Four Skin Care Ingredients Your Facial Cleanser Should Never Contain


Updated 1/18/18. Whenever I am asked, “What is your BEST skin tip? If I did nothing else except for this one thing, what would it be?” My answer is, wash your face with a non-drying, low-foaming, sulfate-free cleanser. (My true first answer is to wear sunscreen daily, however, most of you should already know that by now so I’m sharing my next best tip.)

Even after all of these years where there is so much awareness of proper skincare, this is one that so many people still don’t get right. I think people are more focused on leave-on products like moisturizers, serums, and masks and they just don’t pay that much attention to what they use to cleanse their skin. While you always want to invest in high-performance, quality skin care products, you don’t want to cut corners and skimp on a well-formulated cleanser. In this post, I’ll be sharing how to safely cleanse your skin and what I consider to be bad facial cleanser ingredients.

How important is it to use the right cleanser with safe ingredients?

Using the right (or wrong) cleanser can truly make or break your entire skincare routine. If you wash with a cleanser which has bad facial ingredients such as those with a high pH balance and high lather content, you will instantly strip the surface skin cells and cause dehydration. When this happens, every product you apply afterward (such as serum and moisturizer) has to do some major repair work to put back in the hydration that was stripped out from cleansing. Makes no sense, right? The goal is to cleanse the skin gently to keep hydration levels up in the skin. (Watch this video to see what dehydrated skin looks like.)

1. Facial cleanser ingredient to avoid: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

A surfactant (foaming agent) used to lower the surface tension of water and act as a dispersion agent to properly mix the ingredients in a cleansing formula. Of all the ‘sulfates’, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is the one that is most harmful to the skin, especially when used in high percentages. It can cause eczema to flare up and severely damage your skin’s protective barrier resulting in extreme water and moisture loss.

2. Facial cleanser ingredient to avoid: Sodium Laureth Sulfate

A surfactant (foaming agent) used to lower the surface tension of water and act as a dispersion agent to properly mix the ingredients in a cleansing formula. While it sounds similar to the above ingredient, Sodium Laureth Sulfate is a bit milder. However, I don’t recommend using any sulfate ingredients since there are much better foaming agents that don’t risk depleting the moisture out of your skin.

3. Facial cleanser ingredient to avoid: Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate

A surfactant (foaming agent) used to lower the surface tension of water and act as a dispersion agent to properly mix the ingredients in a cleansing formula. In concentrations of 2% or higher, it can be too stripping for the skin. However, for you as the consumer, it’s hard to know which percentage of Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate is being used so I suggest avoiding it in your facial cleanser. There are much better cleansing agents available that don’t strip the skin.

4. Facial cleanser ingredient to avoid: Ammonium Laureth Sulfate

A surfactant (foaming agent) used to lower the surface tension of water and act as a dispersion agent to properly mix the ingredients in a cleansing formula. In concentrations of 2% or higher, it can be too stripping for the skin. However, for you as the consumer, it’s hard to know which percentage of Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate is being used so I suggest avoiding it in your facial cleanser. There are much better cleansing agents available that don’t strip the skin.

What ingredients should I look for in a cleanser?

When it comes to foaming and gel cleanser ingredients, the following are considered to be safer and gentler to the skin since they avoid sulfates.

  • Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine
  • Disodium Lauraminopropionate
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Decyl Glucoside
  • Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate
  • Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Amino Acids
  • Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate
  • Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
  • Sodium Cocoamphoacetate
  • Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids

Always choose cleansers listed as ‘sulfate-free’. You’ll find that sulfate-free cleansing gels will not foam up as much as those with sulfates so this may take getting used to if you’re used to a very sudsy cleanser. Skin cells are like fish and they need water to live so it’s very important to keep hydration levels intact. Choose your cleanser wisely and your skin will look healthier and clearer. However, do know that your skin is still getting effectively cleaned. Recommended sulfate-free cleansers: Moisture Protecting Cleanser, Luxe Mint Cleansing Gel, AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser and Purifying Face Wash. Take the Skin Type Quiz or schedule a virtual consultation to get customized advice in person, over the phone or online via Skype or FaceTime to see which cleanser is the best for your skin type.

What about cleansing lotions, cleansing wipes, cleansing balms or a bar of soap?

Cleansing wipes: I don’t recommend wipes and you can read why here.

Bar of soap: No. You should never use one on your face. Read why here.

Cleansing balms: I’m not a fan of cleansing balms and when used in the ‘double cleansing method’. You can read why here.

Cleansing lotions: I highly recommend cleansing lotions and cleansing creams as they are excellent for removing makeup without leaving a residue on the skin. Recommended cleansing lotion: Vitamin-Infused Cleansing Emulsion

Lastly, read my 9 cleanser do’s and don’ts.