patients ask me:
'How can I get that clean, healthy-looking glow to my skin?'

I respond with:
'One of the many factors is to wash with the right skin cleanser for you.'

Why is cleansing important?

  • Your skin's surface becomes clogged with debris, sweat, air pollution, excess oil and bacteria. Really!
  • The best cleansers are non-irritating, are safe for sensitive skin and won't clog pores or cause acne.
  • If you cleanse your skin with regular soap (they are made from fats, oils and salt) and your skin is sensitive, the soap can plug hair follicles, leaving your skin dry and flaky. As soaps can excessively degrease the surface of the skin, it can also increase bacteria, leading to cellular damage or even breakage.

Why should I cleanse?

  • Your skin is the first line of defense against infection and harsh elements. Since your face and hand skin has the most exposure, they are most vulnerable. A thorough but gentle cleansing is recommended.
  • Skin cleansers work as emulsifiers. They remove dirt, excess natural skin oils, bacteria, cosmetics and exfoliated surface skin cells. You may want to remove excess oil from oil glands but not the fat that waterproofs the skin.

How do I cleanse?

  • Wash your hands first to prevent the transfer of bacteria to your face.
  • Because hairstyling products attract dirt, start with your hairline first, then sweep cleanser over face and lips and down the neck.
  • Gently massage cleanser and leave on for one minute. Wipe away dirt and pollution with your hands. Cosmetic build-up may best be removed with a cotton ball.
  • Rinse with cool water; too hot or too cold can cause flushing and increase broken capillaries.

Cleansing based on skin type

Normal skin

Experiment with various liquid and soap gels to cleansing sheets. Choose a mild cleanser or gel cleanser and rinse with tepid water. Soap usually works well for the hands. Mild cleansers should be used even if you have normal skin. Use it on folds and genital areas.

Dry skin

Use a cleansing cream that contains non-detergent ingredients and rinses off easily. Use hard-milled cleansing bars and gentle face cleansers for drier skin, or try a liquid cleanser with a cleansing sheet that won't strip away essential oils on the skin. Stay away from hot water – it makes your skin lose moisture quickly.

Cleansers like emulsifying ointments can be used by those individuals who have eczema and dry skin. See Eczema Guide for more information.

Oily skin

Use a gentle, foaming facial wash to remove dirt and oil without stripping away the fats that are needed to maintain moisture. Oily skin types should avoid wax-based cleansers, which can clog oil-prone pores.

Combination skin

Use a foaming facial wash in the mornings to keep oily areas clean. In the evening use a cream cleanser to soothe dry areas. Indulge in a regular clay-based mask to help an oil-prone nose, chin and forehead area while a cream or gel mask will moisturize dry areas of the face.

Sensitive skin

Cleanse with gentle, milky, water-soluble lotions and tepid water. Avoid gels or soaps that contain drying alcohol, preservatives or strong-acting acids. Avoid exfoliating scrubs or astringents, which can cause inflammation.


About the author:
Dr. Stuart Maddin is past President of the Canadian Dermatology Association and served as Secretary-General of the International Committee of Dermatology — International League of Dermatological Societies. He is the director of the clinical trials unit at the Division of Dermatology, UBC. Dr. Maddin has also acted in an advisory capacity to the Health Protection Branch (Ottawa), the AAD-FDA Liaison Committee and WHO (Geneva).


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